Thursday, 5 April 2012

Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded

Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded marks the second Young Money release of the year, dwarfing the moderately successful Careless World in terms of anticipation. As part of the all-conquering hip hop triumvirate also including Lil Wayne and Drake, Nicki Minaj aims to continue the dominance of the label, capitalising on the exposure her halftime Super Bowl appearance generated in February. Minaj herself has commented that this album provided an opportunity to branch out and diversify from the safe pop formula of her debut LP, utilising the 'Roman Zolanski' alter ego found on some of her most engaging guest appearances (Kanye West's 'Monster' being a particular highlight).

The alter ego concept is used from the very first track. 'Roman Holiday' is quite frankly bizarre, lurching from the sickly sweet, bubblegum chorus to an intense, drum laden beat. This culminates in Minaj singing her own version of 'O Come All Ye Faithful' in a song so strange it just about works. 'Come On A Cone' follows as a less memorable version of its predecessor, carrying on the Zolanski theme with reckless abandon.

Despite the title of the album, after the first two tracks the alter ego is almost dropped entirely. This is not, however, necessarily a bad thing, as Rick Ross and Cam'ron drop by as the first album guests on 'I Am Your Leader'. Minaj leaps back into more settled rhyming territory, Ross providing commanding support. The somewhat surprising addition of Cam'ron turns out to be a bonus, the menacing beat fitting well with his wonderfully weird flow. Ubiquitous man of the moment 2 Chainz is the third guest appearance, lighting up 'Beez In the Trap' over the catchy instrumental.

The undeniable chemistry Nicki shares with Lil Wayne is in evidence on 'Roman Reloaded'. Trading boastful bars, Wayne spits in and out of the beat the way he used to in the golden 12 months before Tha Carter III. Unfortunately, the Young Money label head undoes all his good work by phoning in a verse for 'Sex in the Lounge', a track that is otherwise a strong, sexy R&B offering. Drake pops up on the triumphant 'Champion', along with Young Jeezy and Nas. Though it is refreshing to hear a positive message from Minaj and company, the song never really matches the sum of its parts. It goes without saying that Nas provides the best verse, but it is a chilling glimpse into the future for an MC who has been reduced to this level by his dreadful tax difficulties.

The album abruptly changes tack with new single 'Starships', a catchy dance influenced, euro pop song that is clearly aimed at success overseas, mindful of the fruitful partnership Minaj has engineered with David Guetta and his ilk (thankfully Pitbull and Flo Rida are nowhere to be seen). The next four tracks are virtually interchangeable dance efforts, the best of the bunch probably being 'Automatic'.

Familiar pop territory is returned to for the conclusion of the LP. 'Marilyn Monroe' deals with the pitfalls of fame and jealousy while 'Young Forever' explores a teenage relationship gone sour. The highlight of the section, however, is the Beenie Man assisted 'Gun Shot'. The dancehall tinged pop is complemented perfectly by Minaj doing her best rude boy impersonation, making what could be an odd pairing strangely compelling. The album is rounded off by the regrettable 'Stupid Hoe', an unnecessary Lil Kim diss that already seems outdated.

Track by Track:

1. Roman Holiday (7/10)
2. Come On A Cone (6/10)
3. I Am Your Leader (Feat. Cam’ron & Rick Ross) (8/10)
4. Beez In The Trap (Feat. 2 Chainz) (8/10)
5. HOV Lane (7/10)
6. Roman Reloaded (Feat. Lil’ Wayne) (7/10)
7. Champion (Feat. Nas, Drake & Young Jeezy) (6/10)
8. Right By My Side (Feat. Chris Brown) (6/10)
9. Sex In the Lounge (Feat. Lil’ Wayne & Bobby V) (7/10)
10. Starships (7/10)
11. Pound The Alarm (6/10)
12. Whip It (6/10)
13. Automatic (7/10)
14. Beautiful Sinner (7/10)
15. Marilyn Monroe (7/10)
16. Young Forever (6/10)
17. Fire Burns (5/10)
18. Gun Shot (Feat. Beenie Man) (7/10)
19. Stupid Hoe (5/10)

The Verdict:

As ever, Nicki Minaj remains entertaining and listenable. Unfortunately, the album suffers from filler and a lack of focus. At its best, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a lot of fun, but Minaj needs to find a concept and stick with it if she is to avoid another mixed reception for her work.


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