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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Nicki Minaj

Pink Friday |


After making countless cameos on other people’s albums, Nicki Minaj finally releases her solo debut. And while it cements her place as the hottest female rapper in ages, it’s somewhat disappointing. There’s nothing here as dope as her song-stealing verse on Kanye West‘s “Monster,” but “Roman’s Revenge,” a blistering beatdown with Eminem, comes closest. Pink Friday is more pop than you might expect, like the BEP-esque “Check It Out” (featuring Surprisingly, Minaj does her fair share of singing too. Hey, if Drake and B.o.B can do both, so can she.


Endlessly |


Although her music-and her personal life-didn’t come with all the drama of Amy Winehouse, Duffy’s 2008 debut Rockferry was one of the best albums of the U.K.’s recent retro-soul movement. Endlessly, while lacking something as memorable as “Mercy,” shows that the Welsh chanteuse hasn’t lost her Dusty Springfield-esque charm. Cowritten and coproduced by ’70s singer-songwriter Albert Hammond (“It Never Rains in Southern California”), it also features Roots drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson adding his funky groove to standouts such as the girl-groupish opener “My Boy” and the strutting, string-laden “Keeping My Baby.”

Natasha Bedingfield

Strip Me |


On her third studio album, Natasha Bedingfield returns to the chick-empowerment mode of her big hit “Unwritten” with songs like the Ryan Tedder-cowritten title track and the airy “Weightless.” But she’s less successful attempting to rock out on “All I Need” or go electro on “Touch.” Ke$ha she’s not.


No Mercy |


“My road to redemption has no GPS,” raps T.I. on “Get Back Up,” the Chris Brown-assisted first single from No Mercy. Indeed, after getting out of prison a year ago, the hip-hop star finds himself back behind bars for a parole violation as this album is released. What a shame, because No Mercy-picking up where 2008’s double-platinum Paper Trail left off-shows T.I. near the top of his game surrounded by A-list producers (Kanye West, the Neptunes) and guest stars (Eminem, Drake). The results range from confessional songs like the title track to party bangers like “Poppin Bottles.” But the most affecting moment comes at the end when the King of the South teams up with Christina Aguilera to let you behind his “Castle Walls.”