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D Nicki Minaj

Queen

Republic

How will the story of American rap music -- an art form that allows itty-bits of sound-junk, P-Funk, braggadocio and street mantra to converge into a miraculous whole -- be told? In wide, sweeping gestures? Or in disparate, glinting fragments?

The sheer amount of magnetism, hauteur, mischief and yearning Nicki Minaj can squeeze out of a single rhyme has made her one of the most astonishing rappers to ever do it to it. But if you're looking for a coherent album that does justice to her multitudinous wild-styles, you'll have to keep waiting.

These new songs are way too long, and there are far too many. Lots of rough, too few diamonds. Sure, Minaj still knows how to talk filthy in an array of beautiful voices, but here, she only ever sounds half-alert, making her nastiest boudoir brags feel reflexive and rote.

Minaj's brilliance has always shone from moment to radioactive moment. Surely, there must be some micro-glimmers to be heard in her latest macro-failure. It's always a thrill when Minaj goes sprinting off in a double-time cadence, as she does during the bawdy coda of "Barbie Dreams." Her ability to hyper-enunciate isolated words makes them sound more detailed and delectable -- like when she pronounces those silent Ls in "guillotine" during "Coco Chanel," a snarling duet with the great Foxy Brown. And that's about it.

If you've followed Minaj, it's easy to get the sense that she lost her way in popland -- diluting her vision in order to secure radio airplay or to land starry TV gigs. But now it's hard to imagine even the lowest-hanging fruit on Queen -- "Ganja Burns," "Majesty," "Come See About Me" -- flourishing on radio. Her sense of melody feels stale and flavorless, as if her backing tracks were freeze-dried when the Black Eyed Peas still ruled the world.

Queen only feels connected to the current rap zeitgeist in the saddest way -- another portrait of a visionary rapper in decline. In June, Kanye West completed his transformation from provocateur to troll, while Drake continued making music as if executing a brand strategy.

And while it's hard to imagine how those two might reverse course, it'll always be fun to daydream about the moment that Minaj comes bouncing back. A great Nicki Minaj comeback album would be the first great Nicki Minaj album, period.

Hot tracks: "Barbie Dreams," "Coco Chanel"

-- CHRIS RICHARDS

The Washington Post

B- Jason Mraz

Know.

Atlantic

Jason Mraz usually likes to take risks, but on his new album, he keeps them to a minimum.

Instead, Mraz focuses on delivering as many warm and fuzzy, moderately upbeat, lilting ballads as he can. And considering how well the "I'm Yours" singer-songwriter does that, it's a pretty good plan.

The gorgeous opener "Let's See What the Night Can Do" is a stunner, capturing the sweeping excitement of a new relationship in elegantly simple terms. It's the latest example of how Mraz is best when he hones his lyrics, rather than letting them spill out stream-of-consciousness style as they do in "Unlonely."

He does it again in "Love Is the Answer," even though the string section flourishes, choral backing and dramatic production may actually detract from the power of the message.

The first single, "Have It All," is the Mraz we have grown to expect, like a commencement speech set to music. "May the best of your todays be the worst of your tomorrows," he declares over a spare, sweet backdrop. "And may the road less paved be the road that you follow."

May Mraz soon follow that road as well.

Hot tracks: "Let's See What the Night Can Do," "Love Is the Answer"

-- GLENN GAMBOA

Newsday (TNS)

B+ Kevin Gordon

Tilt & Shine

Crowville Media

Kevin Gordon has been delivering earthy, literary music for years.

On his latest, Gordon delivers another album that comes as close to sonic poetry as anything from any musician who hasn't already won a Nobel Prize for literature.

A native of Monroe, La., who earned a master's in fine arts from the Iowa Writers' Workshop before settling in Nashville, Gordon matches edgy music to gritty, vivid lyrics. He scratches out his sound on a 1956 Gibson ES-125, tuned to low, open D for a visceral, electric blues-based vibe.

"Every river's a daughter of a dirty rain," Gordon sings on "Saint on a Chain," a brilliant meditation on religion. "See how it shines, how it shines."

Gordon's latest is mesmerizing enough to give people who hear it the sense that they're in on a secret.

See how it shines, indeed.

Hot tracks: "Saint on a Chain," the ballad "Rest Your Head," the bluesy "Fire at the End of the World"

-- SCOTT STROUD

The Associated Press

Nicki Minaj "Queen" cover
Jason Mraz Know. 2018
Kevin Gordon Tilt & Shine 2018

Style on 08/21/2018

Print Headline: Nicki Minaj loses her head on the dreadful Queen

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