Nicki Minaj’s ‘Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded’

9 Apr

Nicki Minaj is proving to be one of the brightest sparks in mainstream music as well as in the heavier side of hip-hop – and this is not just down to the colourful wardrobe she struts about in. Since her début studio album, ‘Pink Friday‘, was released in 2010, there has been many questions raised about her psychological state as she acts out numerous personalities; including one named ‘Roman Zolanski’ who she claims to be her twin brother. Minaj lives in a fantasy world as a means of escape and we never know who she really is, but it is these fragmentations that create her musical material and performances making her an intriguing and enchanting artist. Part of this is her rebellion against being labelled, categorised, claiming that there is no such thing as a black-and-white personality and thus she will be who she wants to be when she wants to. It appears that the thought of having restrictions due to being put into a genre, is frightening for her. The effect this has had on her music is very striking, especially in her newest release. It is also worth noting that Minaj studied theatre with a desire to be an actress, but moved into music, thus much of what she enjoyed about acting – her alter-egos and costumes – can be used to explain her fantastical material.

Her latest album, ‘Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded‘, has debuted at number 1 in the UK Album charts but not without causing quite a commotion. Just like her fashion, it is an extraordinary mix of styles making it a hybrid of multiple genres without any static identity. The album can be considered to be split into two parts. The opening is heavily based on hip-hop without any notable sign of exploration as she collaborates with some of hip-hop’s biggest names –Lil Wayne and Drake for example. It is a reflection of her earlier mix tapes in which some titled her ‘The Queen Of Rap’. However, the second part is an overwhelming contortion of sounds that both confuse and arouse the senses with hints of pop, electro, reggae, rock and more. There is no perfection of a specific sound as Minaj and her writers focus on breaking the boundaries of mainstream music, reflecting her fear of restrictions. This division and genre fragmentation can be seen in two lights. Firstly it makes the album sound broken and unfinished due to a lack of coherency showing Minaj to be without focus; it appears to be more about rebelling and having fun so the album cannot be taken seriously. Secondly, and quite the opposite, it can show Minaj to be a talented and open-minded artist; widening her audience and appealing to the musical community as whole without alienating a specific group. Its diversity shows a range of skills and interests but also keeps a listener guessing what will be next; the lack of predictably works in her favour.

Here is a track-by-track breakdown of all 19 pieces:

Roman Holiday‘ opens the album in an almost theatrical manner with Minaj playing out two different characters. First is what I imagine is supposed to be a ‘British Nanny’ as she wears an English accent. The second is her ‘twin brother’, the rebellious Roman who is embodied in the raps, ones  that often breakdown to show the mental state of the character. It has a very strange composition as it plays out like a story, a play even, with many sounds and discourses all bouncing against each other. This makes a very peculiar opening that is both intriguing and confusing but is nonetheless successful as it rouses curiosity making one want to continue with the album. It also roots Minaj in her theatrical background portraying her as an accessible performer and energetic artist.

Come on a Cone‘ follows with a heavy hip-hop sound and attitude as it exudes confidence with its challenges and insults. It is a step down from the opening with a very minimalist composition as the entire focus on the lyrics. There is nothing really wonderful about this track as it sounds so broken and rushed.

This same attitude follows through in ‘I Am Your Leader‘ featuring Cam’ron and Rick Ross. It possesses the same hip-hop foundations with full focus on vocals and minimal sound. There is not a lot of difference from the previous track apart from a chant-like vocal that represents the chorus in a military-like structure of beats and melody.

Featuring 2 Chainz, ‘Beezi the Trap‘ follows with another hip-hop structured composition. Once again, it is very minimal in sound but there is a hypnotic high noted beat backing the track giving it a little more depth. Unlike the other hip-hop pieces, there is something catchy about this one with an infectious rhythm in the chorus making it a little more enjoyable and less threatening compared to the egos that embodied the previous two tracks.

The beat is picked up in the next track, ‘HOV Lane‘. It conforms, once again , to the conventions of hip-hop as it exudes ego and strength with taunting raps but the sound has layers this time; not many but still. It relies on heavy bass beats with electro notes bouncing about the foundations. It is an attempt at being creative, but there is something dissappointing as the sound is just too chaotic.

Next comes another hip-hop piece named ‘Roman Reloaded‘ featuring Lil Wayne. The sound is dominated by heavy drum beats with the odd gun shot coming through. It is in a word, dull, with a lack of fantastical imagination seen in the opening. However, Lil Wayne does steal the spotlight with an impressive display of vocal control and distortion that gives the track back its character.

Supported by Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy, ‘Champion‘ follows as Minaj attempted to illustrate her struggles. There is a little more creativity shown in this track with actual music being heard in the backdrop. It is the most successful hip-hip track on the album as it is even tinted with an R&B melody giving it a huge dose of character. It is an attractive piece with the classical backdrop contrasted with the war-like drums that provides a fierce atmosphere.

