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Nicki Minaj
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded John Calvert , April 2nd, 2012 14:08

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Who needs stylistic, conceptual unity, when you have seven producers and Lil Wayne for a financier? In years to come, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded might be considered a key album, but only in the estimations of music historians using the sublimely multifarious Speakerboxx/The Love Below as a point of diversion for the full length LP, and the part that it unwittingly played in the demise of black 'human' pop music. Because, ever since Outkast re-imagined 'ghetto-fabulous' as a post-human conceit, the bionically shape-shifting, Janus-jamboree that resulted gave carte blanche to lesser producers. Mistaking virtouso diversity - in the name of Afrofuturist superhumanity - for unfocussed album construction, producers began to dispense with masterminding a cogent sonic manifesto for their artists, killing in pop both the album aesthetic and the auteurist statement. These days, the charts' super-royalty no longer make albums so much as singles collections. All things to all people, at once everything and nothing, Nicki Minaj's second album is pop postmodernity in an advanced state of hollow, banal meaningless, and the first causality is Minaj herself.

With an increasing disconnect between artist and producer, the atomised modern-day event album renders actual talent a secondary concern. A natural misfit, Minaj's individuality, her 'monstrousness', even, theoretically, her blackness, has been subordinated for the business of check-listing trending production tropes: the euphoric rave tracks (the house-pop 'Pound The Alarm'; the euro-trance 'Automatic'), the electro bangers ('Whip it', 'Starships'), the 'Umbrella' facsimile ('Marilyn Monroe') the beat-fortified ballad ('Right By My Side') and many other homogenised cliches. At a stretch you could argue that the gaudy Michael Bay-does rap production is designed to reflect Minaj's outsized persona; her machine-tooled superwoman take on braggadocio and mutant robo-sexuality dovetailing with the lurid, hyperreal blare of cutting edge ear-candy machines. But for the most part, 'mixtape-Minaj' has been erased from the sound. The only element differentiating this from Britney's recent album is the star's distinctive rap voice, which itself is frequently undercut by inanely chirpy productions or shoehorned in between sung choruses.

Obviously this isn't a new thing in pop - Diana Ross was a non-descript device on which disco's production titans imposed whatever they felt was necessary. But demoting the grotesquely fierce, provocatively oblique Minaj to the role of a human interface between audience and various technical specifications, is another degree of cynicism altogether. It's absurd that labels spend millions locating and developing an original pop personality, only to bleach that personality out on the album. Essentially this odd, 'female Weezy' exists now only in the barraging video-promos. These days, more exclusively than ever before since the birth of MTV, it's the videos that handle the image-making, while on record the artist is whatever the producer-for-hire wants her to be that day. The very same McProducers despised by the still unique MIA.

The first four tracks form a red herring of sorts, with the star getting a chance to bring a bit of herself to the tracks. Her personal style - essentially a sexually risque distortion of Missy Elliot - is ablaze, while a wave of weirdo-rap production squares up for the occasion. On 'Roman Holiday' she's allowed a trite, lip-service framing device to establish the album's loose concept/alter-ego (the titular 'Roman'). With the star in imperious-queen mode: she talks in an English accent, offers a verse of 'O Come All Ye Faithful' and raps like a hysterical Tudor spinster. It's what she does best, a rap-charged supercharging of GaGa's performance-art pop.

Next comes the coldly spare 'I Am Your Leader': the Young Money sound filtered through Minaj's Afro-alien aesthetic, as sci-fi modulations bubble up over a single subsonic kickdrum. The similarly simmering 'Beez In The Trap' meanwhile, is as detached and leftfield as a mainstream pop album is able to be - piercing pops of MIDI ringing through the draughty malaise of cavernous space. Again it's the single kickdrum which anchors the almost weightless production. After which, all out dis-track 'HOV Lane' is Minaj almost completely untrammelled, her 'blink-stink' flow at full stretch. But by the time we get to closer and vintage Minaj cut 'Stank Hoe', so well established in your mind is the image of her cowing to the money-men, it sabotages the 'Lady Weezy''s attempts at 'empowerment female'.

