Nicki Minaj often refers to herself as a “Barbie,” and in addition to the glamorous outfits and inhuman physical proportions, she lives up to the nickname well with her ever-changing roster of personalities. Everyone has their favorite version of The Nicki Doll—the round-the-way girl from the mixtapes, the psychotic monster from the Kanye track, the Technicolor pop diva—but unfortunately, the accessories for each model don’t seem to be interchangeable. The new audience that came with Pink Friday doesn’t want the same thing that the old audience does, and while she seems to be trying a little harder to split the difference on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, the clawed gloves just don’t fit in Nicki’s Dream House.
Although she vehemently claims not to care about the mixed reception to her first album on Roman Reloaded’s title track, Nicki front-loads her second album with the rap-tracks that many thought were lacking from her first. “I Am Your Leader” (featuring Cam’ron and Rick Ross, both playing to win) is a much-needed reminder of what made Nicki appealing to begin with—a fun streak of pink across an otherwise dark landscape. Also worth checking for is “Champion,” where an uncharacteristically restrained Nicki recruits Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy for a good ol’ fashioned “we made it” jam. On the other side of the spectrum, “Beez in the Trap” (with 2 Chainz) is considerably more playful, but it still works by stopping short of outright silliness.
When things do get silly, however, they get very silly. Opener “Roman Holiday” is another chapter in the tale of Nicki’s male alter ego, but the song makes about as much sense as the character does (none). “Come on a Cone” further proves that rapping more isn’t necessarily the answer: it starts out well enough, but devolves into over-the-top histrionics quickly. There’s a thin line between the rap tracks that work and those that don’t—the beats for five or six of them are completely interchangeable—but ultimately, there’s not quite enough of the good to appease those who would consider the rest of the album bad.
Meanwhile, that “rest of the album” is likely to spark the same debates that surrounded the first Pink Friday. “Starships” is perfectly designed for the increasingly popular House-inspired Dance Pop scene. So is “Pound the Alarm.” And “Whip It.” And “Automatic.” And almost everything else. That’s not to say that these songs are bad, but the fact of the matter is that even by the loosest definitions, Nicki Minaj is not making Hip Hop music. If you count yourself among the group who was disappointed by Pink Friday, you’ll be just as disappointed by two-thirds of Roman Reloaded.
Even more so than with most albums, how listeners feel about Roman Reloaded will be heavily influenced by what context they place Nicki Minaj in as an artist. If you’re looking for a Dance Pop album, this is actually a pretty good one, especially compared to other artists in the genre. If you’re looking for good Hip Hop, however, look elsewhere because there’s very little of it here. Pop Star Nicki is still going strong so her fans should have nothing to worry about, but those of us who started collecting with the original line should probably just find a new hobby—Mixtape Nicki has been discontinued.