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Review: Nicki Minaj's 'Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded'
Multiple personalities slaughtered by the company she keeps
It’s been said before, but it’s worth reiterating, especially in consideration of “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded”: Nicki Minaj is a rapper, a better rapper than she is a singer. Let the rapper rap.
The Young Money/Cash Money artist does much of that in the first half of “Reloaded,” a confoundingly long album of 19 tracks. The latter half is devoted to Nicki Minaj, Pop Star, a calculated configuration with an evident desire to throw more than one’s fair share at the wall to see what sticks. The “Roman Reloaded” title flimsily attracts fans to its core conceit, the fleshing-out of Minaj’s trash-talking alter-ego Roman, a loose fetter that falls away with each overwrought play for top 40 airplay.
I’m not saying it’s lame to experiment, that any single artist should be confined to any one genre by the influence of any single source. Her former hit “Super Bass” is a good example of working her lane and still getting paid and, sadly, a track that serves more at a frustrating anomaly than a guide for great expectations on “Reloaded.”
From snappy, sluggy rap number “I Am Your Leader” featuring Rick Ross and Camron to the immaterial fame-bagging pop of “Marilyn Monroe,” Minaj’s output on this album teeters, due in part to the company she keeps. There’s the obvious cameos from Lil Wayne and Young Money cohort Drake, plus Rick Ross’ woof and Young Jeezy’s rasp. Beenie Man remains inexplicably employed with “Gun Shot,” which is like M.I.A. in more than one way. There’s also the many hitmakers added to the mix, like RedOne and Dr. Luke, who spends his other hours developing cookie cutter shapes for Katy Perry and Britney Spears. “Right By My Side” could easily be Minaj’s “No Air” in its formula, though it’s a good mix with nothing too abrasive beyond the contributions of human cancer Chris Brown.
Still, there’s plenty of room of Minaj’s voluminous personalities, postures and plays on speech. “Beez in the Trap” is the musical embodiment of the phrase “I see what you did there,” a fizz-bap minimalist number to amp up 2Chainz while bolstering Minaj’s ability to play with empty spaces. Her daring self-awareness is a lock in “Come on a Cone,” featuring the would-be diva singing the “hook” “Put my d*ck in your face,” flipping the script on the d*ck-centricity of hip-hop. She makes the slow transference between the rap and pop worlds on “Champion,” in its distressed beats and Drizzy’s “ahwws” but… if you’re gonna simulate Rihanna, why not just hire Rihanna?
The corner is distracting turned with cotton-candy-and-Coca-Cola single “Starships.” It’s from this point on that ambition turns largely to gimmicks and pop tart artifice, gentle jabs, and auto-tuning is applied like auto-correct. Minaj can sing, but not as well as she can rap, and with all the emotional prominence of a bag of rocks. She half-heartedly Vogues on “Automatic” and trips all over the Euro-house garbage of “Pound the Alarm.” It’s almost spectacular how quickly I forgot “Beautiful Sinner.” If only her melodic track could seer with the anguish of “Fire Burns,” which stretches out her buoyant voice to startlingly earnest effect.
“Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” is bookended by opener “Roman Holiday” and “Stupid Hoe,” and appropriately so. They’re a bombardment of gender-play with bad attitudes. The former is overly excited and ambitious, the latter a single-noted blow-off. Both sound like they were carved by a machete, both could use honing or abandoned all together. They’re indicative of the whole: just because she leans out in every direction in the studio doesn’t mean they’re all keepers.
On whom the blame falls doesn't really matter. She or her label want to make her out as a Jane-of-all-trades, as evidence by her first album and this. The inauthentic result is distracting, particularly when her strengths as rap's biggest female voice are dulled by male rappers' or (worse!) solo female pop trope. What she needs is an editor or all she’ll be left with is, as she suggests in the title track, “slick sh*t.”