But it's at this point on the album when lines like “I'm a lunatic and this can't be cured with no elixir” begin to lose all credibility, as Minaj is suppressed and duly transformed into, what is effectively, a vocalist, and frequently, a submissive songstress. With the Minaj bit put to bed, relieved from the complicating factor of having to accommodate her style, the producers initiate a six-track run of conservative, cheering, melodically powerful pop songs that have absolutely nothing to do with Minaj's art, and should make her an even more massive star. Considering that even Beyonce albums are persistently patchy, a single giant mass of soon-to-be-hits is a frightening sign of things to come - she's here for good, it seems. The trio of four-to-the-floor ravers are the best of their kind, the most appealing since Kelis' 'Acapella'. Imagine 'We Found Love' x 3, but with a trifle more heart, groove and idiosyncrasy. Then what follows is a very spirit-crushed Trinadadian being drooled over by bible-belt tween-pop. 'Young Forever' is a 12-year-old Minaj doing Owl City with I-love-Jesus-and-my-fans stadium-pop choruses while the Beeny Man-featuring 'Gunshot' is sweet Caribbean-pop, and 'Starships' a bit like Bob Sinclair being gunned down by Deadmau5. 'Marilyn Monroe' is all ornate piano and crocodile tears, while 'Right By Your Side' is a startlingly insincere ballad with a classical music bedding and a short Minaj solo about dicks.

In her defence, the star avoids playing the role of prey or darling love interest to the various guesting male stars - Chris Brown, 2 Chainz, Rick Ross and Cam'ron. In short, she's nobody's bitch.

Young Money need to start building albums from the star's style outwards - approaching pop appeal through the prism of their talent's truly unique minds - if they want to avoid the generic. God forbid Janelle Monae should suffer the same fate...

dan
Apr 3, 2012 3:24am

i appreciate that The Quietus aims for a bit more insight, or whatever, than other publications but you have to wonder sometimes if the articles need to be so ridiculously verbose. that first paragraph is a nightmare to read. "Mistaking virtouso diversity in the name of afrofuturist superhumanity, for unfocussed album construction, producers began dispensing with masterminding a cogent sonic manifesto for their artists - killing in pop both the album aesthetic and the auteurist statement." i understand what you're saying perfectly (after untangling the sentence) but is there any need to make it so hard to decipher?

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Teddy 2tuff
Apr 3, 2012 10:12am

To somewhat echo dan's comment, As much as I enjoy the fact that TQ is genuinely prepared to give any album a run for it's money regardless of whether it's some underground bouzouki hardstep or mass appeal pop fodder, some albums really don't justify more than a cursory inspection. Nicki is an attempt to shoehorn MIA's "edge" into a Rhianna whore-o-tron pop formula, and sounds just as bad as that can be imagined. I'm all for a pop round-up, but maybe in the same vein as Columnus Metallicus?

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David Gerard
Apr 3, 2012 10:17am

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

Indeed. Any review whose effective content could be compressed into a tweet probably should be. In fact, may I suggest that as useful writing discipline: fit the review into a tweet, make that the strapline and then decide whether the rest of the review is really all that necessary.

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Apr 3, 2012 10:29am

Well if tQ didn't cover a massive record by one of the key pop stars of our time I'd be pissed off with them. So I guess it depends whether they're out to please pop-ignorant misogynists like Teddy 2tuff here, or people who care about music. Just a couple of points I'd make to the reviewer: Outkast didn't really mark a new 'post-human' era, or have that much influence on other acts (great though they were in their own right). There's always been a double-act of 'authentic/human' and 'futurist/machine-made' styles running through black US pop, all the way back to gritty Stax and assembly-line Motown. And don't forget the synths of Stevie Wonder, Parliament/Funkadelic, Zapp, Prince, Janet Jackson, Missy Elliott; most of them had mad personas and alter egos too. Don't forget either how rare it's always been to hear a major R&B album with a consistently strong and unified sound, even when an auteur superproducer made the whole thing (e.g. Missy Elliott/Timbaland). If you only get three killer tracks on a 20-track album that's good news.

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Teddy 2tuff
Apr 3, 2012 11:18am

In reply to :

I'm going to take 'pop-ignorant misogynist' as a compliment, judging by the fact that you appear to be defending an artist who is nothing more than an animated blow-up doll.

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Apr 3, 2012 12:05pm

Right, and you hate Snoop Dogg because he's nothing more than an animated Huggy Bear doll. Except you don't, because he's male so you don't see him in those terms. 'Misogynist' is never a compliment.

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Simon
Apr 3, 2012 1:02pm

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

This review is way more interesting than your shitty (and telling) one liners. Whore-o-tron? Animated blow up doll? Hmm. I'm glad The Quietus continues to ignore the wishes of this contingent.

