The wait for Nicki Minaj's much-anticipated sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, is over, but critics are divided over whether it's a worthy successor to the diva's platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated debut.
To be clear, nary a critic is questioning Minaj's talent. Indeed, many of the negative notices lament Minaj's decision to focus less on her gifts as a rapper — which are evidenced on some of the album's early tracks — in favor of creating generic dance songs designed to appeal to mainstream radio.
In an at times scathing one-and-a-half-star review, Slant praises Reloaded's opening tracks as "hard, confrontational rap songs" that are "brilliant." However, and it's a big however, "The remaining 53 minutes of Roman Reloaded are a disaster, so much so that I could fill the rest of this review with a non-exhaustive list of the most embarrassing missteps." Ouch.
The album is divided "almost exactly between a rap half and a pop half," and if the rap half — particularly the tracks "Beez in the Trap" and "Come on a Cone" — is being praised, the pop half is being trashed harder than just about any pop album in recent memory.
"At her best, Nicki Minaj is, line for line, one of the wittiest, most creative rappers working today, either male or female. Her many personas and voices fly through her songs with joyful abandon, and she seems to be having so much fun astonishing us," the LA Times writes. "On the first half of her second album, Pink Friday ... Roman Reloaded, the Trinidadian American rapper from New York City offers repeated evidence of her talents, and she delivers funny, biting, bawdy lines and rhyming couplets with apparent glee. ... But then, after the ridiculousness that is 'Sex in the Lounge' (which sounds like a Lonely Island parody of an R. Kelly song, and, unsurprisingly, features Lil Wayne), the album drives off a cliff."
Among the complaints:
» The club bangers that compose the album's second half are "of the blandest and most cookie-cutter variety. The music behind 'Automatic' could be mistaken for a 15-year-old's first stab at making a dance track on Ableton software, a cynically simple run with clumsy synth chord progressions that were already tired when invented at cheesy 1998 raves." — LA Times
» "The five RedOne-helmed tracks in a row feel as distinct and independent as the opening six did, but big synths and dramatic drops are the stars of these songs, with Minaj herself reduced to supporting player."
» "There are way too many anonymous dance numbers like 'Automatic' and 'Fire Burns' that could have come from a dozen singers." — Newsday
The consensus seems to be that Nicki is at her best when she's spitting lines as Roman rather than pursuing the beat-driven bubblegum that, ironically, has provided her with some of her biggest Billboard chart hits, including the RedOne-produced Reloaded single "Starships," which currently sits at #5 on the Hot 100, and her collaboration with David Guetta, "Turn Me On" (#10 this week after peaking at #4 earlier this year).
There are some overall positive notices out there. In a near rave, Global Grind calls Reloaded "a rollercoaster ride of musical insanity, mesmerizing rap bars [and] catchy pop tracks that you may not want to like, but end up singing anyway." Popdust awarded the set a three-and-a-half (out of four) star review, commenting that its "monstrous beats and [Nicki's] convincing delivery leave little room for rebuttal."
Giving it a B+, Newsday says, "The first half of Roman Reloaded is the Nicki we've come to love. The pride of Jamaica, Queens, is brash and in your face, messing with gender roles and delivering all sorts of zingers. In first-rate hip-hop like 'I Am Your Leader,' where she holds her own with Rick Ross and Cam'ron, and 'Champion,' where she takes on Nas and Young Jeezy, Minaj cements her rep as hip-hop's brightest new star." The news mag even goes so far as to say that Minaj "has her moments" on the pop side. That's just about the biggest compliment we would find regarding Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded's controversial second half.
Have you listened to Nicki's latest release? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.