The rise and rise of hip-hop princess ahead of Meydan gig
The sassy rap-pop star has taken over the world with a haze of weird stage personas and confrontational costumes. As she makes her Dubai debut, we delve into Nicki Minaj’s wacky world The beginning Born Onika Tanya Maraj in Trinidad and Tobago in 1982, Minaj was raised by her grandmother before joining her parents in Queens, NY, at the age of five. Her father had problems with addiction while her mother, a nurse, held the family together. To escape her home life Minaj created an alter ego called Cookie – the first of many.
Nicki Minaj plays Atelier at Meydan on Friday December 28, 7pm-3am. Get tickets here
The rise After graduating from LaGuardia, the performing arts school featured in Fame, Minaj moved away from acting to focus on music. Early MySpace demos led to a first mixtape release, Playtime Is Over, in 2007, after which Grammy-winning rapper Lil Wayne snapped her up to join Drake on his Young Money label. Since then Minaj has released an astonishing 15 singles as a solo artist and 22 as a guest for the likes of Ludacris, Usher, David Guetta and Madonna. Meanwhile, albums Pink Friday and 2012’s Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded have shifted four million units.
The tunes Minaj’s flow mixes whip-smart self-aggrandising swagger, searing confessionals and empowering feminist mantras. Her mixtapes are sample-led hip-hop, but recent records show she can also go Gaga with Euro-dance beats and shrill synths. Easy on the ear it ain’t, but her religiously devoted record-buying public still lap it up.
The beef Circa 2010, US bad-girl rapper Lil’ Kim was so incensed that this new gal on the block was biting her style she released ‘Black Friday’, a diss song that slated Minaj as a ‘Kim clone clown’ enjoying her ‘14th minute of fame’. Minaj has praised Kim’s previous achievements, and remains phlegmatic: ‘Where’s your music? Put your music out and when I see your name on a billboard, that’s when I’ll respond to you,’ she reportedly told Kim in 2010.
The businesswoman Minaj retains a 360-degree deal with her label, as a result of which she owns the rights to all publishing, merchandising, tours and endorsements. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Michael Jackson, Kanye West and Britney Spears, she recently inked a deal with Pepsi to be the face of new soft drink Pop, bringing further revenue on top of her money-spinning hook- up with Mac cosmetics. Minaj is nothing if not shrewd: she’s stacking notes faster than the banks can print them.
The impact Minaj is a 21st-century crossover success. Through a combination of prolific output, eye-catching outfits and slick, hook-heavy rhymes, she’s gained fans in their millions, including a legion of children. Last year Sophia Grace Brownlee, a tutu-wearing nine-year-old from Britain, posted a sassy cover of Minaj hit ‘Super Bass’ on YouTube. Since then it’s garnered 39 million clicks, resulting in Brownlee and Minaj performing a super-cute duet on American talk show Ellen. Niftily, their version left out expletives and adult content. Afterwards Minaj encouraged Brownlee to stay in school and offered to take her on a shopping spree, promising to buy whatever she desired. Contradiction is entwined in the DNA of any fascinating musical phenomenon, and really, why would you want it any other way?
The alter egos She has a few: Roman Zolanski is her inner angst personified as an extraverted English man, while Martha is Roman’s bossy mother, complete with London accent. As headscarf-wearing Nicki Teresa she’s a healer of fans, while Harajuku Barbie is a wide-eyed innocent.
The wigs Minaj tours with a trailer- full of wigs: two-tone, Day-Glo, leopard spots, candy pink and grungy green. Head to Party Zone in The Dubai Mall to emulate her style.
The Nictionary Minaj has invented her own lingo, sporting slang such as ‘strawberry shortcake’ and ‘dolly lama’. See her Pink Friday mobile app (at itunes.com) for translations.
The threads From space-age sass to chaste dolly girl, Latex and lace to satin, Lycra is most definitely this girl’s best friend. She may not like the Lady Gaga comparisons, but Minaj is certainly giving the reigning queen of avant-garde attire a run for her column inches.
The figure At just 157cm tall she’s a veritable pocket rocket, sporting an incredible waist-to-booty ratio, which has led to rumours of a posterior enhancement operation – which Minaj vehemently denies.