If advance hype came in the form of an old Roadrunner cartoon, Nicki Minaj‘s much-anticipated debut, Pink Friday, would be Wile E. Coyote at that frozen moment after running over the edge of a cliff but before plummeting to what would kill anything but a cartoon character.

Minaj had a good run up to the edge of the cliff. She was the only female MC in Lil Wayne’s Young Money crew, and her mix tapes caused a buzz. She electrified Ludacris’s “My Chick Bad” as a sexy Freddy Krueger, and slayed with Will.I.Am over a Buggles sample. She allied with Rihanna and Mariah Carey while staging battles with Alicia Keys and Lil’ Kim. But more than that, she was a retro robot from a weirdo future, preprogrammed with Queens, Cockney and Caribbean accents, a vision of femininity as if conjured by Rammellzee and Dr. Funkenstein, a Negro Devo diva. She promised to be a Technicolor extension of Outkast, a fragmentation of the spectrum of De La Soul and Flavor Flav, Missy Elliot and Foxy Brown. She could out eh-eh-eh Gaga any day of the week. She was what Autotune looks like. She promised us a lot just by looking and sounding so damned funky.

But when her moment to lay waste to the land arrived, she decided to get real. And OK, she probably isn’t really a robot from the future, and she probably does have feelings just like a real girl. But on Pink Friday anyway, she doesn’t know how to project them. When she’s trying hardest, as on “Your Love” or “Right Through Me,” she comes off like she’s copping some TLC. She wants to be Chilli and Left Eye both, but without the strength of either; there’s no well of wisdom from which to draw. On the overly anthemic “Fly,” she buzzes around Rihanna as if the title were a noun instead of a verb. And on the much ballyhooed “Roman’s Revenge,” neither she nor Eminem seems to notice the other one’s there. “Here I Am” features a strong backing track (produced by Swizz Beatz, who turns out the best of the disc’s tunes), but the singer is ironically absent in the middle of it. Meanwhile, in “Dear Old Nicki,” she warbles “I’m standing here calling, I can’t see you.” Minaj is lost in her own record. The best track, “Check it Out” with Will.I.Am, had already been released.

Pink Friday might bring to mind Wile E. Coyote, but Nicki, it turns out, is more like Keyboard Cat. We loved her when she was dropping all crazy into other people’s videos, but once she got her own commercial we were all like, eh.

Kurt Gottschalk

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