Left to her own devices, Nicki Minaj is undoubtedly one of rap's leading experimentalists. The opening six tracks of her sophomore album are mad scientist-brilliant, an unhinged machine gun spray of gender-confused, theatrical growls set to spastic layers of hopscotch rhythms. And then, ever so abruptly, the record resets itself as an act of pop conservatism as Nicki morphs into a Rihanna-like, Auto-Tuned cipher in the hands of chart-stomping producers like Red One (who's worked with Lady Gaga) and Dr. Luke (Katy Perry). Their europop formulas will certainly spin off a few radio hits but it's hard to view those as anything but underwhelming in the wake of the album's revolutionary first third. Roman Reloaded is a frustrating split screen of pop's beautifully twisted future and its increasingly dull present.
Andrew Nosnitsky, Google Play