Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
68:59 min • Young Money • April 3, 2012
After her “satanic” Grammy Awards performance this year, where she was exorcised by Catholic clergy whist “levitating” almost to the top of L.A.’s Staples Centre, Nicki Minaj had two choices. She could either release an album that played it safe, as her very commercial debut album Pink Friday did, or she could offend as many people as possible by releasing a genre hopping, 19 track extravaganza that sounds like the result of a drunken night with Eminem, Missy Elliot, David Guetta and Rihanna. Thankfully for all of us, she chose the latter.
In a genre now overly saturated with below average men, this album marks a welcome return to the hip hop I grew up on, full of filthy female rappers like Trina and Lil’ Kim who redefined what it was to be a woman. Nicki Minaj is, essentially, the good parts of Missy Elliot on crack, and this album spans all of popular music over the past ten years, going from hip hop that is harder than any of her male contemporaries, to dance that is heavier than anything David Guetta has produced in recent years, via r’n’b slow jams, and all threaded together with her trademark, demented rap style. It should, by rights, be a very confused album, but Nicki seems so comfortable with all the styles present here that it actually seems very cohesive. She spits filthier than most men on the track ‘Come On A Cone’, saying,
If you weren’t so ugly,
I’d put my dick in your face!
Before crooning, in her best anti-pop hook fashion,
Dick in your face –
Put my dick in your face!
Elsewhere she steams up the windows having ‘Sex In The Lounge’ with Bobby V and Lil’ Wayne (to whom Minaj often compares herself), croons with Rihanna’s ex (and possibly current) Chris Brown on ‘Right By My Side’, and puts her snarl to the minimal bleeping hip hop of ‘Beez In The Trap’ with Georgian rapper 2 Chainz. But then something unexpected happens halfway through the album. Single ‘Starships’, with its summer acoustic guitar and its house beat, hits you like someone has thrown a copy of ‘California Girls’ by Katy Perry and it slams you right in the face. Thankfully, after the chorus, the song descends into hard house territory, bleeping and whistling its way through 30 seconds of pure neon rave, and all of a sudden the dance direction makes sense. There are several fully fledged Ibiza bangers here – ‘Starship’ sets a good benchmark for the quality and style – which appears to be standard Ibiza commercial dance fare that breaks into huge pulsating noise! ‘Pound The Alarm’ has the perfect singalong chorus,
Uh uh oh Come fill my glass up a little more,
We bought to get up and burn this floor,
You know we getting hotter and hotter, sexy and hotter –
before a heaven of electronica envelopes us. Producer Red One has created the perfect marriage of the commercial with the underground, the heavy production on the dance tracks saving them from becoming David Guetta-esque, Only Way Is Essex singalong fodder. A lot of the music on display here is as uncommercial as it is commercial, and stars like Rihanna would kill to sound this current. Nicki’s vocal lends itself to the frenetic dance music perfectly; that’s not to say she can’t sing, she doesn’t have the worlds best instrument, but she’s on a par with most of the industry’s “singers”, who wouldn’t be able to rap if you stuck a gun to their heads. The heavily commercial ‘Whip It’ should be the epitome of everything I hate about the current trend for dance/r’n’b fusion, if it wasn’t for the breakout into Boys Noize style harsh electronic fierceness that has left it on constant repeat on my iPhone, and tracks like ‘Automatic’ and ‘Beautiful Sinner’ are dance electro-pop genius, given the intricate dabs of electronic noise that pervades them. I don’t know who’s idea it was to take the production risks that make this album so edgy, and whether Minaj working on Madonna’s similarly savage MDNA album influenced her decision to take her music to the next level, but it’s a decision that has had me dancing in several public places I shouldn’t have been while the album blasted out through my headphones. With the main writing credit on every track, I would hope that Minaj had as much to do with the progressive nature of the noise this album makes as her producers did…
Nicki then slows things down again for the beautifully pop honesty of ‘Marilyn Monroe’, on which she sings,
Take me or leave me,
I’ll never be perfect,
believe me, I’m worth it.
over heavy drums and twinkling piano. It’s a head back towards the commercial, but there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s one of the albums strongest moments for me. It’s pop r’n’b at its best and if it’s not a single I’ll eat my own face.
The same could be said for ‘Young Forever’, a catchy summer mid tempo, that wouldn’t be out of place on a Rihanna album. Once again, the production is intricate and decorated with harsh electronic blips that stop the song from dying in commercial no-mans-land.
Closing the album with 1st official single, ‘Stupid Hoe’, one of the albums dirtier and funkier moments, could be seen as an odd move. It would fit far better in the first half of the album, but it reminds the listener what Nicki does best, with its pounding death metal drums, hand claps and rave whistles. It’s a bonkers slice of hip pop that effectively takes elements from all the music on display here and mashes them together. Its “controversial” Hype Willimas directed video that got black America in a tizz with its “overt sexuality” (being banned by BET) see’s her paying homage to Grace Jones and crawling around a cage dressed as a sexy leopard, making the whole thing even more surreal.
This album has something for everyone, but at 19 tracks (unless you have extremely eclectic taste in music) a lot of it will probably get skipped. It’s a great shame, as Nicki owns every genre she jumps onto, and it’s almost impossible to believe that each shift of style has the same person at its helm.
After a lacklustre commercial debut that laid strong foundations, but left me a bit cold with its chart orientated sensibilities, Roman Reloaded feels like a breath of fresh air. If only I had managed to get tickets for her UK headlining debut at Hammersmith Apollo (which are being touted by ticket master themselves for three or four times their face value due to popular demand) then I may have been able to see if Nicki is as accomplished a live performer as she is a recording artist. One thing’s for sure though, this won’t be the last we hear of the self-styled Harajuku Barbie.