In pop terms, “Anaconda” is Minaj’s best record since “Superbass”. It doesn’t have the same highs, but it isn’t an unstructured mess or a sentimental wallow like most of the records before it. And even if she had to steal it from Sir Mix-a-lot, “Anaconda” has a great hook. But what really matters is the words. Unlike every other rapper to make the chart this year—and I mean literally every other rapper—Minaj tells stories and creates characters, characters who aren’t her and have real names and maybe even lives. Troy from Detroit and Michael with his motorcycles may not have much depth—all we really know about them are their sexual proclivities and the size of their equipment—but they feel real. The most important character, though, is the one Minaj creates for herself to play: the woman with the big ass who knows how to use it to get what she wants and harbors no confusion as to what that is. What she wants may not seem like much, but turning a hunk of leering raunch like “Baby’s Got Back” to your advantage by making the men who swear by it live up to their boasts is a real achievement. It levels the playing field in all sorts of ways, not just sexual.
Jack & Jack—“Wild Life”
Every time a white guy or group scores a rap hit, people shout about Caucasians taking over hip-hop, but the industry is so bad at follow-up that I guarantee it’s never going to happen. Somewhere on the planet is a record executive who think these guys could be the next Macklemore. They’re actually worse, if such a thing is possible. I mean, even Macklemore never resorted to lame hashtag rap, animal noises, and tampon jokes (though I wouldn’t put it past him). Jack & Jack are too stupid to be a threat to anything, except maybe the career of the idiot who signed them.
Pitbull featuring John Ryan—“Fireball”
People who hate the EDM version of Pitbull might consider this a step in the right direction, but to me it feels like he’s moving backwards. That he should come up with a new take on the “Tequila” blueprint is no great surprise, but that he should play it so softly, so old school, is. His more recent records had an insane, in your face quality that made me admire them even when I hated them (which I rarely did). Most of those singles flopped, though, while the relatively softer, and even melodic, “Timber” was a big hit, so now he’s playing it safe. It’s worth pointing out, however, that to Pitbull these distinctions are meaningless, if he even bothers to think about them at all. What he cares about are hooks, and he probably doesn’t worry about the style of music that’s attached to them as long as it’s got a good beat. In its way, it makes him more broadminded musically, and more stylistically diverse, than anyone else on the charts. That’s not the only reason critics hate him so much, but I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t part of the mix. P.S. Based on this scant evidence, it appears that John Ryan can sing. Where’s his record?
Eric Church—“Cold One”
It’s fun, but maybe too much fun, or too heavy-handed of fun. “Cold One” is built on a good joke, but it’s a slight joke, and the music pummels it into the ground.
T.I. featuring Young Thug—“About the Money”
Just like Eminem, T.I. seems more interested in the technical side of rap these days, in creating an impressive, death-defying flow completely devoid of, or detached from, content. He succeeds at it, too, but what exactly does that success mean? I can’t understand what he’s saying, and I bet he isn’t saying much anyway. Since the whole idea is to leave his competitors in the dust, with nothing to follow, this will have zero influence on upcoming rappers. At least he seems to be enjoying himself.