Photographer: Hype Williams.
Kicking her career off with an exciting but flawed debut (2009's Pink Friday) and a scattershot and safe sophomore release (2012's Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded), Young Money superstar Nicki Minaj continues to mess with her discography with this re-upping re-release, which tacks eight new tracks onto the front of her second album. Good news is, the too-pop Roman Reloaded now feels more balanced once this eight-track EP worth of material tips the scales, and if you missed the vicious-mixtape-Minaj that seemed like Foxy Brown crossed with anime, the Lil Wayne team-up "High School" restores faith with three-and-half minutes of driven, witty filth. The Re-Up comes on with such an anti-Roman, back-to-basics attitude that it slowly slithers up to the Wayne track, opening with a grind-meets-gospel cut "Up in Flames" ("I keep a sniper/I ain't talkin' 'bout Wesley") before the loopy meditation on fame called "Freedom" offers the listener a dreamy float in space. Then there's the dark majesty of "Hell Yeah," which comes off as a cursed Usher track while also rhyming "menses" with "Louis V lenses", but everything after the Wayne duet is the kinetic Minaj of the past, starting with the too true "I'm Legit," where Nicki alternates between imitating a robot and an air-raid siren as Ciara provides the silky hook. It's a thrill, as is the girls' night anthem "The Boys," which skillfully switches influences from Diddy to Diplo to Dan Fogelberg (dig that acoustic guitar bridge) with singer Cassie along for the ride. As "Va Va Voom" closes The Re-Up with some Black Eyed Peas-styled flash, this tacked-on EP winds up as wild and rangy as Minaj's debut. For fans who don't yet own the second album, this is certainly the better deal and bigger picture, and with some versions adding a DVD's worth of videos, the value goes up. ~ David Jeffries