The creativity and character follows through in the pop influenced R&B sound of ‘Right By My Side‘ featuring Chris Brown. It is catchy and harmonious with multiple layers and a wonderful display of vocal skill. There is something charming about it as Minaj finally ends her egotistical victory lap and embraces a different theme: romance. Admittedly, there charm is broken by her honest rap that highlights the track, but the twist is welcomed as reality scars the fantasy.

Another collaboration with Lil Wayne, and also Bobby V, follows in ‘Sex in the Lounge’. It is another R&B/Hip-hop hybrid with infectious beats contrasted with the delicate strings in the background to illustrate the sexual imagery. The harmony is pretty and the vocals are strong and controlled giving it an element of sophistication that contrasts effectively with the theme. The lyrics range from being slang to being almost poetic. There is a lot of depth to it, which actually does work with the sexually dominated theme.

Her hit single, ‘Starships‘ follows and introduces the pop-based part of the album. ‘Starships‘ has been lurking in the top five of the UK Singles Chart since its release making it quite the success. It has become an attractive choice for Club DJs as it relies on its contagious beats and catchy melody accompanied by a layer of techno that dominates the centre of the tune. It is a very bright and energetic track that illustrates Minaj’s more playful and care-free character.

Pound The Alarm‘ follows suit with a pop foundation but more reliance on dance-related sounds with a hip-hop twist in the opening vocals. It carries a sexy and carefree vibe that echoes the previous but it is less playful and more fierce; but nevertheless the overall compositions and sound is almost indistinguishable from ‘Starships‘.

Next is ‘Whip It‘, which embodies a very techno sound merged with a hip-hop beat in the foundation and vocals that verge on being reggae. It is another carefree and upbeat track with a sexual undertone that echoes the Latin genre. This is a hybrid sound that is intriguing and enticing; catchy and infectious making it a great party piece.

Automatic‘ takes us back to ‘Pound the Alarm‘ and ‘Starships‘ with its reliance on pop-techno. Just like the others it is catchy and upbeat but overall it is pretty much the same set-up. The three songs might as well be merged into one. The reliance and enjoyment of the tunes is based on the infectiousness it embodies as well as the repetitive lyrics and beats. It is just another dance-club tune to get those hips moving.

Another dance-floor track follows with a theme and composition that echoes Katy Perry‘s ‘E.T.’, ‘Beautiful Sinner‘. It is probably the song’s subject matter that will make it attractive for everyone loves a bad-boy but there is a lack of imagination and creativity that seems to have been left in the theatrical ‘Roman Holiday‘ that opened the album. It is a perfect sing-along for the clubs but not an impressive display of musical skill.

The dance-floor is left behind with the next piece, ‘Marilyn Monroe‘. There is finally some respectable musical exploration as the many layers and genres bounce off each other to create a sensational piece that strikes through leaving a trail of goose-bumps. The base is pop due to the the light and playful piano melody but a strong yet simple guitar in the background adds an edgy rock element that gives it a fierce character. It is a powerful and personal track that stands out from the rest of the album due to its complexity.

A power-pop ballad follows with the enchanting ‘Young Forever’ that also possesses a personal quality. It is a tame piece but still relatively effective as Minaj puts her vocal skills to the test completely abandoning her hip-hop roots. It is almost unexpected as it does not sound like the same artist; it is almost unsettling but also an enjoyable twist to the album.

The personal touch carries through in ‘Fire Burns‘; a track with electro foundations that remind one Owl City. It is a very laid-back tune with a heavy R&B beat contrasted against the techno layers but the overall vibe is dramatic putting it on the edge of the power-ballad.

Minaj returns to her Trinidadian roots in ‘Gun Shot‘ featuring Beenie Man. It is reggae piece with a pop twist; harmonious and steady. The overall sound is up-beat and bright but the vocals bring it down as there seems to be a mumble taking away the clear-cut harmony. Still, it is a good easy-listen that is welcomed after the loud hybrids above.

Stupid Hoe‘ closes the album the same way it was opened; in a most theatrical and experimental manner. Listeners are taken back to the hip-hop opening as Minaj plays around with her voices reminding one that she cannot be categorised in any genre. For the full effect of Minaj’s character watch the music video at the end of this post.

After going through the album track-by-track, one becomes acutely aware of this lack of direction and identity mentioned at the beginning of the post. It is a very messy and uncertain collection of tracks that proves unsettling. It is, however, still wonderful to see an interest in many genres of music with a display of diverse musical skills. There is a song for everyone on this album as Minaj tries to universalise herself and her music; she wants to be in the mainstream but she also wants to be unique.

Check out Nicki’s official site:
Follow her on Twitter: @NICKIMINAJ

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