Pop Music

Nicki Minaj's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, is a Minaj-à-trois of pop, dance and hip-hop

It's telling that one of hip-hop's most braggart raps from one of its most unpredictable MCs possesses 2012's most ridiculous breakdown: "Dick in your face/Put my dick in your face." A lyric like that, unique as it is, says a lot -- mostly, there ain't no one that does it quite like Nicki Minaj.

No controversy on the song goes unmentioned, either. Minaj talks masturbation, loneliness and Cee Lo Green; it's all a bit hard to keep up with in the three-minute time span of "Come on a Cone," but the song, a smart rap, is sparse in production, so that you're forced to pay attention to all of its lyrics -- and these lyrics may be Minaj's wackiest yet. While they make sense together, "Come on a Cone"'s rhymes are colorful, but strange even for Minaj -- and they go off like a rap by someone who is trying to keep herself entertained in an industry that's otherwise boring her.

"Come on a Cone" is proof positive, like 22 of the 22 tracks on Minaj's new album (deluxe version included), that Minaj is done playing by the conventional rules of pop, dance and hip-hop. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a turning point for these genres too, as Minaj and her alter egos, particularly Roman Zolanski, elevate the levels of creativity expected from a crossover artist, all while Minaj remains hip-hop cocky at her core.

For some tracks, which are as minimal as hip-hop productions get, like "Beez in the Trap" featuring 2 Chainz, Minaj, could have done more -- developed a stronger hook, mostly (the release date of Roman Reloaded was pushed back two months to give her extra time to flesh out songs, after all), but throughout, Minaj makes a consistent argument that the distinctions between pop, dance and hip-hop aren't as absolute as we thought in a pre-Nicki time. She even outdoes herself.

On "Pound The Alarm," Minaj takes the dance mania of "Starships" and pushes it one light year further. "Roman Holiday" is an equally strong track, but for different reasons: Minaj's rhymes are unmatched ambition ("Svengali" and "Bulgari"), and the song is visual enough in its lyrics alone; it actually works better without the Catholic visuals we saw from her at the Grammys in February. And on "Marilyn Monroe," which had leaked even before the album did, she strips all of the RedOne- and Dr. Luke-produced gimmicks away for a piano-led track about the complications of self-identification, fitting on an album so defined by its Minaj-à-trois of three distinct genres.

Minaj could have cut the album down by five songs and we'd still get our money's worth, but it certainly is interesting to hear her run the creative, and alter-ego, gamut over eighty minutes of material -- which is why, when paired with this collage of sonics, "Stupid Hoe" and the Roman Reloaded cover art makes sense.

Granted, sometimes listening to Minaj go in so many different directions can be confusing, as we try to define the only woman in the game right now who can't be defined, but that's what keeps Roman Reloaded interesting... entertaining, even. And while we might be confused by Roman Reloaded, Minaj clearly isn't. She's a smart woman whose strength lies in her vision. And that's where she shows her pop leanings. She is, after all, an entertainer at heart -- she comes from an acting background -- and so is her Roman Zolanski. Where Minaj will go next is anyone's guess, but she knows where she needs to take us even before we do -- and her moving full-speed in 360 directions should keep us amused for a while yet, or at least until she finally releases the inevitably crazy-ass video for "Starships."