It seems like hardly any time since I reviewed Nicki Minaj’s debut album “Pink Friday”. Granted, the UK caught on to her a little late, and last summer’s release of “Super Bass” turned out to be her solo breakthrough despite numerous (and I mean numerous) hit collaborations. The album has been ticking along but never really hit the upper reaches of the chart. Nothing to be surprised at there, rap albums are a bit of a niche interest here, and I struggle to think of any big albums easily, particularly female ones.
So it’s a bit of a surprise that Nicki’s second album it set to top the chart today. Perhaps people thought it was a deluxe version of “Pink Friday”? Or maybe it’s the benefit of massive hit “Starships” finally rounding up the audience she’s got here and capitalising on previous successes. She certainly puts the legwork in, I’m sure she could release a full CD of her collaborations alone! Anyway, what did I think of it? At 19 tracks I’m feeling a little dubious about tackling this all in one go, but I’ll try my best. It’s definitely an album of two halves, though unusually it’s the second half I’m preferring.
09 Roman Holiday – Alter-ego time, with another episode in the unhinged British-accented mother of Roman, after the potty-mouthed “Roman’s Revenge” on the last album. It’s eye-catching (or ear-catching), and I do rather enjoy her British moments. The tune is a bit crazy, but it’s got a great backing to it. That “World War 6” breakdown is just totally crazy, I love it. I first saw this at the Grammys and wondered why the hell she was performing this, but in hindsight it’s the about the only track that sits in the middle of this disjointed album. Not a bad start, at least a memorable one. Why is she singing a Christmas carol??
09 Come on a cone – Love this evil-sounding siren backing track, feels like something off the first album. She’s a good rapper, a lot more listenable then the male rappers on here. That chorus is just unhinged, what does “come on a cone” even mean?? COMEONACOOWWWWNNNNN. (EDIT- I get a surprising amount of search traffic for what question. I’m not 100% what she means by ice, I guess her jewellery – the only quality ice really has is coldness, so it’s cold/amazing – is so cold, it should come on a cone like an icecream(?!? I’m so white). I don’t know why I love this so much, there are totally unexpected diversions like the “dick in yo face” aside, moreso the diva-style “ooo-whoooh, dick in your face” bits. Love it!
08 I am your leader – OK so far so good, but we’re starting to take on guest rappers at a rapid rate after this so we’ll see. This one has a totally memorable hook in the chorus that I can’t say I was totally prepared for, “I am your leader, suck a big dick”. It shouldn’t really chime with my white-bread sensibilities, and the backing track is a bit repetitive, hell, even the guest rappers seem to work pretty well on this. I didn’t realise Cam’Ron was still going, that’s been YEARS hasn’t it?
07 Beez in the trap – Things are cooling off a bit now, with a pretty straightforward and faceless track. That weird popping soundtrack is sort of infectious, but there’s not much to this one. There’s a memorable enough chorus but it feels like a bit of a re-tread of earlier tracks, singing about bitches and whatever. 2 Chainz doesn’t do much to improve things, sounds like Lil’Wayne or someone familiar anyway. I sort of like that middle-eight in the last third, “I dunno man, I’m shittin on your whole life”, but it’s only a quick diversion.
05 Hov Lane – No, no idea what this means either, sigh. I feel like I’m from the wrong demographic for this album. What’s a Hov Lane? An excuse to do some bragging apparently, but not really adding onto this longstanding rap tradition with anything different, this doesn’t have to be Nicki, I think it could’ve been pretty much anyone. I’m getting a little bored really, this is going to be a long album.
04 Roman Reloaded – UGH this is just annoying. BENG, BENG BENG! I was looking forward to another Roman episode but this seems to be nothing to do with it. More bragging crap, I don’t know who she’s bitching at this time. I did have to raise an eyebrow at “take bitches to school then I Columbine these ho’s”, but even stuff like this doesn’t have the impact “Roman’s Revenge” had, so probably a bunch of songs from her first album. I really HATE Lil Wayne too, wasn’t he supposed to be in prison? I bet his breath stinks too.
05 Champion – What’s that, you need a mainstream hit? How about a shout-out to fallen homies (yeah I’m too white to even type that, let’s say I’m doing it ironically), so after shouting down all opponents to her amazingness, she’s singing a tribute to all sorts of groups like single mothers etc, with a vaguely familiar sample in the background. She’s roped in three(!) guest rappers, trying to multiply the star power with Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy. Christ, is that Nas halfway through, has he had throat surgery or something?! I’m sure it’ll do well on its inevitable release (God knows she seems to release about 10 singles each album), but I’m pretty bored here.
05 Right by my side – Who haven’t we had yet? Oh yeah, Chris Brown! At this point I’m sure someone will pipe up about Rihanna, but he’s been getting proper hits for at least a year since his comeback, so it feels like a bit of a pointless point to bring up now. At least he’s a good singer, and he does his best steer this away from tedious “slow jam” territory but doesn’t really manage it. A limp chorus and unexciting production. We aren’t even halfway through this album 😦
04 Sex in the lounge – Lil Wayne again??? Agh! An even slower and jammier slow-jam than the previous track, I just don’t CARE! This feels like a bit of a tame sexual exploit incidentally, so I’m guessing they don’t mean their lounge at home. It’s almost verging on parody if I think of it like that, are they going to try sex with their socks on next? Anyway totally generic, with another revolting rap from the repulsive Lil Wayne. Seriously, who has sex with this guy?? who pays this guy megabucks to talk about it afterwards?? Yuk.
10 Starships – OH thank God! Like the first half never happened, suddenly the second half is a pretty full-on pop dance album. After listening to a few pointless double-CD ventures, why didn’t they make this a wholly justified double CD? Anyway RedOne will save the day, with a zippy and energetic pop track with some insane breakdowns and memorable lyrics. I can see this working so well in a club (if I ever went to them), and a great launchpad for the album.
10 Pound the alarm – And the momentum keeps up with a track that unbelievably has even more production thrown at it. This has some great throwback moments to 90s dance, but then segues effortlessly back to the present day with a delicious bridge to a totally insane siren-based dance breakdown. I like that she’s properly rapping on bits of it instead of just attempting to just a Rihannna song. She could have probably done with a bit more of that, but this is a hot track, I can’t get enough of it. Another one for THA CLUUUUUUBZZZ
09 Whip it – That opening tingling synth immediately puts me in the mind of J.Lo’s On the floor, but aside from a few moments it’s not like that at all. That hard house bassline for the verses lets her rap the way she does it best. It’s a very bitty song, doesn’t want to be pigeonholed really. Those breakdowns between choruses are really amazing, love it. Seems to have just about stayed away from this feeling like a bunch of Guetta clones, but preserving the appeal of those tracks.
08 Automatic – I didn’t realise the last three songs and this one are all RedOne tracks, no wonder they are so listenable. You’d be forgiven to think that Taio Cruz was in there somewhere, but apparently not. A bit of a generic feel to this one, this definitely does feel like she’s veering into Rihanna territory as well. This chorus is strong but it’s not got a lot of identity. Actually now I hear that middle-eight it feels more like a Gaga song than anything. She wishes anyway, I’d love Gaga to do something a bit more straightforward on the next album – maybe not THIS straightforward though.
07 Beautiful sinner – I had to check that this wasn’t a continuation of “Automatic” for a second. A pretty sparse house track now, and my god, someone else using that contradictory song title thing (Beautiful sinner, beautiful liar, beautiful killer, beautiful monster, and that’s just picking one adjective). There’s not much to this one, feels like this one is squarely aimed at the European charts certainly. It might work but it’s at the cost of her identity. I can see why she’s trying to recreate the hits she’s had as a featured artists on recent dance tracks though.
06 Marilyn Monroe – God this album is so long… well the pop-dance train takes a brief stop now, with a more introspective Rihanna-esque song. Maybe that’s unfair, it’s not like she invented this music. Saying that, I’d rather it sounded like filler from a Rihanna album than filler from her own album. Apart from the eye-catching theme of the song, it’s a pretty standard song, I struggle to have any strong feelings about it. It’s nice enough though.
07 Young forever – You’d think they would make more use of Katy Perry’s hitmaker Dr Luke than just this one track, particularly with two Luke-produced tracks as bonus tracks on the deluxe extended edition (the idea of which fills me with dread). It’s got quite a lovely chorus but the verses are really flat as a pancake. If she’s looking for a midtempo hit this is probably a decent bet, but it’s no “Fly”. She really needs to play to her strengths, she’s a competent vocalist but unless she’s got a killer song, her vocals aren’t enough to rest a whole song on, her rap skills need some airing. This could easily be any number of female singers.
08 Fire burns – Now this is a bit more promising. A downbeat electro intro, and she’s emoting a bit more on the vocals. It’s a bit of a sparse chorus, but the delivery and production are pitched pretty well, especially then the beat finally kicks in briefly. OK it’s not the most exciting track ever but it at least feels a bit more personal. I don’t believe anyone other than the writers want her to not be like Marilyn Monroe, but I can sort of believe this one.
06 Gun Shot – This would be quite nice if it didn’t have bloody Beenie Man on it. But apparently she hasn’t satisfied her bigot quota yet on this album, so here we are. Like Rihanna before her, she’s making the most of her islander accent on what is pretty much a Trinidadian cover version of Pink’s “Fuckin Perfect”. Not the verses particularly, which pass without much note, but that chorus always reminds me of it. I like the gentle beepy/chimey backing track, very laid back and Caribbean, but then we have a guest spot by Beenie Man, sounding a little gross on the bits I can actually understand. I just have no idea what’s going on, a bit of an unintelligible mess for the most part.
08 Stupid Hoe – What the hell??? Lead single!? Stuck at the end of the pop half of this album?!? Nothing about this makes sense. It’s quite an earache but it’s weirdly grown on me, it’s totally obnoxious and awful, but in a typically Nicki fashion. Nobody else could have a bridge just consisting of “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. Happily reminiscent of Missy Elliott, and a totally insane choice of a single. You a stupid hoe, you a you a stupid hoe. I’ve been saying that to my sister all week. If you can’t make a good song, at least make it endearingly memorable. That endless “whoop!” noise is giving a migraine. That diva-apeing (I think) singing section is funny if it’s a parody. But then is abruptly stops. “I am the female Weezy”. Who? What? It just ends then. WHAT!? What just happened?
Oh God that felt like a war of attrition against this album. After a month of reviewing mostly pop albums, a bloated 19-tracker is a bit of a shock to the system before you even think it’s Nicki. A really confused album though, there are the foundations for two albums with a solid direction, a rap one or a pop one. Just sticking them together (and not even mixing them) is a strange approach. The X-factor of her first album seems to be intact for the first few tracks but it quickly descends into horrific guest-rapper-filled slow-jamz and statements to her various haters (while Lil Wayne slimes on about different pussies and how he’s going to stick his junk in a bunch of them).
The start of the pop album is a welcome relief, and RedOne really saves the day when he’s involved. But even the pop half descends into trend-chasing blandness. Are they trying to make her a proper singer, or a Rihanna clone? Or what? I don’t really know. I can’t say this album isn’t lacking in identity, in fact it has multiple identities that don’t really mesh together. I can appreciate they want to strike while the iron is hot (particularly since Pink Friday was out in the States for a lot longer than it was here), but slapping together two mediocre albums of two flavours and not trimming any of the fat strikes me as a bad approach. They should have called it “Roman Overloaded”.
Keepers for the iPod: Roman Holiday, Come on a cone, I am your leader, Starships, Pound the alarm, Whip it, Automatic, Stupid hoe (just for a laugh).