Let Nicki Minaj Be Great!

by Brandon Soderberg
Nicki Minaj / Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty
Nicki Minaj / Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty

Why her new single "Roman Reloaded," is a step in the wrong direction

No other rapper is willing to entertain "sell out" accusations like Nicki Minaj. Here's how "Roman Reloaded," her new, quite rappy, Lil Wayne assisted single begins: "I guess I just went commercial, just shot a commercial, when I flew to the set though, I didn't fly commercial." A few lines later: "So I laugh at hopefuls/ Nicki, pop?/ Only thing that's pop is my endorsement op/ Fuck around, and I'll have to go reinforce the glock." Also, consider "Dear Old Nicki," a preemptive response to hardheaded fans upset because Pink Friday was significantly shinier than her mixtape work. On the song, she pens a letter to her former "underground" self, detailing a newfound "mainstream," and more sustainable worldview. She wasn't selling out on Pink Friday, she was growing up. One cannot mean mug forever.

See, what happened with Pink Friday was an inside-out, upside-down variation on gender stereotyping, in which Nicki, celebrated as a talented female MC because she could run laps around male MCs and steal their songs out from under them, was then criticized once she began making rap-happy pop. But Pink Friday is still filled with great rapping, and its soaring hooks are a means to an end — a way to communicate the sugar rush, up and down feeling of success and romantic love. It's an emotionally complex, feminine rap album, and sticking to the rigid rules of "real" hip-hop would have severely limited its scope. There certainly isn't anything hedged or compromised about the record. Nicki just happens to be as good at making pop songs as she is at making rap songs, and she's one of a select few whose creativity thrives on reconciling the differences between the seemingly disparate genres. She has mastered the B.o.B formula of good rapping over cloying, but undeniable, radio-friendly beats. And after the summer of "Super Bass," that hybrid of springy dance pop and rappin' ass rappin' makes her rote, straight rapping songs like "Roman Reloaded" seem safe and predictable.

Who knows its context on the upcoming album, but as a new single, "Roman Reloaded" exists to counter the fractured, ghettotech insanity of "Stupid Hoe" and placate those confused by her inspired, radical Grammy performance. "Stupid Hoe" is produced by Philadelphia's DJ Diamond Kuts and it sounds like one Kuts' mix shows — a radio broadcasted dirty bomb blasting shards of New Orleans bounce, Baltimore club, and Cajmere's "Percolator" into your eardrums. If you find the song irritating, well, you're not listening hard enough. As for Nicki's Grammy performance, tumblrer Adam Katzman observed that this nutty setpiece about outsiders and the societal forces attempting to "fix" them, is important because "(now ex) presidential candidates have families that run gay re-education camps, [so] putting together a musical number that mocks both psychiatric and religious re-orientation for the broadest, safest audience, is pretty subversive." Dunno man, that's way more interesting than the return of "old Nicki." For Nicki Minaj, a rhyming, singing, sometimes yodeling transgressive firebrand sell-out, it's the rapping part that comes easy.

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