"Probably won’t make no money off this, oh well," Beyoncé shrugs on her new album’s moody, amorphous second track, "Haunted." And I say this with the requisite curtsy to the Queen, but: bullshit. True, in both content and form, Beyoncé is a risk—an emotionally candid, unconventionally structured experimental pop record that was released digital-only with absolutely no promotion—but we know now that she is going to make a little bit of money off this. Still, how could you not know all along that you’ve got a blockbuster on your hands, when there is a song on your record like "XO"?
"XO" is one of those big, boundary-obliterating pop songs that demands to be projected onto the sky, like the aural equivalent of a firework. There will be a supercut of people all over the world lip-syncing and doing cute hand motions to "XO" by the end of this week. It’s the Beyoncé cut that Ed McMahon would ride for. One of the guys from Skeleton Crew is going to propose to his girlfriend while "XO" is playing and she will say yes."XO" is the reason why anyone you know who has said, "Yeah, but where are the hooks on Beyoncé?" did not listen to the entire album. Chris Martin is listening to "XO" right now, crying. And, because perfection is overrated, all of the flawlessness here is brilliantly undercut by that gravelly croak in her lower register when she growls, "Baby love me, lights out." You kill us, Bey.
Nicki Minaj refuses to suffer the fate of other female rappers. She’s made this abundantly clear a number of ways, but none so explicitly as in a press conference she thought pertinent enough to include as a track on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded’s bonus edition. “These other bitches that only did rap and now they’re washed and they’re living in low-income housing—is that winning?” she snaps. “Just so that a nigga in the street can give me a fucking dap? … Get the fuck outta here.”
It’s a harsh, and accurate, assessment, and she’s chosen two evasion strategies: In one, she avoids being pigeonholed as “just a rapper” by also going out of her way to be pigeonholed as “just another pop singer” with songs like “Starships” and “Turn Me On”. In the second, and infinitely more successful, strategy, she flips all the furniture upside down while remaining inside rap.
On “Beez in the Trap”, Minaj shows just how far she can take this strategy. The beat recalls nothing so much as Clipse’s “Grindin’”, a collection of echoing rain drops in a basement having a conversation with a photocopier. It’s a dope song, a trap song, the lyrics full of references to connects and state-to-state routes and bricks. But Nicki is switching roles here, playing a pimp, pulling up to women on the corner, and taunting male rappers: “Niggas move weight in the South, but live in Hoboken,” she sneers, in what is easily the greatest Hoboken-based insult of the decade. The video—which mixes platinum-blond hair and pink jumpsuits with four-finger rings, barbed wire with disco balls and glitter, seapunk green wigs with Birdman—finger-paints over the borders even further.