The noise had become deafening. Nicki Minaj listened to the clamor of critics who claim she abandoned hip-hop for pop. She got the unwarranted memo and responded with Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded The Re-Up. The message she’s conveying is simple: I can still rap. Don’t get it twisted.
After her sophomore release she caught flack for seemingly trading in the flow of a hungry emcee from Jamaica, Queens to appease an audience whose most played songs on their iTunes were sung by Justin Bieber. On the balladry “Freedom” she drops clues that she’s not at all oblivious to the chatter. “Did I really body bitches with commercial songs?” she boasts. It’s liberation Nicki seeks, not approval.
Instead of releasing a third album, The Re-Up is a re-release of her sophomore LP with eight new songs. With the exception of the uptempo electro-pop tracks “Va Va Voom” and “The Boys” featuring Cassie, the 29-year-old femcee uses the remaining six songs as her opportunity to rap street, reminiscent of the Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape days. Take even “The Boys,” which is a fun, light song, she raps as if there’s something to prove. “Because you’ll never be Jordan/You couldn’t even be Pippen/You couldn’t even be tripping/You can’t afford a vacation/I’m out in Haiti with Haitians/I go to Asia with Asians/You mad dusty, you a lil dusty possum/I just come through with the six like my name was Blossom,” she spits.
“Up In Flames” is the slowed down choir assisted song where she flexes her rap skills minus the distractions of animation–mostly absent from the album. The reggae-esque chorus on “Hell Yeah” featuring Parker (who also produced the track) is easy to dismiss on first listen. But skipping “Hell Yeah” would mean missing one of the best songs because of Nicki’s in sync flow when the beat shifts. It’s the celebratory record of her bossing up on anyone that ever doubted her.
In her short career Nicki’s primarily relied on punchlines opposed to actual poetry. She switches it up by showcasing her storytelling capabilities on “High School” featuring her boss Lil Wayne. It takes time to adjust to the frantic production on “I’m Legit” featuring Ciara . Ciara’s high pitched nursery rhyme chorus doesn’t help, but add in Nicki’s verses and you have a song that makes sense. “I ball Nate O’ Conner/I did a freestyle then I got a shoutout from Obama,” she brags. “I Endorse These Strippers” is basically a rendition of “Beez In Da Trap” serving as the club banger of the album. It’s cool enough, but it doesn’t stand out.
I was skeptical about the point of a re-released album with eight new songs, particularly if it was going to be more of the same of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. The Re-Up surprises both sonically and lyrically. Whether for herself or the naysayers, Nicki unleashed the “Go Hard” or “I Get Crazy” Nicki proving she was alive and well. On her debut’s “Dear Old Nicki” she beckoned for the old Nicki to please call back. That call finally came.