Posts Tagged ‘insane’

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Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (album review.)

April 6, 2012

It’s time to accept that the Nicki Minaj that we heard on her mixtape (and best album to date) Beam Me Up Scotty is gone. The Nicki Minaj that we heard stealing the show on Kanye West’s “Monster” is a distant memory. Now, the Nicki Minaj who pleasantly surprised us with her bubblegum rap confection “Super Bass” is asserting herself throughout Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. Nicki Minaj may not have concretely realised her Roman Zolanski alter-ego (who shows up at the start of the album, but his fangs have been sanded down after his explosive showing on “Roman’s Revenge”), but throughout her career we have seen her evolve and shift through persona after persona. The hard female rapper we heard on Playtime Is Over gave way to the exciting cyberspace femme fatale with the ridiculous flow and heart of gold on Beam Me Up Scotty, who tarted herself up with colourful outfits, wigs and softened edges for Pink Friday. Although her rap credentials have become less indisputable, mainstream success has opened Minaj to a new audience: pop. Teenagers, little girls dancing and rapping along to her songs on youtube, people across the world now want to hear what Nicki Minaj has to say. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded finds Minaj trying to please everyone whom she has courted throughout her career. Does she succeed?

Well, the album is certainly diverse and there is something for everybody. After the insane and yet exciting “Roman Holiday”, the album is stacked with urban tracks designed to prove that Nicki is still in touch with her musical roots. “Come On A Cone” is a fascinating listen, and the genuinely unexpected “dick in your face” interlude about two thirds of the way through the song is a refreshing thrill – but Minaj can no longer get through an entire rap song without resorting to her trademark ridiculous vocal tics. This is a gimmick that initially served to set Minaj apart from other female rappers, but now it sounds like a party piece that is trotted out to fulfil the listener’s expectations. The song succeeds, but it could have been more. The tracks which follow are chock full of features, which is nothing unusual for a rap album, but here they serve to mute Nicki’s own impact on the material. “Beez In The Trap” is catchy but incredibly basic while “HOV Lane” is single-entendre bragging that may pay tribute to Jay-Z and to Minaj’s potential to be a supernova rather than just a star, but compared to the more insightful work Minaj has done on the past (for example on Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Can Anybody Hear Me” or Pink Friday‘s “Moment 4 Life”) it rings a little hollow. “Stupid Hoe” is an ill-advised tirade against Lil’ Kim that is so ridiculously silly that the bite in Minaj’s lyrics is muzzled by the repetitive hook and uninteresting beat. The buzz single for this project, “Roman In Moscow”, was so much more than all of the rap tracks that actually made it onto the album because the production was exciting and the flow and rhymes were unbridled and interesting. It showed that the ‘old Nicki’ is still alive, but there is no longer a place for her among any of Minaj’s current, more successful incarnations, which is a shame. As oddly structured and jarring as they may be, “Roman Holiday”, “Come On A Cone” and “Roman Reloaded” are the most successful songs in the first half of the album because although they are not amazing, they grab the listener’s ear and don’t let go.

After some tepid R&B slow jams which are so rote that they barely deserve mentioning, let alone a place on this album (“Right Thru Me” and “Your Love” from Pink Friday were miles better than these), we get to ‘pop Nicki’. This abrupt about-face in the album really should have been split into two discs on the physical version, but it’s not the disaster that other reviews have reported. “Starships” is at once derivative of LMFAO’s and Rihanna’s latest smashes, and yet also entirely the mutant spawn of “Super Bass” (without which ‘pop Nicki’ would never have come to triumph over ‘old Nicki’ or ‘Roman Zolanski’ or ‘Harajuku Barbie’ etc.), but my god is it fun. This song absolutely deserved to be a single and to be successful – I feel conflicted because Nicki Minaj shouldn’t have had to so deliberately manufacture such a hit, but its hit status is undeniable. “Pound The Alarm” goes one better and is an absolute gem that Britney Spears probably wishes she had recorded. “Whip It”, “Automatic” and “Beautiful Sinner” repeat this formula ad infinitum (or ad the next 15 minutes), and although the songs are great fun, they expose Minaj’s crossover aims as so calculated that a little bit of this fun is taken out of them.

