Nicki Minaj’s sophomore effort is officially out in the world as of yesterday, though Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded made its way onto the Internet late last week. The album, as countless critics have noted by now, is divided almost evenly between aggro, star-stuffed hip-hop tracks and the catchy pop fare that earned Nicki the admiration of tween stars like Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez. In fact Roman Reloaded plays more or less like two albums stitched together with a Drake-Nas double-feature (that would be “Champion,” on which Nicki takes a backseat to the aforementioned dudes, a very hoarse, almost-on-the-verge-of-the-plague Young Jeezy, and Jeremy Lin’s first rap mention). This musical split-personality is nothing new when it comes to Nicki Minaj, and the kitchen-sink approach does little to resolve her ongoing pop star identity crisis. But it gives us plenty to discuss! So shall we?
Will the hip-hop half be enough to satisfy the “Monster” lovers?
The downside of out-rapping both Kanye and Jay-Z on the most beloved album of 2010 is that you are then expected to out-rap everyone on every song you release henceforth. This is an exaggeration, but Nicki has certainly lived in the shadow of her “Monster” verse for a while, and many fans were dismayed that she either couldn’t live up to its promise or, in the case of the bubbly, Swift-endorsed hit “Super Bass,” would choose not to. The first half of Roman Reloaded — all hard beats, boasts, and generally insane spitfire, alter-ego rapping (plus an Anna Wintour shout-out) — is clearly an attempt to answer these critics. But will they accept it with the second, poppy half tacked on?
How fast was this thing thrown together?
Roman Reloaded is nineteen tracks long and includes multiple references to the Super Bowl and the Grammys, two events that happened … not that long ago! It’s hard not to walk away with the feeling that much of this album was put together at the last minute (presumably after the original February 14 release date) and without much editing.
What will the British Tween Princesses sing now?
The second, Red-One-sponsored half of Roman Reloaded goes out to the Sophia Graces of the world — and to anyone else, we guess, who latched on to “Super Bass” and landed Nicki Minaj at the Grammys at the first place. Except … none of these synth-laden, highly spastic tracks sound like the kind of bubblegum jams that adorable 6-year-olds (and embarrassed adults) will blast on repeat. And unlike “Super Bass,” which was a happy marriage of Minaj’s playful instinct and actual skill, none of these pop tracks sound like Nicki. “Pound the Alarm” is frantic, screechy LMFAO-lite; “Beautiful Sinner” could be a MDNA outtake; the hook on “Whip It” reminded us of late, Zombie Britney Spears. Which brings us to another question …
How many of these songs are leftovers from other pop stars?
The Huffington Post asks whether “Marilyn Monroe” is a Katy Perry song, and it’s a question that could be applied to most of the back half. You have to wonder how far down the pop-star food chain Nicki is, and how many of these tracks didn’t pass muster with KP or Rihanna.
Since we didn’t really get an answer after the Grammys, we’ll ask it again: What the hell is happening in “Roman Holiday” (specifically, the “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” bit in the middle)?
And how many people will stop the album after that first track?
And does any of the above even matter?
“Starships” is already No. 5 on the Billboard 100; “Automatic” and “Pound the Alarm” seem destined to follow, and a handful of the “Roman” tracks will surely get radio play, if only for the guest verses. We’ll be hearing it. And the Top 40 success will surely buy Minaj enough time to dream up whatever over-the-top personality or bonkers guest verse she’s planning next. So is it even worth picking apart? Or should we just stand back and let the Nicki train roll through?