At her best, Nicki Minaj is a perverse Barbie doll with a filthy mouth, a bogus accent, and semi-psychotic leanings. At her worst, the Queens-based rapper and singer produces the sort of bland noise that can be found on just about every other rap-tinged pop recording.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is Minaj’s second album and it finds her concentrating more of her energy on her alter-ego, Roman Zolanski. Roman is, in Minaj’s mind, her “twin brother.” “He” is an outlet for her resentment, apparently, and “he” pulls out her aggressive side.
As delightful as it is to consider an album based around a storyline and an alter-ego, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded doesn’t deliver enough on the vowed psychosis.
It is a pretty patchy record, with the first third providing hip hop delights and splendid rudeness with the latter two-thirds tumbling into standard Euro-pop and dance hits. Minaj is at her most interesting when she’s brashly pushing limits and making good on her ability to shock listeners with her underestimated flow. She can be a penetrating, acerbic, astonishingly derisive rapper when the circumstance calls for it, but Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded seems to favour convention to tangible envelope-pushing.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting moments on her new album, mind you.
“Roman Holiday,” the album’s opener, features Minaj belting out an irrational and somewhat disquieting exhortation that is essentially an exchange between Roman and Roman’s mother Martha Zolanski. This is Minaj at her best and darkest, raging away with irrepressible vehemence.
“Come On a Cone” follows the lead track with spiralling ambiance and Minaj in staggering, demonic hysterics. She is preposterous and all sorts of killer fun, especially when she launches into a fervent American Idol-esque bit that is, in spirit, nothing more than a dick joke.
Then there’s “I Am Your Leader,” a definitive hip-hop cut that demonstrates just how sinewy and inhumane Minaj’s flow can really be.
But as Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded progresses, it loses steam – fast. It gives far too much time to flaccid, throwaway pop songs like “Starships” and the awful “Marilyn Monroe.” And “Beautiful Sinner” is a lacklustre club banger, one that very nearly spoils the whole thing. As if that wasn’t enough, Chris Brown loads his overvalued and superfluous existence into the flavourless “Right By My Side.”
The convulsive, infuriating, sardonic “Stupid Hoe” fortunately closes the album out, but by the time the single arrives it feels tacked on to a much weaker album.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded has the components of a quality rap record and it has enough juice to avoid outright dismissal, but it’s really not a good album by any stretch of the imagination. Minaj’s imagination and lyrical dexterity come out to play in the form of Roman Zolanski, but the devilish alter-ego is shoved back in the box far too soon for “his” impact to be truly felt.