Nicki Minaj’s sophomore effort, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, was an obvious attempt to sate both the singer-rapper’s hip-hop and pop contingents, with hard-hitting collaborations with 2 Chainz and Rick Ross juxtaposed with Red One’s garish brand of Eurotrash. That bloated, disjointed mess was, perhaps, the result of gripes from genre purists that Minaj’s debut was too commercial, but the original Pink Friday was a competently crafted blend of rap and pop that, even when it skewed to one extreme or the other, did so with style and skill. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded - The Re-Up appears to try to replicate that formula, and with predictably mixed results.
Though the new tracks aren’t being released as a standalone EP a la Lady Gaga’s The Fame Monster or Lana Del Rey’s recent Paradise, The Re-Up at least attempts to remedy Roman Reloaded‘s initial mistakes, first and foremost by including—and releasing as a single—the previously recorded “Va Va Voom,” the most obvious successor to Minaj’s crossover hit “Super Bass.” “The Boys” likewise mixes hard and soft, with Minaj’s Daft Punk-inspired flow complemented by an acoustic guitar-accompanied chorus. The best example of the kind of genre tightrope Minaj is capable of walking so well, however, is “Freedom,” which contrasts her trenchant rap verses with a silky pop hook atop an ambient drone and old-school hip-hop loop.
Unfortunately, The Re-Up also solidifies some of Minaj’s biggest liabilities. Her alter ego, Roman Zolanski, thankfully makes himself scarce, but when Minaj declares, “Who do I want to work with? Nobody,” on “Freedom,” the sentiment is borne out by the lackluster slate of guests on hand: Ciara, Cassie, and Lil Wayne, whose appearance on “High School” marks his third overall on the Roman Reloaded project. Minaj still has a lazy habit of repeatedly rhyming words with the same exact words, and while today’s rappers rarely seem to be taken to task for employing dated references simply to complete a couplet, Minaj’s nods to Maury Povich on opener “Up in Flames” and Blossom on “I Endorse These Strippers” are less clever than inexcusably archaic. The Re-Up is an indication that Minaj is learning from some of her mistakes, but as long as she keeps comparing herself to Jesus, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath.