The queen of the guest slot makes a royal mess of album two
There’s a line in ‘Come On The Cone’, that sums up Nicki Minaj too well: “[i]You want a look? Get me on your song/But you know it’ll cost you/About six figures long[/i]”. Not only does it exemplify the dead-eyed mercenary nature of a lot of Nicki’s spitting and sparring, but it also reminds you of what makes her so frustrating. Namely, that in guest verses on others’ songs, she’s so flabbergastingly fantastic you wonder why anyone would want to invite a comparison – but when she’s given a full album of her own, she splurges all her multicoloured potential into a bit of a Jackson Pollock dog’s breakfast.
Of course, a degree of messiness is part of what you expect from the multiple-personaed, deeply inappropriate, candy-wigged Nicki, and a disparate and patchy debut was carried by her immense charm and energy. Neither is in full enough supply on album two to repeat the trick.
‘…Roman Reloaded’ is all over the place, and starts as it means to go on: ‘Roman Holiday”s gothic rave pop chorus, with Nicki hamming it up in horrific cockney, is the worst kind of WTF moment. There’s eccentric, and then there’s zany for the sake of it. The aforementioned ‘Come On The Cone’ with its moody, circling synths and vocally warped chorus is engaging but it’s hard to keep listening when all she’ll talk about is, y’know, how awesome she is and that. The album’s funniest moment is the Trapped In The Closet-worthy ‘Sex In The Lounge’, a slow jam ode to sofa-shagging featuring a syrupy chorus from Bobby V (“[i]I can’t believe this has happened to me, girl[/i]” he croons mournfully, presumably having just accidentally come over Nicki’s mum’s pouffe). ‘Beez In The Trap’ is sizzurp-slow and hypnotic, Nicki’s voice incongrously girlish and cheeky on top.
Past these standouts, the rest of the album flipflops about between hard-edged ‘Nicki ain’t fucking about’ rap of an unremarkable variety (see: ‘HOV Lane’), sugary Katy Perry-style dancepop (see: ‘Starships’) and charmless trancey bagers (see: ‘Pound The Alarm’). It shows range, sure, but it feels so disparate that it’s just baffling. Worse, none of these poses and personae actually feel convincing. ‘Champion’ is a respite, a bit of genuine emotion and thought on a tribute to ghetto roots with a smooth-rolling ’90s feel. With so many duffers, you have to wonder why the album is 19 tracks long, and the only reason you can think is that Nicki isn’t really sure what to pack, so just stuffs it all in and kneels on the lid.
When Kanye said she had the potential to be the number two rapper of all time, he wasn’t wrong. When Lil Wayne said after her debut that she still hadn’t made a really great album, he wasn’t wrong either, and those facts aren’t altered by ‘…Roman Reloaded’. About the best thing that can be said for this is that Nicki can scrawl a big pink line through the ‘make second album’ entry on her priority-ordered World Domination To Do List – probably somewhere under ‘go to wig fitters’.