Here’s a review of “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded”, the album by Nicki Minaj, which originally appeared in the June 2012 issue. This is a slightly extended version.
Let’s get it straight from the beginning – Nicki Minaj is not for everyone. Minaj represents the holy grail for teenagers seeking rudeness – a potty-mouthed rapper who happens to use her videos to showcase her fondness for provocative sexuality. She has said that she doesn’t make music for children and that, essentially, she wants to be judged on a gender-neutral scale against the most-accomplished rappers in the business. And yet, her fondness for pink wigs, video gurning, and perky pop production makes her catnip for younger girls, inviting the inevitable newspaper thought-pieces on her status as a role model.
The opening section gives the best sense of Minaj’s personality. For example, “Roman Holiday” starts with a strange cockney exhortation to “take your medication, Roman”, before this gives way to some pitch-bending Minaj rap, weird clicky minimalistic production, some apocalyptic dancehall toasting, and a brief appropriation of O Come All Ye Faithful. It is baffling, unhinged, and brilliant. Songs that follow feature ARP synth sirens, buzzing bass, and cavernous reverb, with Minaj’s raps confrontational, surprising, and too profane to print here. Guests like Cam’ron, Drake and Young Jeezy point up Minaj’s individuality through their gangsta saminess.
The second section – including the single “StarShips” – shifts into bright, multi-coloured pop with immense, over-produced Euro-club middle-8s. Minaj’s singing voice is often autotuned within an inch of its life, and these songs really could be sung by anyone.
Even worse are the ballads near the back of the album. “Fire Burns” is an Adele-esque breakup song, for goodness’ sake – she should be above that. These tracks feel like Minaj branching out into areas of inexpertise – studio experiments that neglect her genuine strengths.
Teasing any deeper, spiritual meaning from these songs is like searching for vitamins in candyfloss. Minaj is often speaking in character, with her multiple alter-egos all part of a complicated overarching history impenetrable to newcomers and tailor-made for internet messageboard discussion.
So, it’s a incohesive album, ham-fistedly sequenced, with some tantalising visions of an artist in development – there are glimpses of an individualistic creativity unmatched in rap since Andre 3000. This album doesn’t contain the crossover smash that takes Minaj into the mainstream – a “Hey Ya” or “My Name Is” – but then, I get the feeling that the mainstream is not where she wants to be. She might have been pulled in different directions by competing interests – producers, record labels, video directors, and her own restless creative desires. Or maybe she’s impatiently doing absolutely everything all at once, and waiting for the listening public to catch up.