Nicki Minaj is one of the biggest figures in the history of rap, and it was Minaj’s sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, that made her a superstar.
Listen to the deluxe edition of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded right now.
Released on April 2, 2012, the album’s wide-ranging sound was indicative of how hard it was to pin down Nicki stylistically. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was a controversial album that garnered attention from haters while simultaneously making Minaj’s hardcore fanbase even more intense. Divisive in its diversity, the album cemented Nicki’s superstardom amid a rapidly changing hip-hop landscape.
The biggest female rapper in the game
When you’re the biggest female rapper in a male-dominated industry, you’re going to get a lot of unfair criticism. With Minaj, however, even that feels like an understatement. Being “the biggest” makes you “the only” in the eyes of many consumers. You become a standard-bearer for any sort of experimentation. And because the first Pink Friday earned Nicki success with both rap and pop-oriented singles, she doubled down in both directions on her sophomore effort. There are some hard-rapping singles, but the Roman Reloaded’s poppier breakouts are more emblematic of its success.
It’s not the most synergistic album, but Nicki was still figuring things out. The album’s credits are a time-capsule grab-bag of the era’s producers (this is the case with many rap albums, but it’s especially true here), many of whom had previously helmed hits for Nicki and others.
Nicki had success with Kane Beatz on “Bottoms Up,” “Bedrock,” and most significantly, Pink Friday’s “Super Bass,” a single – and bonus track, no less – that was so popular it impacted the direction of Roman Reloaded. “Champions” was one of the last big songs T-Minus did before his semi-hiatus, RedOne helped make Lady Gaga the biggest artist on the planet, and in 2012 Hit-Boy was one of the most popular producers since Mannie Fresh.
The names behind the boards aren’t the only ones emblematic of the era. “Beez In The Trap” boasted a 2 Chainz feature in the middle of his legendary come-up. And while Minaj and Drake didn’t repeat Pink Friday’s “Moment 4 Life,” when Roman Reloaded dropped, it seemed like their alliance would last forever… but things got more complicated than that.
Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was also designed to discredit Nicki’s doubters by spotlighting the respect she’d generated from the greats. It sports features from Cam’Ron, Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Nas, and, of course, Lil Wayne. Even if the album’s impact was pop-inclined, Nicki’s prominence and importance in hip-hop were undeniable.
“Starships” went further in the “Super Bass” direction, and was decidedly more pop than some would have liked. But Drake or Kanye could have done the same thing – many times over, and no one would have batted an eye – which is why Roman Reloaded’s release and the surrounding circumstances were also emblematic of rap’s enduring problem with misogyny.
Redressing the balance
To say the genre has a gender imbalance would be understating things, even if the situation today is a lot better. Nicki played no small part in paving the way for so many female rappers that have emerged in her wake. Because there are comparatively fewer women doing it, and because rap is so competitive, the notion that there can only be one successful “Queen Of Rap” at a given time has permeated the culture. Even as more and more women are beginning to experience success, fans tend to pit them against one another even more so than they do with their male counterparts.
The further we get from Roman Reloaded’s release, the more it feels like a harbinger of change. In 2012, rap wasn’t yet the dominant force it is in radio today; the success of songs like “Starships,” which achieved massive popularity as both rap and social media were evolving into something else entirely, are partly to thank for this. Categorize it as pop, rap, or whatever you want, after “Starships” and Roman Reloaded, rap consumed pop completely. The single was so huge, it often eclipsed (and still does) the rest of the album, which is a shame. Even at its most ambling, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was a sign of things to come.