The album winds down with some mid-tempo, more thoughtful songs such as “Marilyn Monroe” and “Young Forever”. Strong hooks and mainstream production make these songs perfectly enjoyable, and although the lyrics show more insight from Minaj than the preceding half hour or so, they’re still calculated. “Fire Burns” and “Gun Shot” close the album (before the jarring “Stupid Hoe”) and they are the most genuine tracks of the second half. “Fire Burns” is this album’s “Save Me” (one of the highlights from Pink Friday), and the regret and sadness in Minaj’s delivery rings true. “Gun Shot” features Beenie Man and brings a little Caribbean flavour that Minaj hasn’t explored since Pink Friday‘s bonus tracks, or Beam Me Up Scotty‘s “Keys Under Palm Trees” or title track (her shout-out to Trinidad at the beginning of “Beautiful Sinner” certainly doesn’t count). While so many of the second half’s tracks are deliberately and irresistibly exhilarating to a head-spinning extent, “Gun Shot” is a less manufactured but, if anything, more uplifting ray of sunshine.

Do I like this album? Absolutely. Do I feel that it squanders Minaj’s potential? Yes, and no. This has been a hard review to write, because there’s so much here to deal with. The mainstream-aimed songs are good, but many of them are so deliberately manufactured to be hits that the genuine feeling is often ironed out. The rap songs are acceptable to good (barring the mediocre slow-jam section in the middle), but the featured artists rarely measure up to Minaj’s own potential, while simultaneously limiting her own space to shine. The weird songs are absolutely interesting, but Minaj doesn’t need to rely on inconsistent alter-egos and silly voices to be compelling. Beam Me Up Scotty proved this, and I find it sad that Minaj isn’t encouraged to exhibit her rap skills and singing in a more genuine way. “Roman In Moscow” and “Fire Burns” are remnants of the Minaj we have previously experienced. And while I genuinely am happy for the existence of songs like “Starships” and “Pound The Alarm”, their aggressively insane exuberance is something that Minaj may risk exhausting herself trying to outdo on Pink Friday: Roman’s Resurrection (or whatever comes next).

I believe that Minaj genuinely enjoys catering to a range of audiences, but as Beam Me Up Scotty and even Pink Friday demonstrated amply, she can do this in a more integrated and less scattershot way. Everyone was wowed by Minaj’s feature on “Monster”, but there’s nothing approaching that venom or spark here; her album-closing declaration that “I am the female Weezy” is reductive. Minaj is not a female Lil Wayne, female Jay-Z, new Lil’ Kim or resurrected Lauryn Hill. Nor is she Roman Zolanski, a cockney grandmother, a Harajuku Barbie or anything else – she is more than the ‘mere’ summation of these characters or costumes. She’s a savvy businesswoman and a genuine talent who is producing good music but coming dangerously close to losing the edge that set her apart so definitively in the first place. I fear that the more mainstream success that Minaj garners (and it will likely be deserved), the less heartfelt and genuine her music will become. There’s a difference between creating art that is deliberate in its purpose and achieves its goals, and art that is so focus-group tested and aiming to please that the quality is filtered down to a semblance of what it originally could have been. And while we can respect and admire an artist’s potential, we can’t praise them for what they have the talent to create if they don’t actually create it, or realise their potential consistently. And so Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded is a blast to listen to, but it also warns that unless Minaj takes stock and finds away to hone all of her personalities, she may ultimately spread herself too thinly and become nothing to anyone, rather than something to everyone.

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responsibility / Tube update: Hyde Park Corner and Green Park.

February 11, 2012

So after living in London for 5 months (to the day today!), I finally got around to registering with a GP this week. It was my second choice of doctor, after the top choice recommended by the NHS website turned out not to take new patients from my area (when I said that the website recommended me, they apologetically informed me “Ah yes. The website is wrong”). I think the website was wrong again, because my first appointment with the treatment nurse on Friday evening was nothing short of horrific.

