“Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” – Nicki Minaj

2 stars (out of 5)

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Product DetailsNot a re-issue of Minaj’s disappointing but hugely successful debut offering ‘Pink Friday’ with a few added new tracks and remixes as the title suggests but a brand new album with 19 tracks and no interludes; 22 on the obligatory ‘deluxe’ version. The second red herring is that Nicki’s alter ego and referred to in the album’s title, Roman, is almost completely absent in his revenge. The two lead singles ‘Roman In Moscow’ (oddly not included, not even on the digital deluxe) and ‘Stupid Hoe’ (one of the best things here) do feature the Roman persona but somewhere along the line he (Nicki has suggested that Roman is in fact a bitchy gay man but that depends on which publication she’s talking to and Roman’s ‘gayness’ certainly isn’t evident in his lyrical content) gets lost under the massive weight of this odd, confusing mess of an album which in itself suffers from a severe identity crisis.

The album is sequenced by genre with the first being what’s best described as hardcore, mix-tape Nicki and probably the most representative of the Roman character. This abruptly switches to what can only be described as euro-cheese rave, predominantly produced by Lady Gaga’s original main-man, RedOne, and closes with a run of Katy Perry, Rhianna (at her blandest I must stress) and Jessie J type American-produced power pop tracks which are to be heard all over mainstream radio and media at the moment. This could be a fascinating collection and really show what Minaj can come up with working with such diverse sonic components in the hands of hugely prolific song writers and producers. Instead this degree of genre shifting feels so cynical and insincere and with the exception of a handful of tracks (including the completely ludicrous and amazing ‘Starships’) there are very few decent songs here.

In the first and most successful third of the album rap Nicki explores nothing new lyrically but in the aggressively buzzing ‘Come On a Cone’ she really does do something quite exciting. Towards the end of the track she starts singing (not rapping it as she does earlier in the track) ‘Ooh, my dick in your face’ over and over in a sweet, soulful coo, it’s as if she’s both taking the piss out of the Nicki persona and also the ridiculousness of the current state of chart music. It’s a funny and sharp track and unlike the majority of the album sets Nicki apart from her contemporaries as an artist with something to say, however ridiculous. The following track ‘I Am Your Leader’ is another great diss track with a lyrical pay off referring again to a particular male body part.

So we go from this to the ‘let’s take pills and dance’ Aqua/The Vengaboys/Whigfield (no really) section which is RedOne extending ‘Starships’ over 4 tracks with little deviation and even less imagination. There is some astoundingly ugly, uninspired music here, some of the most disposable I’ve heard in years. I hope she isn’t a sign of something bigger that’s yet to come in mainstream pop. Missy Elliott was one of the first hip hop and rap artists to explore house and dance music and incorporate it into her work in 2001 but you always knew that along with producer and musical soul mate Timbaland, Elliott knew her references and was paying homage to a genre whilst also wanting to push r n b and hip hop as far as she could sonically with often awe-inspiring results. With Minaj you get the feeling that she wanted to hire the producer who made Lady Gaga a superstar to get her ‘Barbs’ to become as obsessed about her as the ‘Monsters’ are about Gaga and to continue expanding the brand (which is how she refers to herself on the album) as much as possible regardless of any compromise that’s been made to the actual music itself and how Minaj portrayed herself 18 months ago.

I hope that Nicki Minaj can figure out who she is and just doesn’t get replaced by the next Minaj (Rita Ora?). She can make a massive impression and initially was an exciting new presence in a market where successful female rappers had all but disappeared; Missy Elliott for example hasn’t had a new album out in 7 years.

Many loved Minaj’s early mixtapes and guest raps (Trey Songz ‘Bottoms Up’ and Kayne West’s ‘Monster’ are just 2 examples where she out shines the actual artist) but pop stars are appearing bigger, bolder and faster than ever before (Lana Del Rey, Gaga, Adele ; already all of them considered to be ‘icons’ after a maximum of 2 albums) and I hope that Nicki is as focused on her musical output and where this may lead 4 albums down the line as she is on the marketing of her first perfume, out later this year.

So she’s definitely made it then, at least for now.