Nicki Minaj knows how female rappers electrify fans, after all she use to be a fan herself. “I know I was always excited by whatever female was hot at the time,” Nicki Minaj says.
Today, millions of music fans are now saying the same thing about Nicki Minaj, part comic, part sex symbol and all-the-way lyrical assassin. She has everyone talking about her fiery verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” which also features Jay-Z and her infectious, standout appearances alongside Lil Wayne (“Knockout”), Usher (“Lil Freak”), Trey Songz (“Bottoms Up”), Robin Thicke (“Shakin’ It 4 Daddy,”), Sean Kingston (“Letting Go”), Christina Aguilera (“WooHoo”) and as a member of Young Money among many others, have catapulted the Queens, New York entertainer to the forefront of the music industry.
Her appeal is undeniably intoxicating, which is why her first single “Your Love” from her upcoming debut album Pink Friday hit number one on the rap charts. This flurry of success has casts Nicki in a unique position with the release of her debut album Pink Friday, featuring production from the heavy-hitters Will.i.am and Swizz Beatz amongst others.
Born in Trinidad and raised in Queens, New York, Nicki Minaj literally had to deal with life-threatening attacks during her childhood. Her father was in the borough’s drug scene. He would have violent outbursts, punch holes in walls. Her mother would leave him, only to return, after re-locating the family multiple times and routinely putting Nicki in an almost untenable position. “It was just really, really volatile and it made me kind of have a lot of anger issues because I wanted to be able to stop it, to be able to protect my family, but unfortunately I was just a child and I couldn’t do anything,” she says. “That always bothered me.”
But Nicki was able to draw strength from her chaotic home life. “It gave me this undying drive,” she explains. “Out of everyone that wanted success, I always felt like I wanted it more because my reason for wanting this was never about money or fame. It was always that, since I was five years old, I would pray and ask God to make me a successful entertainer so I could help my mother. I felt like if I got money, then I could take care of her and if she was taken care of, then maybe she wouldn’t go back to my father. That was always my rationale since I was little. It made me just go above and beyond.”
Instead of stardom, Nicki Minaj found herself in a string of dead-end jobs. After becoming disenchanted with her employment opportunities, she decided to pursue her dreams, to go after what she really wanted. She soon started writing raps and was dared by her then-manager to write three freestyles over other people’s beats. He was floored. “From then on, I just always remember having a goal to accomplish, whether it was shooting my first DVD video, putting out my next mix-tape or getting an original song done,” Nicki recalls (whose singles “Itty Bitty Piggy” and “Still I Rise” showcased her braggadocio and introspective sides, respectively, endearing her to millions of fans around the world.) “I never felt complacent and always feeling like, ‘OK, time is ticking.’”
Nicki Minaj’s musical presence was so powerful that the clock didn’t tick for long, though. Soon after taping a DVD video of her songs, Lil Wayne heard the songs and was so impressed by her presence that he flew her to North Carolina for a meeting. “I just remember it being the best moment to date, of my life because I never really even knew if I would get mainstream, or if I would ever be recognized by a mainstream person and I’d always been a Lil Wayne fan, so it was like a double whammy,” she says. “I can’t even tell you that I really remember anything about the meeting because I was in a state of shock. We had a very long conversation to the point where I was so tired that I literally just wanted to go to sleep, but he gave me the look like, ‘OK,’ almost as if, ‘OK, you can go now.’ I was like, ‘Oh no. Did I impress him or not?’”
Lil Wayne was indeed impressed. Though no paperwork was signed at this point, Wayne named dropped Nicki Minaj on his freestyle over Beyonce’s “Upgrade” and started collaborating with her, appearing for the first time with his upstart female artist on “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,” the standout selection from her Playtime Is Over mix-tape. But just because Lil Wayne was in her corner, she wasn’t going to get a pass. “I learned very early on that I wasn’t going to be doted on by him,” she says. “The only way to impress him was by working hard and that’s what I did. I never wanted him to see me as a girl. I wanted him to see me as just a beast.” Once I heard her I knew I had to meet her and once we talked I knew she had to be a part of Young Money, with her skills and her personality. She's about to change the game and open doors for female rappers all over again. You’ll see," says Lil Wayne." Thus, as her notoriety began to rise, Nicki Minaj’s vivid personalities began to catch on. Nicki Lewinsky, Nicki the Ninja, Nicki the Harajuku Barbie and Nicki the Boss each hold their own place in Nicki Minaj’s creative, ever-expanding mind. She refuses to be pigeon-holed because she’s a woman, and she uses people’s preconceived notions about female entertainers to her advantage. “I think people underestimate you more,” she says. “I think people expect less from you. They expect you to be almost stupid. I think that because of the rumors and all that’s been said about females not writing, I think that females have come to be seen as almost like an instrument for a man to speak through.”
Another testament to her astounding cache: Nicki Minaj hosted BET's Rip the Runway 2010 and pulled in the highest ratings ever for the show setting the stage for a performance on the 2010 BET Awards where she took home trophies for Best New Artist and Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, and for Best Group as a key member of the super-group Young Money. At the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards, she stole the spotlight with a show-stealing performance of her duet “Check It Out” with Will.i.am.
Whether it’s her creative phrasing or her ability to seamlessly switch from rapping to singing or her imaginative, fantasy-inspiring outfits, or her multiple personalities, Nicki Minaj clearly has all eyes on her as she prepares for the dawning of Pink Friday.