I was informed that my blood pressure was that of a “much more mature person”, and that I need to go back in a month and keep monitoring it in the meantime. Ok. Furthermore, I need to lose “15-20 kilos”. Now, in my own opinion, over the last few months, I have put on a few pounds. But at 6 foot, I am not delusional enough to believe someone when they say that my ideal weight is 11 and a half stone. I would be skeletal if I lost that much weight – I am not fat as it is. I am my own harshest critic, but at the most I could do with losing half a stone or so. No more. I promise you all I am not kidding myself – I wear small or medium sizes in clothing. Yet I apparently have a 40″ waist (again, despite the fact that I wear 32″ and 33″ trousers). I also had to do a urine test, and when I said “um, right now?!” she said “is that a problem?” I ended up being able to perform, so to speak, and I told the nurse upon my return that “I drink a lot of water”. She eventually confirmed “yes, your urine is clear.” No shit, lady. In addition, how dare you tell me to lose so much weight – not only is this essentially promoting anorexia (because obviously she says this to everyone; I am not a special case), but it’s hypocrisy from someone who is definitely more overweight than I am! I am outraged that people in a position of authority and whose responsibility it is to promote healthy living, is telling people to become dangerously underweight.

I apparently have to go for a yearly check-up, “because things can develop without you knowing”; ok, but if there is nothing wrong with me, why would I waste a doctor or nurse’s time? I never had to go before, except for when I felt that there was something wrong with me. After checking my blood pressure, the nurse kept insisting “are you sure you don’t feel dizzy? Or ever have headaches?” Lady, no means no. I am perfectly happy and healthy. No matter how much you want to make me feel like something is wrong, you won’t convince me that you know my body better than I do. I spent most of my childhood and adolescence hating the way I looked and the way I felt. I finally got myself right a couple of years ago or so, and I will not let some irresponsible woman set me back. I will keep y’all updated on my future adventures with this doctor’s surgery. The last thing on my mind is that she mentioned the possibility of taking tablets for my blood pressure if it doesn’t go down. I am confident I have white coat syndrome – I am nervous when it comes to having my blood pressure checked, and I have done it on my mum’s machine at home and it has come out a little high, but far closer to normal. What’s more, I have seen my grandparents existing on cocktails of pills, and it was one of the things that contributed to my grandfather’s ultimate deterioration in health and multiple health problems that culminated in his death in 2008. I know that doctors and nurses have a job to do, but they do not know everything, and I refuse to be bullied into a dependency on medication that I neither want nor need. I am 26 years old; I do not need to be on tablets for my blood pressure when I have no other health problems or symptoms. I was telling Mike and Caroline this today, and they both said that this woman sounds insane and that I should never go back there. But even though this visit was horrific, it did ultimately mean that I accomplished my goal of registering with a GP.

You’ll notice that I mentioned Mike and Caroline just now. Well, Toby and I saw them today! They came down to London for their wedding anniversary, and are staying in the hotel just around the corner from my flat, in West Kensington! They went to the Science Museum today with Billy – we met them there (I had never been to the Science Museum before! A lot of it went over my head, tbh) after Toby and I spent a very long time walking! I suppose that a good thing about my visit to the surgery last night (I was seriously searching for a silver lining to that cloud!) was that is has further kick-started my desire to lose those few pounds and keep walking and exercising. So from Toby’s flat in Fulham, we walked to my place to pick up my sunglasses, walked to Brompton Library where Toby and I both joined and were rewarded with festive-looking membership cards (I will also be able to take out some books in Italian and develop my skills in that language!), went to the V&A, made my first purchase from Harrods, then walked to my favourite Starbucks in Belgravia (although they went down in my estimation somewhat today after messing up my drink – twice!), and then walked to Hyde Park Corner:

Now I realise that you can’t see which station it is from this picture. Hence:

And then we went to Green Park, before going back to South Kensington to the Science Museum and having a lovely afternoon with Mike, Caroline and Billy:

And from there, a lovely afternoon and evening with Toby, re-organising my flat and watching Desperate Housewives tonight. Tomorrow I am going to sort out my Valentine’s gift to him and have a quiet but productive day before another week of work!