None of It Matters If She Can’t Rap

Nicki Minaj is in a bad position. She wants so badly to satisfy people and be all things to everyone; pop and rap, mainstream and underground, soft and hard, radio-friendly and NSFW. She wants to have street cred and still sign huge deals with Pepsi. She exists simultaneously as a female rapper surrounded by males and a pop star alongside Katy Perry and Rihanna in the sisterhood of the sparkling hot pants. Minaj’s own oeuvre divides her fans into camps, and on Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded she tries to please them all. “Starships” is for the Nicki fans who liked “Super Bass” but don’t want “Stupid Hoe.” “Stupid Hoe” was for fans of “Massive Attack” and her rawer, older mixtapes. As a result, she comes off sounding like neither Nicki the Barbie nor Nicki the Boss but Nicki the Overstretched. Like Garth Brooks, Eminem, and Beyoncé before her, she turned her split public persona into part of her gimmick, but you can feel her searching for where her actual self lies. Album lowlight “Marilyn Monroe” addresses the struggle of being a privately unsatisfied public sex symbol in the most hackneyed way possible, and feels written for somebody else.

With the pressure of the expectations she has created for herself and publicly promised to fulfill, Minaj is now charged with the impossible task of representing all women in mainstream rap. She wants to keep the young female audience she picked up with Pink Friday without losing the men who liked the Beam Me Up Scotty tape. If rappers tend to be hungriest while on the way up, what is there to rap about once you’re well-fed? Minaj doesn’t seem sure, so she oscillates through a laundry list of options — drug rap, relationship rap, her many material possessions, the hard life in her old neighborhood — without really excelling at any of them. There is no standout or instant classic. Who knows whether narrowing her focus would have helped, but Roman Reloaded feels rushed, unsteady, and unsure of itself. It doesn’t matter how cool she looks in magazine editorials, how many brands she endorses or launches, how many more new alter egos she invents. None of it matters if she can’t fucking rap.”

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