Nicki Minaj's "Roman Reloaded" hurt in early reviews

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Grammy-nominated hip hop artist Nicki Minaj struggled to win over critics with her new found love of dance-pop music when her highly anticipated sophomore album “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded” was released this week.

Named after one of the rapper’s many musical alter egos, Roman Zolanski, the album features 19 tracks that transition from the rapper’s hip hop roots to her newfound love of pop-centered dance anthems.

Minaj, 29, shot to fame with her 2010 debut “Pink Friday,” which topped the Billboard 200 album chart and spurned hit singles such as “Moment 4 Life,” “Super Bass” and “Fly.” The record earned Minaj four Grammy nominations including for best new artist, which she lost out to folk group Bon Iver.

Following a provocative performance of the album’s first track “Roman Holiday” at February’s Grammy Awards, which saw the rapper levitating on the set of a church on stage, Minaj led both fans and critics to wonder what she had up her sleeve for her highly anticipated sophomore album. Now they know.

Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times gave the album two out of four stars, praising the rapper’s “funny, biting, bawdy lines” in the first half of the album but slamming the rest of it saying “the album drives off a cliff.”

Other criticism was similar in citing the distinctly different styles -- hip hop and dance pop.

The first track has Minaj rapping and singing in a British accent over heavy hip hop beats with a rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” toward the end. The hip hop continues with the next ten songs, including a Lil Wayne collaboration on “Roman Reloaded,” before sharply changing direction with “Starships.”

That electro-pop tune marks Minaj’s transition to dance-pop, and despite being popular with fans - currently “Starships” sits at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart - the move failed to impress reviewers.

Billboard’s Erika Ramirez and Andrew Hampp were critical of the dance-heavy tracks citing one, “Automatic,” for being the “musical equivalent to a Prada bag from Chinatown.”

Minaj brings in hip hop and R&B heavyweights for numerous tracks including Nas, Drake and Young Jeezy on “Champion” and Chris Brown on “Right By My Side,” but it is her duet with rapper Lil Wayne on “Sex in the Lounge” that attracted a lot of attention with Ramirez and Hampp calling the song “sonically and lyrically subpar.”

Chris Willman at labeled Minaj a “sellout,” and the album a “hot-pink mess,” heavily critiquing the rapper’s references to wealth and calling her “the world’s most gleeful representative of the One Percent.”

Digital Spy’s Lewis Corner was a lot more forgiving, handing the album four out of five stars and saying it “never fails to keep you on your toes.”

Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte