HIP-HOP: Nicki Minaj,"Pink Friday ... Roman Reloaded" (Young Money/Universal)

At her best, Minaj is one of the wittiest, most creative rappers working today, either male or female. On the first half of her second album, she offers repeated evidence of her talents, delivering funny, biting, bawdy lines and rhyming couplets with apparent glee.

A supremely confident Minaj trades verses with otherwise cocky male rappers such as Lil Wayne, Drake and Nas and not only proves herself their equal but pushes them to step up with their own ace verses. On the effervescent, minimally invasive bounce track "Beez in the Trap," Minaj plays the queen of a hive, with Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz buzzing around her. Nas continues his return to form on "Champion," even if Minaj's verses aren't her best on the album.

But then, after the ridiculousness that is "Sex in the Lounge" (which sounds like a Lonely Island parody of an R. Kelly song), the CD drives off a cliff. Minaj abruptly hits the accelerator and stops rapping in favor of 128-beat-per-minute dance pop songs as simple as they are generic.

That second half is a drag, filled with dance bangers of the blandest and most cookie-cutter variety. The music behind "Automatic" could be mistaken for a 15-year-old's first stab at making a dance track on Ableton software. These are accompanied by a few late-night ballads with singing so synthetically enhanced that it sounds like a "Jetsons" robot.

The result is a disjointed, artistically confused release that's not only way too long but also doesn't really ring true as an "album" at all, at least if your definition is a collection of new songs with a central premise or statement that one listens to from start to finish.



JAZZ: Theo Bleckmann, "Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush" (Winter & Winter)

Singer Bleckmann has performed everything from Berlin cabaret to Las Vegas standards with some ditties by classical composer Charles Ives thrown in. Here he takes on the highly literate, mythic realm of British pop recluse Kate Bush.

It is, of course, telling that this jazz is being played by a German guy working over the music of a British songbird via an international band, including Americans such as percussionist John Hollenbeck and violinist Caleb Burhans. Bleckmann creates a set full of cymbal haze, bells and electric keyboards trembling. In perfect English, he respects the mystery in these songs, which exude a certain New Age sensibility while maintaining jazz seriousness. The session is mysterious and occasionally tuneful.