Divas come in all shapes (Mariah’s hips), colors (Gaga’s hue changes daily) and sizes (still queen bee in my opinion Aretha Franklin). Some are artists, others performers, or dare I say entertainers. Lately though, a new almost bizarre expressionist movement propels these starlets toward the limelight. It tastes like postmodern schizophrenia bottled up into a volatile don’t-judge-me-just-for-my-looks cocktail. Madonna broke down that androgynous wall. Now, almost thirty years later, these prima donnas have no restrictions. In fact, they might have bigger balls than the ones metaphorically shoved down their throats since the beginning of recorded music.
If you really think about it, Nicki Minaj, a lot like her ex-patriated sister-in-arms M.I.A., is a blank canvas. Every day she’s not sure if she’ll adopt one of her numerous alter-egos, you may be familiar with one Roman Zolanski, or go all Jackson Pollack on her latest album cover. A rough childhood makes creative types turn their fantasies into reality. Her 2010 debut Pink Friday felt “guarded” in her mind. Now we get a full frontal 22-deluxe edition track assault on what her reality looks and feels like. Let’s just say it’s orbiting somewhere between Planet Funkadelic and a black hole, teetering and only rarely pulling away from the vortex of obscured happycore pop toward any kind of clarity.
We had an operatic apertif of opener “Roman Holiday” at this year’s Grammys. It seemed like a slam dunk to me. Plenty of clever ways to slam organized religion. But if you have no idea who the hell Roman really is, the fictional Mr. Zolanski, and who the “real Svengali” is, his mother Martha of course, then the 40+ million people who watched, with the exception of rebellious sixteen-year-olds, were left largely scratching their collective heads. I’m all for expressing yourself, but it truly pays to know your audience and give them a little context. Psychotic rambling and flashy production do little to fill that gaping void.
“I Am Your Leader”, featuring Rick Ross and Cam’ron, is produced by Hitboy — same dude who brought you “Niggas in Paris” and “Drop the World.” An intriguing alien synthesizer motif is broken up by Roman’s machismo: “Look sucka / Dis my gun betta / Street fighter bitches / This the upcutter / Nunchucka / No time to ducka / Sign of the cross / Cuz this is her last supper.” Ross does his expected name-dropping-who’s-the-boss bit and as much as I always dig Cam’s swag, it’s hard to salvage a song with an inane accelerated chorus like “I am your leader / Yes I am your leader / You not a believer? / Suck a big dick.”
As critical as I am of this largely misguided effort, “Beez in the Trap” was one of the few songs I replayed instead of skipping right through. Sadly it’s the only track produced by Kenoe on the entire disc — he’s responsible for Lil Wayne’s most poignant moment yet, “Nightmares at the Bottom.” You’ll hear that same sunken beat down below followed closely by a muffled high-pitch alternating synth that adds considerable weight to seductive verses “I’ll spend a couple thow just to bust that open” and “So if you need a hit then I’ll whip that bat.” College Park, Georgia is home to 2005 NBA Slam Dunk Champion Josh “J-Smoove” Smith and Tauheed Epps aka 2 Chainz. He really knows how to cut to the chase when he rises from the murky depths spitting rhymes: “Now Nicki, Nicki, Nicki / Let me put it in your kitty / Got a new LS 450 / Ain’t no keys in this doo-hicky.” He goes hard until the subwoofers fade away, leaving only that tight little synapse popping the rest of the night away.
Wayne loads up his six-shooter on “Roman Reloaded”, and it’s nowhere near as deadly as it should be. Maybe if this came out before M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” the repeated sound of a revolver being loaded up would have more gravitas. Wayne’s Ricky Martin impersonation is great, this song is far from it. Nas, Drake and Jeezy share the stage on “Champion.” Aubrey talks about making it in the States, Jeezy gets gangsta with Melo and Jeremy Lin and the unflappable Mr. Jones keeps fame in perspective like he’s done since the Illmatic days.
With the exception of “Beez in the Trap”, “Champion” and the beginning of “Stupid Hoe”, already heat seeking up the charts as expected, her sophomore album is a victim of too many hands reaching into her honey hole, the green she busted her ass for. RedOne? Dr. Luke? David Guetta? Too many chefs in the kitchen Nicki. Kick them out and do bad all by your damn self.