We live in a rap world currently dominated with the addictive, head-bopping Auto-Tune of Travis Scott, the triplet flow of Migos and the misty presence of “clout” culture through artists like Lil Skies and Trippie Redd. Some artists who have been regularly releasing music over the past few years, such as Drake or Kendrick Lamar, remain in the mainstream and we find ourselves listening to their music because of their seemingly unlimited production capabilities. Other artists like Cardi B have risen into the public eye with an aggressive intensity. In the “other” category is where artists like Minaj find themselves: Every now and then, a song swarms into pop culture, dominates the music scene, and fizzles out gently into the background. However, it’s been four years since Minaj’s last album, "The Pinkprint," was released. While four years is a long time in the ever-growing music scene, Nicki Minaj finds triumph and catharsis in her new album “Queen.”

The album dives into Minaj’s search for redemption and recognition with “Ganja Burns.” Her signature voice is layered over a tropical beat and a pleasant guitar strum as she calls out rappers who try — and fail — to imitate the greats. She raps with intensity, “One hot video, you hyped? Now you just giddy / You made one dope beat, now you Kanye?” For Minaj, rap is not a trend as everything seems to be in our digitized and instant-gratification-seeking society. Instead, it is a carefully curated art that only a certain handful have mastered, including herself. Minaj emphasizes the importance of the creative process being individualized as she scoffs at those who hire lyric writers and don’t produce their own original content: “At least I can say I wrote every rap I spit / Put my blood, sweat and tears in perfecting my craft.” There are speculations that Minaj is referring to fellow rapper Cardi B with this line, but whomever it’s directed toward is less important than her assertion that she writes her own lyrics. “Ganja Burns” is just a snippet of the overarching message of “Queen”: Nicki Minaj is very aware of the power she has in the rap world, and she’s not afraid to use it.

While many of the tracks on “Queen” focus on spreading her message, one of the most loaded and ridiculously fun tracks on the album is “Barbie Dreams.” Minaj pays homage to Biggie with the second line “R.I.P. to B.I.G.” and by rapping over his classic track “Just Playing (Dreams).” The first half of the song mentions a long list of rappers, from Lil Uzi Vert to Young Thug, and discusses all the reasons she wouldn’t get together with any of them. Her crass and unforgiving lyrics are pointed and specific but are just theatrical enough to be amusing. When the beat switches, Minaj switches from the list of rappers to asserting her dominance in her relationships. She makes multiple pop culture references, from “Family Matters” to “The Wizard of Oz,” as she talks about her experience and power. Minaj has always had a vibrant personality — from her unforgettable outfits and ever-changing hair to her her alter-egos Roman and Barbie — and “Barbie Dreams” is one of her most representative tracks.

Another one of the best aspects of “Queen” is the slew of strong featured artists on various tracks. From Eminem to Ariana Grande, the tracks with features are incredibly strong, punctuated and powerful. “Thought I Knew You,” featuring The Weeknd, is a track about heartbreak and sadness. The constant play between producer J. Reid’s beats and The Weeknd’s traditional falsetto voice produces a dreamy yet boppable song. It swerves away from Minaj’s overarching message and lacks the gritty intensity of her other songs but is no less emotionally powerful. One of the last lines of the track, “You broke my heart and now ever since / I just want them dead presidents,” transitions away from Minaj’s emotional exploration and back into the feel of the rest of the album. 

As much as “I Thought I Knew You” is poignant and a true display of both rappers’ talent, “Chun Swae” is a personal favorite. In “Chun Swae”, Minaj and Lee switch off on verses as they discuss their wealth, power and dominance. It’s a fun song as Minaj raps about her “lambo, all white with a tan bow” and Lee brags about his “thousand dollar massage.” Its playful and carefree nature and the icy beat in the background, combined with Swae Lee’s slightly melancholic but hopeful chorus, makes it stand out.

To be honest, when I typed “Queen” into the Spotify search and popped my headphones in when the album came out, I had low expectations. I don’t listen to Nicki Minaj with the exception of her features on Rae Sremmurd and other’s tracks and didn’t expect to like “Queen.” When I started unconsciously bopping my head along to “LLC” and finished the entire album without navigating back to check how many tracks were left, I realized that I thoroughly enjoyed “Queen.” More than a few tracks are now in my current favorites playlist and I know that I’m going to be shuffling through them for a while. Minaj exuded intensity and the markings of a fresh start through the album. She is changing direction and doesn’t want to be a rapper who’s known every now and then for an infamous song. Minaj is here, and she’s here to stay.