By Nick Desideri, Staff Writer
Mixtape rapper turned megastar Nicki Minaj strives to be the Sybil of pop. From British mum Martha to Nicki Lewinsky, Minaj crafts various alter egos that she slips into while rapping. Whether it’s a gimmick or actual artistry remains to be determined.
Minaj’s main alter ego, a homicidal gay man named Roman, suggests the latter. Every one of Roman’s previous turns proved to be artistically lucrative for Minaj.
“Roman’s Revenge,” her showdown with Eminem on her debut, Pink Friday, stood out as the album’s best track. Her ferocious verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” made fellow guests Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Kanye himself seem like kittens in comparison. “Watch the queen conquer,” indeed.
But Minaj ditches Roman about six tracks into Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, schizophrenically embracing eurodance, smarmy balladry and R&B for the remaining 16.
In a way, Reloaded is almost noble in its thematic messiness. Like Minaj herself, it oozes an artificial chromatic glitz, embracing the cherry-picking music culture of Itunes. Still, behind a bloated tracklist lies an artist preoccupied with pleasing everyone, but at the price of losing her vision.
Not that pop albums necessarily need a vision or artistic integrity. After all, our generation made, and continues to make, Britney Spears a music superstar against her will.
But when songs like the fabulously hazy “Beez in the Trap” coexist alongside horribly autotuned stompers like “Starships,” it’s hard not to wish Reloaded had a bit more thorough quality control.
And a bit more Nicki. After building a career on song features, it’s fitting how much of a guest Minaj feels on her own album. Many of the best moments on Reloaded, like the dance breakdowns on “Whip It” or “Pound the Alarm” owe more to Lady Gaga producer RedOne’s dial twirling than Minaj herself.
And those are the good moments. Overlong opus “Champion” relegates Minaj to singing a lackluster chorus while fellow big-names like Drake and Nas swap verses.
Even worse than Minaj’s anonymity is her aping of other artists. Pop is cyclical, and no one is truly original, but Reloaded takes reductive to a whole new level.
While the lyrics to “Gun Shot” sound nearly indecipherable, the chorus melody definitely resembles that of Brit Jessie J’s hit “Price Tag.” Imitating another artist isn’t unheard of in pop, but to imitate the most aggravating new artist of the decade?
At least Minaj aims higher on “Fire Burns,” where she tries to pull off her best Beyonce impression, but to no more success. Some of the dance tracks sound like Rihanna knock-offs. For someone with such an established persona, Minaj fails to give Reloaded the character it so desperately lacks.
If only Minaj had relied more on her own character, Reloaded would have worked far better than it does.
The best cuts on the album display Minaj at her most animated. “Hov Lane” plays like “Super Bass’” murderous little sister, while “Stupid Ho” flow of non-sequiturs match perfectly with a ridiculous beat.
“Who’s gassin’ this ho, BP?” Minaj ponders. It’s kind of tragic, yet fun in a very irreverent way.
Reloaded is at its worst when Minaj starts to take herself seriously, and actually tries to invoke emotion in the sappy ballads that round out the album.
“Marilyn Monroe” ranks not only as one of the worst songs on the album, but one of the worst songs of the year so far. Minaj even incorporates Monroe’s famous quote “If you can’t handle my worst/You ain’t getting my best” into the chorus, inadvertently resembling a teen girl’s anguished Facebook status.
Various other autotuned ballads, like the horribly sappy “Young Forever,” fail to stand out among the excessive amount of tracks.
Reloaded is an album for the musically hyperactive, for those who can comb through their favorites while ignoring the awfulness. While it wears its artificiality with pride, something should be said for creating an actual body of work, instead of a conglomeration of crowd-pleasing songs. Pop stars like Madonna have been able to strike such a balance. Minaj on Reloaded does not.