Past Her Prime: Nicki Minaj’s Sophomore Album Disappoints
Party people, be warned: everyone’s favorite Harajuku Barbie Bitch Ninja Mistress has produced a flop. That’s right: Nicki Minaj is back but unfortunately not better than ever. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded promises all the fun of Pink Friday revamped by her grumpiest alter ego, but proves an underwhelming sequel to a ridiculously successful debut.
While we can’t blame dear old Nicki for succumbing to a sophomore slump, Roman Reloaded is a complete regression from anything that distinguished Minaj as an innovative force in the hip-hop world. Gone is the playful lyricism and infectious rhythm that made Pink Friday more than just another lazy, self-glorifying rap album. Where a charmingly unapologetic attitude once warmed listeners to Minaj’s eccentricities, now only an overbearing aggression remains.
Roman Reloaded certainly doesn’t beat around the bush. The first track, “Roman Holiday,” begins with an onslaught of idiosyncratically bizarre vocals, with Minaj singing in a British accent as she assumes the role of Martha Zolanski (Roman’s mother and one of her many personalities). She arbitrarily drops a sample of the hymn “Adeste Fideles,” but rather than delve into the meatier subject of Christianity (as Kanye would), she predictably ends up talking about herself again. While sparse melodies and limited chord progressions feebly support Minaj’s grandiose singing, the song at least sets the listener up to anticipate of the full weirdness treatment. It never comes.
“Come on a Cone” follows with a whirlwind of name-dropping. Minaj references Ellen DeGeneres, Versace, Anna Wintour, Oscar de la Renta, and even her previous single, “Superbass”—not as an attempt at cultural commentary, but rather as a means of legitimizing her fame. In order to receive the recognition she feels she deserves, Minaj feels she must inform the public that credible celebrities and fashion designers have already recognized her. Lyrics like “But my ice is so cold/it should come on a cone,” and “I’m not masturbatin’/but I’m feelin’ myself” might seem silly, but sadly stand as some of the album’s more clever turns of tongue. The song begins with a driving beat that eventually gets repetitive the only tonal diversion being Minaj’s immature crooning of “Put my dick in yo’ face.”
Reloaded continues with a mixture of unfinished-sounding slow jams and processed dance anthems that provide neither musical intricacy nor original lyrics. Minaj drones on about designer swag and basic bitches, as she insists on her position at the top of the female rap game with songs like “Stupid Hoe.” I would write some of the lyrics here, but “you a stupid hoe” is essentially the only one.
Minaj makes an interesting statement by collaborating with Chris Brown—singer Rihanna’s abusive former boyfriend—on the unimpressive love duet “Right By My Side.” Brown provides the most interesting vocals on the album.
“Young Forever” is a particularly cringe-worthy sequence of recycled love song clichés. “I thought that you would come back for me/And you would take me away” and “Just say goodbye; look in my eyes/So that I’ll always remember” are only a sampling of the mushiness.
In an all-too-familiar anticlimax, the album’s single “Starships” turns out to be its best song. Here Minaj reclaims some of the joy she formerly took in cheeky lyrics and dance music. Her singing is underwhelming and her voice untrained, but a little tonal variation is refreshing after listening to her repetitive flow layered over stagnant beats. Infectious synths have the makings of a club hit. Though “Starships” is unabashedly vapid and manufactured, at least it’s catchy.
At this point in her career, Minaj appears to believe—incorrectly—that she has outgrown her past masters. One would think that as an integral member of Young Money Entertainment, Minaj might have learned a thing or two from Lil Wayne, her mentor and collaborator. But rather than engage in anything remotely close to Weezian wordplay, Minaj demands recognition without substantiating her claim to greatness. Blunt statements like “I am the female Weezy” reflect what appears to be limelight-induced arrogance, as though the size of Minaj’s head has reached a magnitude on par with that of her punchiest counterpart, rapper Kanye West.
Perhaps that uneasy belligerence showing through her transparent lyrics isn’t a result of cockiness but insecurity. Repeated cries of “I am your leader” reveal the desperation of someone who has risen to the top and knows the precariousness of her position. Minaj is frantic that her fame may prove to be of the fifteen-minute variety, but unlike Kanye, she is afraid to own up to her self-consciousness. Her most unsettling admission of fear comes through when she romanticizes herself as an iconic starlet, wondering “Is this how Marilyn Monroe felt?” Minaj likens herself to Monroe in an attempt to elevate herself to the same status, but also in search of some form of self-actualization. And if she doesn’t find it, a crash and burn may be close ahead.
Though joining the ranks of Minaj’s haters might not be the smartest move (at least according to her), I can’t ignore the inadequacy of her thoughtless sophomore effort. Though it’s tough to admit, we may need to come to terms with the decline of our beloved rap-princess-Barbie-extraordinaire. We had a good run, and it was fun while it lasted. But it’s over. I suppose haters really are just gon’ hate.