Nicki Minaj is a potty mouth. So fond is she of a “Motherfucker” that parents are dragging their very young children to the exit. Two albums in, and some of tonight's attendees have listened through neither of them. With Breaking Bad in mind, here's what happened after the kids left, BITCH!
‘Come On A Cone’ opens with Nicki Minaj seated in a neon-lit throne. Meant to resemble a rocket, as a cosmic video introduces us to a “landing” theme, it provides a suitable level of preposterousness for cheeky chops to announce her arrival. Peeking her head from out of the capsule she pouts and raises her eyebrows with the slapstick of Benny Hill. There is so much fun radiating from Minaj as she bounces across the stage. She's got a great smile and wide eyes emanating joy, you could put her in a silent film and she'd still be a star. She looks amazing.
Her flow is dexterous and devilish, darting across tones, rhythms and pitches with the enthusiasm of an energised body popper. It's ‘The Boys’ that would normally feature Cassie but here it's just Minaj spitting, bitching, and losing her shit: "I don't even break when I'm backing up / I swap on a nigga if he acting up," flies out. Her lyrics are irrelevant and always irreverent. For all the verbiage she can jam into a minute of verse there's never much reason to become too involved in the lyrics which shelter very little content. To précis the entire show, "I'm crazy funny, don't fuck with me." But if you were to give her some time lines like, "Big Sean, how big is you? Give me all yo' money and give me yo' residuals," are up there with Riff Raff in the comedy rankings. Indeed, it's the humour that saves it from smut. Here, “the boys” on stage are thrusting their hips at a crouching Minaj, who between this scenario is holding her microphone as a dick, and sliding down a fire pole. Had it not been performed as cartoon, and drenched in more denim than an episode of Johnny Bravo, the tone would have driven downwards. "Google my ass," for instance, is more Bart Simpson than Kim Kardashian.
Without the dance troupe the show looks very minimal indeed. The stage is little more than its two-floor skeleton decorated with screens and projections. It looks between the warehouse of a digital consultancy firm and an acting school space. And, in a way, it works. So Minaj commanding the floor can get away with almost anything. She has a surprisingly elegant gate constructed from her on stage ease (and gluteal implants, allegedly). During one extended instrumental it is just her alone, rolling around the floor in a slow, carefree manner. It's completely effortless and totally engaging.
Talking to the audience Nicki, because we're familiar now, reveals a British accent which she believes to be very "Manchester". It isn't, and it's highly likely she knows this. "Isn't Mel B from Manchester?" She isn't. And it's less likely she knows this. But in her goofish way she's charming us all. This isn't refined, razor sharp culture, but it works. Elsewhere she presents some of her alter egos including Roman Zolanski. A fuller list of her characters would include The Harajuku Barbie, Cookie, Martha Zolanski, Rosa, Nicki The Ninja, Dexter, Onika Maraj, and my favourite, Nicki Teresa, a nun who heals Minaj fans. More than using these fictitious voices to force the idea that Minaj is somewhat kooky, they add to her lexicon, revealing her to be a more whole character, one who can command an idea.
Beyond this section Minaj wrestles with some of her radio hits. Curiously, many are presented with her off-stage with the crowd listening to a recording played entirely off a laptop. If Minaj has had to pay a price for her fame and popularity, it is in these watered down generic pop soars, these Guetta-soaked synths, these wet melodies, and these soppy attempts to emote. In tracks like ‘Fly’, delivered as a recording with a DJ to maintain the hype. The based glamour of Marilyn in fur collar, glitter bath and candy floss perm Minaj embarks on bittersweet ballad ‘Fire Burn’ proclaiming, "I hope you lay down in your sleep and choke on every lie you told." To much an extent Minaj entertaining these facades makes for a textural contrast which bolsters her patter, and allows for lyricism beyond “dick in your face” explosives. En bref, it augments the theatre and deflates the act.
The set moves from dance to hip hop. Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock 'It Takes Two' is accompanied with technicolor psychedelia and drives through with a house pulse. At this point the show is racing through a myriad of themes sounds and ideas. Eventually it peaks with DJ Spinn and DJ Rashad's 'Mercy' with Minaj turning the gaze on Rick Ross, "Fuck yo' Lamborghini fuck yo' Merc' / got mo' money in my fucking purse." It's electrifying even if she does entertain a ridiculous spiel about Romney who is elsewhere tonight. On the occasions she strays to her strengths, Minaj is electrifying. But the real winners tonight are the musics that have been elevated and transformed for a pop audience: the Juke, the jerk, the trap, the TEKLIFE. As wild and disparate as Minaj can be, the music brings together stronger, weirder, and more unusual influences. Both on song and by nature Minaj stands with Rihanna and Gaga as a great appropriator of cultures and styles, using personality to lock into an audience. Only Minaj can do it with a smile.
Words by Samuel Breen