Nicki Minaj's sophomore effort was pre-release promoted as the "mixtape Nicki" gone legit, as her unpredictable, provocative, and artistically free alter ego "Roman Zolanski" bubbled to the top. That's sensible as this bold, layered artist is just as comfortable alongside Madonna during the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show as she is hanging with the Cash Money crew during the after party, so a two-album roll out might be necessary, but this is the wrong part two. The first Pink Friday presented a street queen gone elegant (which is what you do when you go from mixtapes sold at quickie marts to Dr. Luke productions sold by publicly traded companies) and here, the Roman gone well-funded thing works for more than an EP's worth of cuts. "Starships" offers a Katy Perry-styled singer that can convincingly drop both a MF-bomb and a weed reference, while the vicious "Stupid Hoe" gives birth to the genre of millionaire booty music and suddenly, sipping sizzurp in your own private jet seems entirely possible. Then there's vaudeville-hop opener "Roman Holiday" where the rapper/singer adds performance artist to the list by doing a British constable impression over knotty electro, while "Come On a Cone" gives Nicki her own "A Milli" and states the album's purpose ("Now I'm not masturbatin'/But I'm feelin' myself") as only she can. A handful of equally inspired numbers that come from this angle of gangsta-girl-in- a-post-wonky-pop-world add to the excitement, and with RedOne and a batch of other innovative producers providing a kaleidoscope of beats, the first half of the album is an amusement park for production lovers. Still, as the Lil Kim side of Nicki heads into the wonderfully dangerous territory of Gangsta Boo, Khia, Peaches, and beyond, her Madonna side has drifted into the land of Kara DioGuardi and other craftspeople for hire, as you could offer most of the latter part of this album to Ashlee Simpson, Kelly Clarkson, late-era Santana, or etc. The polished ballad "Marilyn Monroe" is a prime example and it would be an admirable second-tier track most anywhere else, but here, Nicki's simple musing about Marilyn and fame is one complicated, misunderstood blonde bombshell addressing another, but on a surface level when there's substantial stuff to explore. Cut the iffy pop off these 19 tracks and you're left with Roman's true four-star empire, but as it is, Roman Reloaded is a frustrating mix of significant and skippable.
Description provided by David Jeffries, Rovi