It is clear that Nicki Minaj was not exactly sure what type of album she wanted to make when approaching her latest offering, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Caught between making a “hardcore” rap album and a happy-go-lucky pop album, Roman Reloaded sounds confused at best and horribly disjointed at worst. Individual songs may be strong, but as an album, Roman Reloaded is bipolar, transitioning abruptly from violent, absurdist lyrics to sing-song hooks and dance beats.
The album begins with a series of six bizarre, and to be perfectly honest, bad, songs. Nicki Minaj ostensibly wanted to focus more on her dangerous, psychotic alter-ego “Roman Zolanski,” and these are the Roman offerings for the album. These six blend into a blur of half-rapped, half-screeched vocals with non-sensical catchphrases such as “it should come on a cone!” repeated ad nauseam with little to no purpose. It did not necessarily have to be this way. Nicki Minaj has proved before, particularly on her outstanding guest verse on Kanye West’s “Monster,” that she can marry this spastic, frenetic style with intriguing lyrics and a laser-like focus. Unfortunately, this is not the case on Roman Reloaded.
Lyrically the first songs on the album basically devolve into typical rap bragging coupled with lots of sexual content. Musically, the beats are sparse, driven primarily by drums and synth loops, but the focus is squarely on Minaj’s vocal performance. That is not a good thing in this case. The first song, “Roman Holiday,” is emblematic of the album as a whole. It is a multi-part, disjointed mess that seems to have had a very haphazard thought process go in behind it. The guest spots on these first six are hit or miss, with Rick Ross offering a welcome breath of fresh air on “I Am Your Leader,” but 2 Chainz falling flat on his face on “Beez in the Trap.”
But all of the sudden, comes along “Champion” with its all-star cast of Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy, and expectations for the rest of the album are revived. Strong lyrics from all four rappers about achieving dreams and escaping the ghetto impress, though the content is certainly nothing novel for rap music. The sung hook and catchy beat also come as a welcome relief from the oppressive first six songs. “Champion” essentially serves as a buffer track, not quite hard hitting rap, but not completely poppy either, and thus it is likely the strongest cut from the album. Minaj proves to be at her best when she combines her skills for catchy hooks and intense verses. Indeed, “Champion” seems to be the only song on the album that actually marries Minaj’s two music-making impulses. After “Champion,” the album takes an unabashedly pop turn with Minaj focusing on singing and poppy dance beats.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, every song from current hit “Starships” to penultimate track “Gun Shot” could easily light up the billboard charts. With good reason, this is well constructed, fun, dance-able hip hop with fun beats, catchy hooks and solid verses for the most part.
The only downside is that other than Minaj’s penchant for weird accents, there really isn’t anything to differentiate the second half of the album from the rest of the pop charts. “Starships” would be right at home on Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, “Automatic” could be a Lady Gaga B-side, “Pound the Alarm” sounds like LMFAO lyrics and music with a female vocalist. Again, no song is particularly poor, in fact this section of the album is quite enjoyable at many parts, but it feels as if Minaj is trying her best to emulate current pop-stars without finding her own voice.
And there lies the inherent contradiction of Roman Reloaded. When Minaj is trying to sound different or edgy it comes across as non-sensical and certainly not enjoyable. When she isn’t screeching or calling people “stupid hoe[s],” she sounds like a generic female pop-star. While I’m sure Roman Reloaded will spawn many dance-floor hits, I’m not sure anyone will remember it in a year when the tracks have run their course.