Nicki Minaj got the first No. 1 song of her decade-plus career just a year ago this week after hopping on a remix of Doja Cat’s “Say So.” It may have come unjustly late for the rapper, but it was at least fitting that she’d finally made it there off the force of a collaboration. (And she’s gotten another No. 1 since, on another collab, with provocateur 6ix9ine.) That is not to suggest Nicki can’t hold her own — her solo track record is a rap master class — she just holds her own the best when she can feed off her collaborators. She broke out, after all, from a standout verse on the Young Money posse cut “Bedrock”: just eight brash bars, each instantly quotable in their own way. That song also featured two of the rappers who continually bring out the best in Minaj, her mentor Lil Wayne and her peer Drake. Beam Me Up Scotty, Minaj’s 2009 mixtape, which hit streaming for the first time this Friday, features some of her standout first collaborations with Wayne and Drake. The tape also comes with three new tracks, including “Seeing Green,” a new Drake and Lil Wayne linkup that falls short of their original magic.
From the opening, “Seeing Green” sounds like a victory lap, thanks to a soaring sample of the 2006 R&B song “In My Mind” by Heather Headley. The strength of that opening lasts all of 25 seconds, before Lil Wayne launches into an overly topical, dragging verse that flexes his “Balenciaga mask” and “Gucci teddy bears and pandas.” Wayne can be hit or miss on a Minaj song, but even many of his less-stellar verses, like on 2014’s “Only,” manage to be entertaining. Wayne still sounds like he’s having fun — he raps the word “badonkadonk,” after all — but in such a meandering appearance, his looseness sounds messy. Drake, meanwhile, delivers a perfectly capable closing verse, touching on the knee injury that has somehow kept him from releasing new album Certified Lover Boy. But compared to his recent Scary Hours 2 EP, on which Drake almost sounded like he was having fun rapping about moms noticing him at parent-teacher conferences, his “Seeing Green” appearance feels formulaic, with fill-in-the-blank brags about money, power, and women.
Which is to say, Minaj turns in the best verse on “Seeing Green.” On the shortest appearance of the three, she effortlessly twists and turns her flow while delivering the song’s most memorable lines (e.g., “Just bought a new car, not to drive it, but to walk around it”) — with a requisite “these bitches is my sons” to assure fans they haven’t been replaced. She still has the star power the world first heard on Beam Me Up Scotty, but it’s not bursting out of her like it did on tracks like “I Get Crazy” and her early standout “Itty Bitty Piggy.” Yet “Seeing Green” is still a better new Nicki listen than her Scotty addition “Fractions,” in which she cruelly calls her husband Kenneth Petty’s assault victim a liar (“Accusations on them blogs and they all fictitious”).
It’s abundantly clear why Minaj released these new songs — it’s in the title of “Seeing Green.” Judging by the new songs’ current dominance on iTunes and streaming, she’s going to parlay her Beam Me Up Scotty reissue into the chart and sales victory she’s thirsty for. And even when Minaj’s standbys don’t fully show up on “Seeing Green,” she still shows promise ahead of a teased new album. But why choose to tack on something subpar when it’s now easier than ever to listen to something as exciting and audacious as Beam Me Up Scotty in its original, unmatchable form?