Friday, 6 April 2012

Pop Corner: Nicki Minaj - Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded


Last year, it was hard to avoid Nicki Minaj's breakout hit "Super Bass," the Pink Friday bonus track received by fans so strongly, it warranted a single. And, much like the rest of her debut, it divided fans of Minaj's earlier, more hip-hop oriented days and those welcoming her arrival to pop music. Perhaps for the sake of broad spectrum fan appeal, promotional single "Roman in Moscow" was released months after, perhaps hinting a return to her former stylings. Then follow-up single "Stupid Hoe" destroyed all hope. The sonic epilepsy of the beat is hard to swallow enough and the verses are typical diss-track material, but the infamous chorus takes it to "utterly unbearable" territory. It's an abomination. We all know. So let's move on.

Probably much to Eddie's disgust, I really did enjoy Minaj's Grammy performance. It may have been a transparent, attention-whoring grab at controversey/hype, but Nicki put on a fierce performance, spastically switching between a confident shit-talker and an agonized victim of the disembodied "Mother." As horribly disappointing as "Stupid Hoe" was, it returned my faith that Roman Reloaded would actually be passable with only a few throwaway tracks. And even if it sucked, at least I'd have "Roman Holiday."

Well, I guess I can't even have that. "Holiday" is the opener, polished down and hollow, missing the sudden mood swings of its live incarnation, practically declawed. Ultimately Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is much of the same: Slight buildups, followed by harshly-dropping disappointments.

Split between hip-hop tracks in the first half and full-on pop in the second, Roman Reloaded clocks in over an hour and a half, bonus tracks included. It's practically a double album. And that's awful.

Little can be said about the first act. "Come on a Cone" is a dizzying brag featuring a sung invitation to suck Nicki's dick. "I Am Your Leader" gives us a welcome break from Minaj with verses by Cam'ron and Rick Ross, but that does nothing to save us from its obnoxious chorus featuring another inviation to suck dick. "Jake, what is up with these dicks?" you may ask. If you're unfamiliar with Minaj's self-contained mythology, Roman (ie, the titular "Reloaded" character) is Nicki's gay male alter ego. "It just sounds like Nicki rapping about her usual stuff. What does this 'Roman' character do differently?" Nothing really.

"Hov Lane" is probably one of the more entertaining songs off this half. "What is it about?" I couldn't tell you. There really isn't much memorable about anything here. "Champion" is the obligatory "we made it" track. While serviceable, it too is forgettable, and even Nas can't really give it the final push it needs. Nonetheless, you know you're doing it wrong when all your guests aren't giving their all in their verses and STILL manage to outshine you on your own album.

"Right by My Side" marks the beginning of the pop side. In case you were not aware, Nicki can't really sing. Granted, she's not so heavily autotuned past the point of sounding human, but there's little to her voice that bears either talent or a quick endearing enough. When it comes to "Sex in the Lounge," the guilded-decadent beat and lyrics insisting there is anything extraordinary about the subject convinces me this must have been written by The Lonely Island.

From there, the album turns into "okay, how can we make another 'Super Bass?'" "Starships" is undeniably a sunny party jam reminiscent of Katy Perry's candy gloss with a Eurodance breakdown in the channel of Usher's "OMG" and Britney's "Til the World Ends." So it's no surprise it's such a hit: it's made of everyone else's. No favors are done placing "Pound the Alarm"...and "Whip It"...and "Automatic"...and "Beautiful Sinner" right after it. Whatever cookie cutter her producers used must be utterly worn down by now. Sure, these songs would thrive in the right environment, but do they sound like works made with personality and a sense of identity? Absolutely not. The whole affair is a rushed exploitation to capitalize on her last single's popularity.

If that wasn't enough, we are subjected to one of the albums biggest offenders: "Marilyn Monroe." Taking the "I'm impatient/selfish/hard to handle...if you can't handle my worst, you don't deserve my best" spiel attributed to her (now overquoted by millions of self-absorbed queens as an instant means of excusing their own faults and bullshit...but that rant can be saved for another time), Minaj turns it into a self-righteous, saccharine ballad to herself. "Young Forever" and "Fire Burns" are just as dull, but are unremarkable. The best song out of those whole mess is "Gun shot," nearly unintelligible between Nicki and Beenie Man, it builds up into a babbling duet of a chorus punctuated by...gun shots. By no means does it sound very good on paper, but it's actually executed pretty well. Unfortunately it has to be on the tail end of an exhausting listen of an album...and it's not even over yet.

"Stupid Hoe" closes out the standard edition. That's all I'll say about that...

The bonus edition contains three more songs: The David Guetta single "Turn Me On," (brief "rapping" portion aside, I didn't even know it was Nicki singing, it's so bland). And, at this point, it's even tiring to even sit through "Va Va Voom" or "Masquerade" unless I drop E.

In short, it's long, repetitive, and ultimately needless. I may need a holiday from Roman myself.
~Jake

Hip-hop side: 4.6
Pop side: 3.5

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