Earlier this week, Jon Caramanica wrote an article for the New York Times that stated Nicki Minaj was the most influential artist in, not just hip-hop, pop music. Of course, this was challenged, but when one really takes stock of the meteoric career and success that Ms. Onika Maraj has experienced the past few years, it’s hard to refute Carmanica’s position.
Nicki’s influence and popularity are among the reasons her sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, was so highly anticipated. We wanted to see where Nicki would go next, what she would have to offer the legion of fans she’s amassed since essentially taking pop culture by storm.
Now it must be said: I adore Nicki Minaj. My love for her (as an artist) is well-known and documented. That doesn’t mean my love is blind, though. Multi-platinum, hit-spawning success though it was, Pink Friday was a disappointment for me. I expected to hear Nicki spit as she did on her breakthrough mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty. I wanted the mean and vicious Nicki from the BET Cypher. I wanted the motherfuckin’ Monster.
Instead, Pink Friday was an unapologetic pop album peppered with a few obligatory hip-hop songs. That would have been fine if Nicki hadn’t been so explicitly seen as a hip-hop artist. We wanted the Harajuku Barbie to RAP.
That’s why when Roman Reloaded was announced, I held out hope that we’d finally get a proper hip-hop album from Nicki. It was said that the sophomore set would be a concept album that focuses on her psychotic alter ego Roman Zolanski. (For the uninformed, Roman is to Nicki what Slim Shady is to Eminem.) Roman is the personality that bared fangs and showed true mic skills on songs like “Monster” and “Roman’s Revenge.”
So, does Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded deliver?
Well, yes and no.
The thing is, Nicki Minaj is no longer concerned with conquering hip-hop. In fact, she’s already done so, and in a way no female MC (and very few male MCs) has before. But now she has her sights set on a bigger prize: the realm of pop royalty populated by the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Madonna. Nicki’s well on her way, too, if her appearance on Madonna’s current single is any indication. It’s a seeming acknowledgement from the pop icon that the Queens-bred MC indeed has next.
But in her quest for pop domination, Nicki is leaving behind her rap roots. Does this mean Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a bad album? No, not at all. It all depends on what you’re looking for, and most of Nicki’s fans (and even detractors) want her to make straight up hip-hop.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is loaded (heh) with Euro-inspired dance tracks, and the truth is, they aren’t terrible if you like that sort of thing. Sure, the hip-hop is there in the first few tracks, but they seem like an afterthought. In fact, aside from a couple of average tracks, we rarely hear from the venomous Roman persona.
01 “Roman Holiday” – C+
This was a terrible start to the album. A weird melange of hip-hop and opera, “Roman Holiday” finds Nicki singing the hook in an exaggerated British accent (another persona, that of Roman’s mother Martha) before spitting decent rhymes during the verses. It’s ultimately catchy but doesn’t bode well for the listener’s expectations.
02 “Come On A Cone” – B+
Much better. Nasty rhymes over menacing synths. This is the Nicki (or, at least, the Roman) I want to hear. She’s vulgar, funny, witty. Expect “dick in yo’ face” to become the latest hip-hop catchphrase.
03 “I Am Your Leader” (featuring Cam’ron and Rick Ross) – B
A decent collabo with the Dipset frontman and MMG Bawse. Interestingly enough, Nicki is the least impressive MC on the track whereas Cam’ron seems rejuvenated and Ross kick a few humorous lines about getting head while tweeting.
04 “Beez In The Trap”(featuring 2 Chainz) – D+
Very pedestrian song that, as the hook itself goes, “ain’t sayin’ nothin’.” Features the eternally unimpressive
Tity Boy 2 Chainz.
05 “HOV Lane” – B+
This is the Nicki I like. She snapped on this one. Also, I’ve always pronounced it as “H-O-V,” so maybe she’s giving subtle props to Shawn Corey on this one? In any case, one of the album’s better rap tracks.
06 “Roman Reloaded”(featuring Lil Wayne) – C+
In an effort to show her competition how much better she is than they, Nicki boasts and brags with irrefutable facts, talking about her endorsement deals, movie roles, and critical accolades. That said, this song still disappoints. Thankfully, Wayne comes in to with the save. Oh, and can we please kill hashtag rap? Please?
07 “Champion” (featuring Nas, Drake, and Young Jeezy) – A-
A great song marred only by weak vocals on the hook. (Should’ve utilized Rihanna, in my opinion, to give the hook some flavor). But each of the four MCs shine brightly, delivering inspirational and celebratory rhymes.
08 “Right By My Side” (featuring Chris Brown) – B
You’ve heard it already. Pop rap done right. I like it. Download it free here.
09 “Sex in the Lounge” (featuring Lil Wayne and Bobby V) – D
Another flaccid, laughable attempt at creating something “sexy.” Teaming up with Weezy and Bobby V did not prove fortuitous.
10 “Starships” – B
You’ve heard it already. I’m not mad at this slice of dance pop at all. Download it free here.
11 “Pound the Alarm” – B
Decent, Euro-style dance track. This will easily become a party anthem.
12 “Whip It” – B
Another party track. This makes three in a row, making me feel as if I’m at a foam party in Ibiza and someone’s just handed me half a pill. I dig this song as well.
13 “Automatic” – B+
Dance track number four, and the best so far. While I’m digging this, I am no longer under the illusion that I am listening to a hip-hop album.
14 “Beautiful Sinner” – A-
Have you ever been to a megaclub? I mean, like, one of those old warehouse spaces that have been converted into five floors of technicolor, drug-fueled debauchery? This song would be perfect to play in one of those joints. It was made for those kind of places. “Beautiful Sinner” is kind of epic.
15 “Marilyn Monroe” – B
A surprisingly introspective track that finds Nicki admitting and dealing with her insecurities She compares herself to the starlet of the title. Quite affecting.
16 “Young Forever” – C
Typical break-up song in which Nicki tells her ex-beau that he’ll never be mature enough for her. It’s aight but not my cup of joe.
17 “Fire Burns” – A
Dope! Now this is a break-up song, much more effective and evocative than the preceding track. Talk about taking an ex-flame to shame.
18 “Gun Shot” (featuring Beenie Man) – B
Oh, you forgot Nicki was Trini? Nicki goes back to her Caribbean roots on this cool piece of island pop.
19 “Stupid Hoe” – C-
You’ve heard it already. The Lil Kim diss. While I don’t necessarily hate it …
20 “Turn Me On” – B+
And now we’re back in the club with this jam produced by David Guetta. His knack for creating house club bangers is what elevates this above the previous attempts we’ve heard thus far.
21 “Va Va Voom” – B
This song is essentially “Super Bass, Part 2,” and that’s not a bad thing. Has a decent amount of oomph to it.
22 “Masquerade” – C+
The final song. It’s okay, just a standard issue dance track.
Overall Grade: B-
Our Favorite Tracks: “Beautiful Sinner,” “Champion,” “Turn Me On”
Our Recommendation: (WEAK) BUY (If you want a decent pop album)
Nicki Minaj has grown much bigger than her humble beginnings, and that’s great. Her goal is to satisfy all her fans, but therein lies the problem. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is bloated and schizophrenic. It’s not a hip-hop album at all, and when you look at the list of producers she chose to work with (including RedOne, J.R. Rotem, Dr. Luke, and Alex Da Kid), you can see this was a conscious decision.
Is Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded a terrible album? Nope. Am I disappointed by it? Yes, a bit. It’s not what I’d expected and that leads to disappointment. But I’ve learned to accept it for what it is: an unabashed campaign for total pop culture dominance. Like it or not, as Nicki says on the album, she is the leader.