As Young Money’s resident Barbie, Nicki Minaj endeared herself with her 2010 debut LP, Pink Friday. Over the course of 13 tracks, Minaj revealed her wacko, borderline schizophrenic beauty, dropping a mass of revolting-yet-alluring flows. Yet she balanced those traits with pure thuggish tendencies, out-streeting even the most gangster of male compatriots. And, for an assortment of reasons no doubt associated with her princess complex, she also had fantasies of being a female songbird a la Rihanna. So, what happens when Minaj enters the studio for round two, only to strip away all the wackiness and swag, leaving only the over-inflated diva? Why, her tragic sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.
While it’s a whopping 19 tracks, half the album is nothing more than bargain-basement pop knockoffs of everyone from Beyoncé to Keri Hilson. “Whip it”, “Automatic”, “Pound the Alarm”, “Sex in the Lounge”, “Beautiful Sinner”, “Marilyn Monroe”, “Starships”,”Right by My Side”, and “Young Forever” are perhaps some of the most utterly useless ballads and club anthems in recent history, lumping themselves together as a nine-headed beast of pop clichés and hackneyed sentiments.
Their crime, aside from the nauseating overtness of “Sex in the Lounge” and the cheese-fest that is “Marilyn Monroe”, is Minaj’s obsession with softening herself. Each track is a continued declaration of her normality, of her intentions to speak softly and sweetly about rising above heartache and disappointment to enjoy a carefree life of fun and less toxic lovers. In her path to cultural realignment, Minaj has forgotten one basic truth: She’s a frakking nut job. When she keeps that in mind in her pop leanings, she gets the shinier “Fire Burns”. Here, Minaj sets blaze to a former beau without forgoing her acerbic wit (“This is a sickening joke that you play with my emotions/And so I pray you burn in hell and you never find the ocean”).
Perhaps realizing the album’s pop failings, Minaj attempts to overcompensate with some gangster posturing on tracks like “Champion” and “Beez in the Trap”. On the former, Minaj is aided by Nas, Drake, and Young Jeezy (who sounds like he needs a new larynx). To a cloud-rap-ready beat of romantic synths, the foursome unveil your run-of-the-mill boasts of hip-hop success and overcoming adversity (Minaj: “This to dedication; this is meditation/Higher education, this the official competitor elimination”). As opposed to returning her to wondrous, off-putting hardness, the track sees her otherwise venomous flow sound like a fraud compared to her running buddies (of which she may only actually be lyrically inferior to Nas).
Trying for the hood vibe once more, Minaj enlists the less lethal 2 Chainz for “Beez in the Trap”. While the beat, a blend of kooky claps and woozy effects creating something akin to a fun house on mescaline, is right up Minaj’s alley, her flow (“Rip it off no joking, like your name Hulk Hogan”) is the ramblings of a petulant teen queen. She’s so close yet so annoyingly far away from the perfect sensibility.
If there are any genuine silver linings to this record, they’re few and far between. The laser-y, synth-laden “Roman Holiday” is more performance piece than rap banger, with Minaj surrounded by the squawk of some Victorian-era-sounding Helena Bonham Carter, imploring Minaj to take her meds. As Minaj’s flow indicates (“Motherfuckah I’m me, who the fuck is this ho?/And yes, maybe just a touch of tourettes/Get my wigs, Terrence, go and get my barrettes”), she’s got no such plans. Where “Beez in the Trap” failed, “Come on a Cone” lets Minaj flaunt her thug-ism more realistically. Paving the way for such manly bravado is the contrasting beat, a kaleidoscopic barrage of strings mimicking a swarm of angry bees.
The LP’s most delicious cut, though, is the closer, “Stupid Hoe”. Every single aspect works in glorious harmony, from the simple, infectious beat built for manic double Dutch to Minaj’s most wacked-out rhymes in some time (“Look Bubbles, go back to your habitat/MJ gone and I aint having that/How you gon’ be the stunt double to the nigga monkey/Top of that I’m in the Phantom looking hella chunky”). It’s no masterpiece, but it too epitomizes what Minaj’s output should accomplish: be as memorable as being blitzed by a half-naked clown covered in tapioca pudding.
Like so much of life, the record failed because it lost its way. Minaj forgot who she was, odd and proud, in the journey to be not only something she’s not (a stereotypical pop songstress), but something she’s far more interesting than. Next time around, Minaj should remember that she’ll always be an outcast, one who can ride her issues and insecurities to true, meaningful success. Otherwise, the only thing worth reloading will be the gun to put her career out of its misery.
Essential Tracks: “Roman Holiday”, “Come on a Cone”, and “Stupid Hoe”