Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
released 2 April 2012 on Universal/Island
It’s taken a little less than two years for Nicki Minaj to go from being a hotly-tipped MC championed by Lil Wayne to becoming a genre-straddling global megastar. However, Minaj’s debut studio album and breakthrough record, Pink Friday, asked more questions than it provided answers. Does she want to be the fierce, dextrous rapper who’s fit to go toe-to-toe with Eminem or the lightweight, homogeneous pop star who duets with Natasha Bedingfield? Does she represent a shift in power in the male-dominated world of hip-hop or has she played the female rap objectified archetype in an attempt to get to the top? And just why does she sometimes rap in an English accent?
You’d hope that Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finally dropping would provide a little clarity around these issues. However, if anything, the waters are now muddied even further. 2012 has been a bizarre year for Nicki Minaj thus far, with an album campaign that’s been a misinformed mess. Originally due for release on Valentine’s Day, the record didn’t hit the shops until April. We’ve had a record-breaking video for a song that hasn’t even had an official release (Stupid Hoe) while another single (Starships) has been bouncing around the upper reaches of the charts for weeks while still not having a promotional video at the time of writing. In an era when release campaigns are choreographed to precision and you’ve got an infinitely marketable star like Minaj, such events seem like madness. That’s not to mention giving your album of entirely new material a name that makes it sound like some Katy Perry-style bonus-tracks-hastily-added cash-in to squeeze money out of fans who deserve better.
If Pink Friday’s main fault was that it tried to tick too many boxes, then Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded repeats that mistake and then some. In fact, if we take away the two bonkers tracks that bookend the record (Roman Holiday and Stupid Hoe) then Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded neatly breaks down into three disparate parts, which seem to be from different records entirely.
The first part of the record is the traditional, hip-hop side of things. Here, beats are sparse, and frills and instrumentation are minimal. It’s all geared up to make Minaj’s rhymes the focal point, and it gives the record something of a mixtape feel. It’s an interesting decision to front-load the record with perhaps its least commercial tracks, but it does provide the bulk of the quality. Come On A Cone features oppressive synths and is underpinned by a Flight Of The Bumblebee-like riff. I Am Your Leader and Beez In The Trap are similarly thrilling and make good use of cameos. You really get a sense of why Minaj is so popular; there’s something distinctive and utterly compelling about her style and flow. This is probably best displayed in the otherworldly and regal Champion. Her lyrics do fall into the pitfalls of hip-hop braggadocio a little too often though – many of her lines are about previous successes and haters, while one track (Roman Reloaded) includes sirens as well as the sounds of guns cocking and firing.
Once Minaj has finished with proving her gangsta credentials, she’s out to show that she likes partying ‘til dawn in a club as much as anyone else in the charts. The transition between the two styles begins with two of the record’s worst tracks: future single Right By My Side and the nauseating Sex In The Lounge. It’s difficult to believe any self-respecting woman would be willing to put her name to something as relentlessly misogynistic as Sex In The Lounge, with its crude 2010s slow jam style and highly objectionable lyrics.
However, if you can get past those, you’re rewarded with one of the singles of the year so far: Starships. It’s essentially a mish-mash of Super Bass and We Found Love, but none the worse for it, as it perfectly captures the hedonistic feeling the best dance music can provide. Lyrically we’re on pretty tame ground (“I’m on the floor, floor / I love to dance”), but as far as tracks go to forget your responsibilities and lose your inhibitions to, it’s right on the money and has the addictive quality and irresistible hooks that 99% of these type of tracks lack. Unfortunately, Minaj follows up Starships with a run of four songs which all sound like inferior re-treads. We’ve got references to Ibiza, over-produced radio-friendly backing tracks and the general feeling of a David Guetta B-sides collection.
By this point, Minaj’s desperation to be liked is becoming wearing, and this is before we get onto part three of the album: the R&B ballads. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with Minaj’s singing voice, it’s not particularly distinctive and while she continues to insist upon making tracks like this, she’ll never be anything more than a second-rate Rihanna or Beyoncé. It’s faceless, dispiriting stuff, and we get to witness the supposed outspoken queen of forward-thinking rap grumble about fame, compare herself to Marilyn Monroe and sing about how she really just wants to be a wife, all in the space of ten minutes.
Before the release of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, much talk centred around Minaj’s male, British alter-ego, Roman Zolanski, and how his character would be explored throughout the LP. However, he’s only really brought up at all on those aforementioned tracks that open and close the record. The title may lead you to believe it’s some kind of concept album, but if that’s its intention, that concept is quickly dropped before being picked up again right at the end as if you wouldn’t notice that there’s actually no common thread holding any of this together (this is a bit of a jump in logic, but it’s the same thing that happens in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band).
The two Roman Zolanski-featuring tracks, Roman Holiday and Stupid Hoe, are the most inventive songs on the record, and the two that pander the least to current musical trends and expectations. The melodrama may be a little irritating, but there’s no doubting that Minaj is a fabulous pop star who you simply can’t ignore. Due to the rest of the album, however, Roman Holiday promises more than Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded can deliver, and Stupid Hoe sticks out like a sore thumb after a quagmire of clichés and dullness.
As Stupid Hoe throbs to its conclusion, Minaj leaves us with five final words: “I am the female Weezy”. She’s got a decent claim to such a title, but it’s as if that’s not enough. If she’s the female Weezy, she’s just as much the female Drake, the female Akon, the female David Guetta, the female Bruno Mars and the female Usher. Hell, with her love of over-the-top make-up and multiple personas, you could make an argument for her being the female David Bowie or the female Adam Ant too. Would you want to listen to a record that sounded like all those people? Probably not, as it sounds like a recipe for disaster which tries to please everybody and ends up being enjoyed by nobody. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is.