Search for Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded in iTunes, and you'll find that it's tucked tight in the hip-hop/rap section, but putting Nick's sophomore album in the confines of a single genre only tells half the story. The album was illegally leaked onto the Internet on Wednesday night, but when Barbs officially unwrap Roman's new LP on April 3, they'll find a culmination of her musical growth neatly sequenced in a symmetrical pop/rap package.
The first half of Roman Reloaded recalls Nicki the Ninja's mixtape days, where she spewed nothing but venom on tracks like "I Get Crazy" and "Itty Bitty Piggy." The album opener, "Roman Holiday," isn't unfamiliar, but the theatrical track which Nicki brought to life at the 2012 Grammys makes more sense in the context of the LP. The vaudevillian hook gives way to some pretty clever rhymes that many may have missed during the much-panned televised performance. "Anyway stylists go get Bulgari/ I am the ultimate Svengali/ You bitches can't even spell that/ You hoes buggin' repel that," she spits before getting schizophrenic, switching up to a flow that has hints of the late Ol' Dirty Bastard.
Sure, Nicki is a pop icon, but these days, so are Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. The Young Money superstar refuses to give up any rap ground, however, and the first seven tracks from Roman Reloaded are unapologetically street. The Hit-Boy-produced "Come On a Cone" and "I Am Your Leader" are both anchored by bass-rattling beats and both find Nicki (as Roman) inviting haters to her figurative male genitalia. On the latter, the Female Weezy pounds her chest alongside Rick Ross and Cam'ron, baiting her competition with lines like: "Nunchuck her, no time to duck her/ Sign of the cross 'cause this is her last supper."
Roman Reloaded has more rap features than her 2010 debut: 2 Chainz shows up for "Beez in the Trap" and Wayne appears twice, once on the title track and then again on "Sex in the Lounge." Nicki then gives the hood some inspiration with Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy in tow on the uplifting "Champion," but shortly after that, the bipolar LP takes a sharp turn.
Rather than mix hip-hop with her ever-growing pop sensibilities, Nicki presents Roman Reloaded as a two-parter. If cassettes were still the music medium of choice, there'd be a stark contrast between the A and B sides.
RedOne's pulsating sound dominates on the Harajuku Barbie's current top 10 single "Starships" and continues for five songs straight — the sequencing is not coincidental. "Pound the Alarm" is an adrenaline-laced fist-pumper, and "Whip It" proves that the reigning rap queen picked up quite a few tricks touring alongside Britney Spears last year. "Automatic" is another sweat-inducing dance anthem that should keep Minaj on the charts while her rap fare will keep her in the conversation amongst the hottest MCs.
Over the course of 19 tracks, the Barbs should find a song to suit their every mood. "Fire Burns" for when they're nursing heartbreak, "Marilyn Monroe" for when the world seems to be just too much and "Hov Lane" when they want to celebrate their relative victories.
Since her come-up days, Nick has refused to be put in a box. With her cocksure rap demeanor, it's hard to ignore her hip-hop roots, but when you factor in her ability to craft a popular tune, the possibilities become endless. Roman Reloaded is a further realization of those infinite possibilities, so instead of defining Nicki Minaj by category, maybe it's time to give her own genre.
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