Hip hop/pop hybrid Nicki Minaj's much awaited sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, may have many moments of musical glory, but the songs in between are likely to leave you feeling like you've just glimpsed into Judy Garland's mind after a handful of Seconal. Minaj's prestige and elevation to fame after the ascendancy of the first Pink Friday may have gone to her head just a bit. Otherwise, I doubt the majority of Roman Reloaded would be characterized by shrieks and unintelligible yelling. But then, I suppose only Roman can be blamed for that.
With "Roman Holiday," an opener that will make you feel like you're in a demented version of the Audrey Hepburn movie of the same name, Minaj reprises her role as Roman's mother, Martha Zolanski, urging, "Take your medication Roman, take a short vacation Roman. You'll be okay." The most horrifying clincher is when Minaj digresses into a sinister version of "Come All Ye Faithful." Then there is, hands down, the worst track on the album, "Come On A Cone," in which Minaj tells us all about a "dick in your face."
Thankfully, the third song, "I Am Your Leader" featuring Cam'ron and Rick Ross, begins to steer the album in a more bearable direction. It may actually be Cam'ron's best musical effort since "Hey Ma." As Minaj chants, "I am your leader," you quickly start to believe it's true. She then forces you to realize, "I'm a brand bitch, I'm a brand." At least she owns up to that fact. "Beez in the Trap" featuring 2 Chainz follows, faintly smacking of Fergie as Minaj raps, "Bitches say shit and they ain't say nothin," which sounds an awful lot like, "Fergalicious definition: make them boys go loco."
"HOV Lane" opens with a futuristic beat and segues into one of Minaj as Roman's more harder-edged raps as she asserts, "I'm in my own lane, you ain't in my categor. You like a RAV-4, I'm like the Inventador" (yes, that's a car name she made up). The other noticeable track with "hit appeal" is the title track featuring Lil' Wayne, "Roman Reloaded." With an aggravated backbeat and an addictive chorus ("Bang, my shit bang, it bang bang"), this is the most ear-catching song next to "Stupid Hoe." Minaj even references her controversial Grammy performance, questioning, "Is it me or did I put these rap bitches on the map again?/You mad 'cause I'm at the Grammys with the Vatican."
Another remarkable collaboration comes in the form of "Champion" featuring Nas, Drake (no stranger to the Minaj fold), and Young Jeezy. The emphasis of the track is contingent upon the contention: "Came back to Queens to head up a new state." As someone who proudly recognizes where she is from (Jamaica! Queens, that is), Minaj also comprehends her responsibility to make it a better place now that she has the means and resources to do so ("This is for the hood, this is for the kids"). Chris Brown makes a cameo on the subsequent upbeat anthem, "Right By My Side." Ironically, Minaj delivers her most Rihanna-like tone as she sings, "I'm pourin' my heart out."
"Sex in the Lounge" featuring (yet again) Lil' Wayne and Bobby V. is perhaps an homage to Minaj's occasional boyfriend/promotional guru, Safaree "SB" Samuels, considering her observation, "He addicted to hustle, I'm addicted to fame." The Billboard chart-topping song, "Starships," in which Minaj will vocally resemble Katy Perry as much as she ever will, is another album highlight, if not slightly on the superficial side. "Pound the Alarm," one of the rare instances where Minaj sings unaccompanied, is another feel-good track in the vein of "Starships." Once again, Minaj affirms her superiority over other females in her genre: "What I gotta do to show these girls that I own them?/Some call me Nicki, some call me Roman."
In a nod to Devo, "Whip It" bolsters the dance rhythm of Roman Reloaded, evocative of a party that might take place in Ibiza or India as Minaj shouts, "Hey stranger over there, I really like the way you whip it" (insert whip-cracking sound effect here). "Automatic" mimics the inflection of Rihanna's "We Found Love," continuing to propel the more buoyant side of Roman. "Beautiful Sinner" (coincidentally a similar title to Madonna's "Beautiful Killer" from the recently released MDNA, on which Minaj collaborates with M.I.A. for "Give Me All Your Luvin'") is Minaj's love letter to Trinidad, allowing her to tout, "South Africa is where I am from/Get me my banjo, get me my drum" and "Trinidad, Trinidad/My island."
Yet another connection to her fraternization with Madonna as a dancing Marilyn Monroe in the video for "Give Me All Your Luvin'" is the track named for said blonde bombshell. In it, Minaj laments, "Sometimes I feel like Marilyn Monroe: I'm insecure, I make mistakes." As the pace of the album continues to slow down, "Young Forever" (in keeping with the Marilyn Monroe theme) signals the third act, so to speak, of Roman Reloaded. Singing some of her more maudlin lyrics, Minaj croons, "Frozen in time, always be mine/Baby boy, you'll be young forever."
The somewhat obviously titled "Fire Burns" bolsters the vulnerable side of Minaj, allowing her to vent about love lost as she bemoans, "This is a sickening joke that you play with my emotions." "Gun Shot" featuring Beenie Man is the perfect transition from "Fire Burns," with its moderate rhythm and the smooth vocals of Beenie Man to complement Minaj's narrative. "Stupid Hoe" changes up the stride of the slow jam trilogy with the infectious accusation, "You a stupid hoe."
Those with the bonus track edition of Roman Reloaded are also subject to the David Guetta/Nicki Minaj dance-suffused partnership, "Turn Me On," the ultra-80s sounding "Va Va Voom," the equal part rap, equal part pop "Masquerade," and a twenty-one minute interview entitled "Press Conference" with Minaj's main squeezes Charlemagne and Safaree "SB" Samuels. When asked about if she feels she gets enough love from New York, she vehemently denies being appreciated in spite of how hard she worked to rise to her current stature. She even recalls, "I was sellin' my fuckin' mix tape outta my muthafuckin' BMW on Jamaica fuckin' Avenue." Enough said.