"I always thought I could write pop songs for someone else or I could write R&B records for someone else, but I didn't think that people would accept me writing those type of songs and me singing them and just being who I am," Nicki Minaj recently told Complex about her hotly anticipated sophomore album "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded," which leaked on Wednesday (March 28) ahead of its April 3 release date. "And I guess that's the point... The goal is to not want their acceptance, the goal is to just do you and they'll come around."
Indeed, the first half of "Roman Reloaded" is the sound of Minaj doing a victory lap - already established enough in hip-hop to compete with her male counterparts, she leaves plenty of room for guests like Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Drake, and Chris Brown to take the mic. This time around, however, she seems to have her sights set on competing with Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Madonna, based on the album's pop-heavy second half. If you thought her David Guetta single "Turn Me On" was a major departure last summer, get ready for five more songs that sound pretty much exactly like that.
In short, Minaj spends more time exploring her musical identity on "Roman Reloaded" than she does perfecting one, which makes the album sound bloated and rushed. It's also her most overtly commercial work to date, and will rapidly expand her fan base while alienating a good chunk of her core to focus on singing instead of imaginative rhymes.
Which "Roman Reloaded" track will lead Nicki Minaj to the chart domination she and her Young Money team are known for? Here's our track-by-track review of each song.
1. "Roman Holiday": Minaj kicks off the album with her unpredictable alter ego, Roman Zolanski, saying, "I'm a lunatic and this can't be cured with no elixir." Also unpredictable are the random sonic drops on several of "Roman Reloaded" tracks. Exhibit A is a crooning version of, "O Come, All Ye Faithful."
2. "Come On a Cone": Minaj takes three minutes to boast and fade those who've closed their eyes or challenged her on what sounds like part two of "Did It On Em." Don't be surprised if you walk away singing "Dick in your face/ Put my dick in your face," off key.
3. "I Am Your Leader" feat. Rick Ross and Cam'ron: To stunt or to son? That is the question. Minaj chooses to do both through out the first part of the album. The nostalgia of Cam's return trumps the overall catchiness of the song.
4. "Beez In the Trap," feat. 2 Chainz: The Kenoe-produced cut is one of the stand-out tracks of the album, reminiscent to Minaj's mixtape days. Good call on Minaj's behalf to recruit hip-hop's MVP, 2 Chainz.
5. "Hov Lane": Minaj's energy lives up to the bass heavy beat, but her rhymes are unimaginative on the ode to Jay-Z's legacy. "Big ass chain/ I'm heavy… Fuck you said bitch?/Fuck you, porn star"
6. "Roman Reloaded," feat. Lil Wayne: Aside from Wayne stealing her spotlight, Minaj contradicts herself, denying her transition to pop (see "Starships" and beyond). "So I laugh at hopefuls/ 'Nicki pop'/ Only thing that's pop is my endorsement op/ Fuck around and have to go and reinforce the gloc," Nicki raps.
7. "Champion," feat. Nas, Drake, Young Jeezy: Minaj sheds light in her journey from struggle to success, "Bitches don't know the half like they flunked at math/ Bitches ain't have cut up crack up in the stash… Cause they killed my little cousin, Nicholas/ But my memories only have the images." Hip-hop heavyweights Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy, come in to celebrate their resilience.
8. "Right By My Side," feat. Chris Brown: Minaj lets her guards down on the duet with Chris Brown. The song is sonically similar to Jordan Sparks and Brown's "No Air." The highlight is Minah's honesty, "It ain't your spit game, it's your dick game that got me walking around ready to wear your big chain."
9. "Sex in the Lounge," feat. Lil Wayne and Bobby Valentino: Sonically and lyrically subpar, Minaj, Wayne and Bobby take turns to speak on their turn-ons while out in the streets and in between the sheets.
10. "Starships": From the moment Nicki announces "Let's go to the beach / beach," on this current single from RedOne, it's become abundantly clear that the pop half of the record has kicked in. The most polarizing single in Minaj's career to date, "Starships" nevertheless has monstrous pop hooks that overshadow its throwaway lyrics ("I'm on the floor / I love to dance / If you want more / Then here I am.") If you don't care for this track, this may be where the album ends for a solid eight tracks for you.
11. "Pound The Alarm": "I'm a bad bitch, no muzzle" Nicki warns on this "Starships" soundalike from Red One. Nicki does a little bit more singing than she does on her current single, but otherwise the two tracks are virtually indistinguishable. Even the chorus is a rewrite. "Oh oh oh come fill my glass up a little more / We 'bout to get up and burn this floor / You know we getting' hotter and hotter / Sexy and hotter / Let's shut it down,"
12. "Whip It": If Lisa Lisa went to Ibiza, it would sound a lot like this Latin freestyle-infused party jam. One of the better dance cuts on "Roman Reloaded," "Whip It" is good enough to make J. Lo jealous she didn't snare it as a follow-up to "On The Floor."
13. "Automatic": The musical equivalent to a Prada bag from Chinatown. It looks and even sounds like a shiny Dr. Luke's jam off Britney Spears' "Femme Fatale," with Balearic beats a la "Hold It Against Me" and a dubstep breakdown out of "Hold It Against Me," but the production and execution are a bit shoddy. Minaj sounds so anonymous on this track that if she didn't name-check herself at several points you'd forget it was her song.
14. "Beautiful Sinner": Yet another four-on-the-floor dance track where Nicki does more singing than rapping, this song is perhaps most evident of Minaj's weakness as a vocalist. The bad-boy love story would be better suited for a stronger singer like Kelly Rowland or even Jennifer Hudson.
15. "Marilyn Monroe": An introspective ballad from Minaj that bears a striking resemblance to JoJo's 2011 single "Disaster," "Marilyn Monroe" contemplates her current celebrity status. "If you can't handle my worst / You ain't gettin' my best / Is this how Marilyn Monroe felt?" Of the three mid-tempo pop cuts here, this stands the best chance of pop crossover.
16. "Young Forever": A Jay-Z sequel this is not, "Young Forever" is Minaj's take on a power ballad in the vein of Beyonce, with a melody that sounds like something you'd hear on U.K. pop radio. In the hands of, say, Leona Lewis this would probably become a big hit on the adult-contemporary circuit, but under Minaj's guidance it's squarely Top 40.
17. "Fire Burns": A sonic successor to "Save Me" from 2010's "Pink Friday," with the same kind of heart-monitor rhythms and swelling synths that made that cut a dramatic standout. Here, Minaj kisses off a two-timing ex, "I hope your fire / fire burns baby / I hope you lay dow in your sleep / And you choke on every lie you told."
18. "Gun Shot" feat. Beenie Man: It wouldn't be a Nicki album without a taste of her Trinidadian culture. Minaj slows it down with the winding-worthy, reggae-pop crossover collaboration with a reggae artist who's fond of pop himself.
19. "Stupid Hoe": Minaj closes the album the way she opened the album, as Roman. On "Stupid Hoe," Roman does what he does best: fire shots. "Bitch talkin' she the queen when she looking like lab rat," Minaj raps in the beginning of "Stupid Hoe." Do we still think Minaj is talking about the Queen Bee?