Nicki Minaj, "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded" (Cash Money/Universal Republic)
Nicki Minaj is a bit schizophrenic. Or call her versatile. Either way, her success is unparalleled and stunning: She started on the scene as an oversexed female rapstress who stole the thunder from her male peers, and anyone else who dared to share the spotlight with her. In just three years, she's become arguably rap's biggest name.
But she's also proved she's more than hip-hop; with the success of "Super Bass" from her 2010 debut "Pink Friday," she's also become a hit pop singer. Her sophomore album, "Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded," showcases both sides of Minaj, and may get her steps closer to world domination.
Songs like "Automatic," ''Whip It" and "Pound the Alarm" — all produced by RedOne — are catchy pop tunes that can go toe-to-toe with any recent hit from Britney Spears, Katy Perry or Ke$ha. They follow the similar formula for most songs on Top 40 radio, with a European-flavored beat and party vibe. "Starships," another RedOne effort, is a huge hit on the charts, and is Minaj's best solo standing outside of "Super Bass."
Still, Minaj isn't the world's greatest singer: When she croons, there always seems to be a hint of Auto-Tune, which is unfortunate. She's best on "Right By My Side," an R&B duet with Chris Brown that was co-written by Ester Dean.
The first half of "Roman Reloaded" — which showcases Minaj as her male alter ego Roman — focuses on the entertainer's rap side, featuring her boasting, boasting, and boasting some more. While there's no denying she's got it going on, cockiness can be a flaw, and it's that here. It was part of the problem with her first album.
When less-focused with her standing in the rap world, Minaj is top-notch: "Champion," with Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy, is great; "Marilyn Monroe" is touching and the Beenie Man-assisted "Gun Shot" is enjoyable.
For all her phenomenal success, Minaj, on the verge of 30, seems to be a talent that is trying to find her way. She can rap, sing (so-so) and she's got stamina like the Energizer Bunny, yet those facets don't always mesh together smoothly.
Can't wait to hear what she finally comes up with.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: The best tracks from Minaj's earlier mixtapes were ones when she got deep; you'll get some of that on "Marilyn Monroe."