Nicki Minaj is by no means a conventional rapper.
Being a woman in the rap industry is, on its own, an anomaly, and having enough success to perform at this year’s Grammy Awards with an elaborate stage worthy of Lady Gaga’s attention is even rarer.
But Minaj has done this—and so much more—in her young career.
Her debut “Pink Friday,” along with notable features on Young Money’s “Bed Rock,” Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up” and Kanye West’s “Monster,” propelled her to commercial success in the past two years.
She returned earlier this month with her sophomore LP, “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.”
This follow-up does play like a sort of sequel to its predecessor, as its title suggests—the two are similar, but each stands firmly on its own.
The record starts out incredibly strong—the first six tracks are an onslaught of Minaj’s best rapping.
“Roman Holiday” reintroduces Roman Zolanski, Minaj’s depraved alter ego. First unearthed on “Friday,” Roman is angry, erratic and uninhibited—and perpetually repressed by his mother, Martha.
Minaj goes back and forth between the two, Martha imploring her son to take a “short vacation” in the choruses and Roman rebelling in each verse.
These multiple personalities are what make Minaj so original. In an industry where rappers with copious amounts of braggadocio and little personal depth are the norm, Minaj breaks new ground by revealing the complex layers of her psyche one by one.
It’s honest, and honesty among conceit is always refreshing.
Minaj’s peculiar voice has also become one of her trademarks. Her inflections, especially on “Holiday,” are odd and somewhat unsettling, but fit perfectly with the ethereal synths and dark tribal percussion.
“Roman Reloaded,” another early bright spot, is a quintessential display of Minaj’s rapping prowess. Her rhymes and flow are clever, consistent and unwavering—she goes three solid verses before a particularly excellent guest spot from Lil Wayne ends the track.
The record then takes a turn into some of the most danceable pop songs to date. The beats on “Pound the Alarm” and “Automatic” are so infectious it’s impossible not to move to them.
Minaj’s rapping isn’t nearly as prominent on these middle tracks, but it’s still there and just as strong as it was in the beginning.
The transition between these two contrasting sections of the record is remarkable. “Right By My Side” and “Sex In The Lounge” are a perfect middle ground between the intensity of the first six tracks and the upbeat pop sound of the next five.
Once “Marilyn Monroe” comes up, however, the record definitely hits its low point. That track and the three that follow are largely nondescript, and just aren’t as catching as those before them. The production is bland and cliché—it feels as if these songs have been made before, just with slight variations (and they probably have).
This sound doesn’t feel natural coming from Minaj in comparison with the rest of the album. “Marilyn Monroe” especially contradicts her personality—the pairing of an artist as unique as Minaj with lyrics comparing her to the trite image of Monroe just doesn’t seem right.
But following “Gun Shot,” the record picks right back up. The wonderfully odd production on “Stupid Hoe” is perfectly conducive to Minaj’s plethora of inflections and quick-witted rhymes.
“Roman Reloaded” is a lengthy album, but its great diversity is well worth its apparent prolixity. It shows Minaj is unwilling to settle on just one sound, and with how distinct she is, she shouldn’t have to.