Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded
That's the word that surfaces as I try to get my mind around the songs of Trinidadian-born, Queens-raised singer Nicki Minaj. It's because her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, feels a bit like a musical Frankenstein: an epic, 19-song effort cobbled together with a jarringly unlikely combination of parts.
One minute, Nicki's singing from Eminem's Slim Shady songbook, stepping into her violent, mentally unstable and male alter ego, Roman Zolanski. Among other things, Roman likes to kidnap women who offend him and starve them to death in his basement. The next minute, Nicki's a straight-up gangsta rapper, proudly and filthily spitting some of the nastiest, most profane rhymes you've ever not wanted to hear about sex.
And then something very strange happens: It's as if Nicki goes backstage and changes outfits. And personalities. Because when she comes out, she's demure and sad as she croons tunes of lost romance and broken hearts that would not sound at all out of place on a Rihanna release.
"Champion" salutes impoverished, hardworking single mothers. On "Marilyn Monroe," Nicki admits, "I can be selfish," "I'm insecure" and "I make mistakes." Still, she longs for someone to love her despite her imperfections ("Take me or leave me/I'll never be perfect/Believe me, I'm worth it"). She also sings, "Truth is we mess up/Till we get it right/I don't want to end up losing my soul."
The chorus of "Right by My Side" includes this romantic sentiment: "I'm not living life if you're not right by my side." Meanwhile, "Young Forever" daydreams fondly about a teenage boyfriend whom Nicki once hoped she'd marry ("I used to think that we'd reunite/I'd be your wife in the real life/I thought you'd come back for me"). And on reggae-tinged "Gun Shot," guest contributor Beenie Man talks about his love for a woman, saying, "You alone/ … You fulfill all of my desires."
The first six tracks, especially, find Nicki unleashing a manic stream of some of the foulest raps I've ever reviewed—a statement I suspect she would take as a compliment. F-words (often paired accusatorily with "mother") and s-words permeate line after line, and some of the songs' titles can't even be repeated here. The hit "Starships," to pick one example out of many, delivers this profane, suggestive phrase nine times: "We're higher than a m‑‑‑‑‑f‑‑‑er." She also appropriates male rappers' disturbing penchant for misogyny, repeatedly dismissing female critics and competitors as "b‑‑ches."
And that's just the beginning of the album's problems. "Roman" raps proudly about the dying women in his basement: "This right here make a b‑‑ch die/ … But this what I do when a b‑‑ch breaks off/Ima put her in a dungeon under, under/No, those b‑‑ches ain't eating/They're dying of hunger" (on "Roman Holiday").
Multiple explicit (even pornographic) references to sex, oral sex and masturbation turn up as well. Nicki repeatedly talks about waving her "d‑‑k" in people's faces. Lil Wayne pairs an extraordinarily graphic depiction of oral sex with braggadocio about doing cocaine and smoking marijuana with two women in his bed at the same time. And on "Sex in the Lounge," there's more of the same from him, Nicki and Bobby V. "Beautiful Sinner" is utterly infatuated with a bad boy: "You're a cheat and a liar/But tonight you're everything I desire/You beautiful sinner/I love your wicked heart."
I'd like to be able to believe Nicki Minaj is sincere when she sings, "I don't want to end up losing my soul." But she makes it more than just difficult.
It's a whole lot easier to believe her when she starts gushing about her attraction to wickedness. "Beautiful Sinner" goes so far as to compare an unrepentant cad's twisted heart to "a work of art." Then she adds, "I didn't know that bad could look so good/You are the type of bad that feels so good."
Suffice it to say it's hard to find the light when you've dedicated your life to running toward night.