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Teddy 2tuff
Apr 3, 2012 1:40pm

In reply to :

You clearly have no idea what misogyny means. Either that or you're an idiot. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and go for the former. Misogyny is the hatred and intentional debasement of women, if you'd be so kind as to point out where I did that I would much obliged. And just to possibly pre-empt you picking out my equating Rihanna to a whore and Minaj to a sex doll, that's how they're marketed so please don't try and use that, otherwise I'm clearly going to have to assume that you are, in fact, an idiot.

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jimmyjunga
Apr 3, 2012 3:09pm

In reply to dan:

I still don't get that first paragraph.

What's a "cogent sonic manifesto"? And what's "virtuoso diversity" and how can it be mistaken "in the name of afrofuturist superhumanity"....

Maybe I'm proper thick or sumat. Can someone explain?

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Simon
Apr 3, 2012 3:43pm

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

"How can I be a misogynist when she ACTUALLY IS just like a whore?" Cracking logic mate.

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Teddy 2tuff
Apr 3, 2012 4:07pm

In reply to Simon:

Hmmm, again it seems like the word misogynist is being bandied about without any knowledge of what it means. Rihanna is marketed as a whore. Video for "If I never see your face again": sprawled on a bed enticing the Maroon 5 singer into bed, final shot is her being grabbed by the scruff of the neck and pulled into a submissive pose. "S&M" video: well, just watch it. "We found love" video: basically trainspotting in 4 minutes, a junkie having abusive sex in a squat. Practically getting her clunge out at the Brits. I could go on but I think they should elucidate the point adequately. Even a donkey with a lobotomy can see that she is marketed as a whore so yes, I equate her with being a whore as that's how she's dished out, whether you're capable of comprehending that or not.

Anywho, 1) this is deviating pretty far from the topic at hand (the new Nicki Minaj album) and 2) I can see that I'm conversing with people who seem to think the hyper sexualisation of women in a sector of music aimed predominantly at teenage girls is perfectly acceptable, so I have no interest in perpetuating this discussion further. Good day.

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tenbenson
Apr 3, 2012 5:17pm

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

mate, lets just forget how deluded you are about so many things for the moment and concentrate on what a nasty, arrogant, bullish piece of "clunge" you are. bet you vote ukip.

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Simon
Apr 3, 2012 5:25pm

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

"George Michael IS marketed like a faggot though! He always looks fruity in his videos. I'm not homophobic, you people just wont think about the children"

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Apr 3, 2012 7:35pm

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

Shorter Teddy: "Why, it is outrageous to accurately quote my misogynist statements as proof of my misogyny! Only an idiot would do that!!"

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Apr 3, 2012 7:37pm

In reply to Teddy 2tuff:

Oh yeah, and let's not forget the part where you ran away.

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Garrett
Apr 4, 2012 4:33am

In reply to jimmyjunga:

Thank you! I'm not on a mission to defend Nicki Minaj or anything, but I hate that I have a degree in music performance and I feel like I have to have majored in English or journalism just to understand someone's review of MUSIC. I would love it if one of these journalists would actually talk about music in musical terms, for once. You can throw as many big words and complex sentences into a review that you want, but that doesn't necessarily make it a helpful (or informed) review.

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animlboogy
Apr 4, 2012 5:25am

In reply to dan:

When I started reading your post I hoped that wasn't the line you were going to pick. There are some verbose moments, but that one is information packed in a way that's actually, well... informative. Afrofuturism isn't some made-up music journalist garbage word. It's there for a reason.

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Apr 4, 2012 5:27am

In reply to jimmyjunga:

I don't know what to say beyond maybe you should read that one book about Sun Ra.

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Apr 4, 2012 11:54am

you make some valid points but you're also a bit sexist and racist which invalidates a lot of it

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Nicki
Apr 4, 2012 10:29pm

Old man yells at pop... and blacks... and women.

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Exhausted man
Apr 7, 2012 2:30am

So...many...adjectives...

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daniel
Apr 7, 2012 10:25pm

In reply to animlboogy:

have no problem with the word afro-futurism. it could have been referenced in a less try-hard way though. it's more the construction of the sentence than anything else.

As a writer myself, i'm a firm believer in striking a balance between respecting your reader's intelligence on the one hand and intellectual masturbation on the other. this fella is so far down the road of the latter that there's probably no hope for him.

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