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Rihanna, Nicki Minaj Battle for Sales with New Albums

This week marks the battle of the R&B divas, as Rihanna and Nicki Minaj both release new material today.

Rihanna drops Unapologetic, her seventh album in seven years, while Nicki Minaj is reissuing her sophomore album with several new tracks, dubbing the effort “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded — The Re-Up.”

Unapologetic is hindered by the manner of its creation, recorded within a few months during a world tour, amid constant public controversies.  True to its title, the album is unapologetically for radio, with a classic case of producer ADD. However, despite a lack of cohesion or developed theme, Rihanna has attracted some of the best writers and collaborators in the industry, and the album will undoubtedly foster hit singles.

A standout includes “Right Now,” a guaranteed smash featuring powerhouse David Guetta, carrying on the dancy electronica that has characterized Rihanna’s work since “Disturbia.”

A track that will receive a lot of attention is “Nobody’s Business,” a sassy Chris Brown collaboration that addresses criticism of their relationship. Indeed,  as MTV’s  Rebecca Thomas points out, the unofficial promotion for this album has been building for months, through the speculation over the pair’s relationship.

Current single “Diamonds” is also a highlight, with an ingraining refrain and Rihanna’s trademark eclectic pronunciations. The ballads are predictably forgettable, though with some evocative titles, such as “Lost in Paradise” and “Love Without Tragedy/Mother Mary.”   Thematically, the album is scattered, somehow eliciting controversy and compassion at the same time–perhaps the duality that has made Rihanna’s career.

Nicki Minaj’s “Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded: the Re-Up” also feels hasty, with a few new tracks slapped onto an old album. The multi-disc collection features the entirety of Roman Reloaded with eight new songs, including singles “The Boys” and “Freedom.”

The album is predictably rife with big-name collaborations, including “High School” with Lil Wayne, “I’m Legit” featuring Ciara, and “I Endorse These Strippers” featuring Tyga and Thomas Brinx. However, Minaj still fails to chart a consistent artistic identity, vacillating between bubblegum pop and gangsta  rap between tracks. Some critics argue this synthesis of genres is her niche, but Minaj relies so heavily on her collaborators here that the stylistic shifts appear opportunist rather than authentic.

Like Rihanna, Minaj might have benefited from a bit more time between albums. Regardless, with the material they provided on Unapologetic and The Re-Up, both will likely dominate radio into 2013.

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