KING RALPHY BREAKING CODE SILENCE
Monday, November 15, 2010
Nicki Minaj's Billboard Magazine Cover FULL Interview
On the surface, Nicki Minaj is a cartoon: a vivacious, va-va-va-voom 26-year-old girly girl with a fondness for silly voices, hip-hugging Barbie-doll costumes, anime facial expressions and day-glo accessories.
But three years ago, Minaj, born Onika Maraj and raised in Jamaica, Queens, was just another tough, street-wise, potty-mouthed chick who couldn’t keep a job.
“The last job I had was as an office manager in a little, tiny room where I literally wanted to strangle this guy because he was so loud and obnoxious,” Minaj recalls. “I would go home with stress pains in my neck and my back. That’s when I went to my mother and said, ‘Look, I’m not going back to work.’ I’d been fired like 15 times because I had a horrible attitude. I worked at Red Lobster before that and I chased a customer out of the restaurant once so I could stick my middle finger up at her and demand that she give me my pen back. I swear to God I was bad.”
Thankfully, Minaj has found a much more productive way to channel her fury. After being discovered by rapper Lil Wayne a couple of years ago off the strength of a street DVD appearance and becoming the first lady of his Young Money crew, Minaj has become one of rap’s most attention-grabbing MCs and this decade’s Queen Bee.
Now, three mixtapes — including 2009′s highly touted “Beam Me Up, Scotty” — and a slew of guest appearances later, Minaj is set to release her solo debut album, “Pink Friday,” on Nov. 23 through Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown.
The album straddles the lines between boisterous hip-hop (“Roman’s Revenge,” “Did It on ‘Em”), glossy pop (“Check It Out,” “Your Love”) and vulnerable R&B (“Right Thru Me,” “Here I Am”). The set boasts an eclectic roster that includes Will.i.am, Drake, Rihanna, Kanye West and Natasha Bedingfield and features production from West, Swizz Beatz, Bangladesh, Drew Money and Oak.
“When I started rapping, people were trying to make me like the typical New York rapper, but I’m not that,” Minaj says. “No disrespect to New York rappers, but I don’t want people to hear me and know exactly where I’m from. I wanted the album to be universal and versatile. It really feels like it speaks for every one of my personalities.”
Her multiple characters are indeed present on the set. In a matter of bars, Minaj switches effortlessly from the toned-down Onika to the energetic Nicki and then to her tempestuous alter ego, Roman Zolanski. She tosses off British and Jamaican accents, animal-like growls, breathy vocals and rapid-fire rhymes with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it speed of a 14-year-old girl thumbing a text message in homeroom.
Minaj first displayed her playful, animated side when she appeared in Gucci Mane’s 2009 video “Five Star Chick” — her first time on a video set. “My hands just went on my hips and I became like a doll. I had never done that before or planned to do it — it just happened,” she says. “After that I would go to shows and girls in the audience would do the whole ‘Five Star Chick’ dance. Afterward I thought, ‘Maybe I’m on to something.’ ”
And she was. Minaj began dubbing herself the Harajuku Barbie and, borrowing a page from pop star Lady Gaga, created a unique virtual club for her fans by naming them “Barbz.”
Producer/collaborator Will.i.am says Minaj’s eccentricity helped her stand out among the masses. “There are a lot of artists in the world. The Internet is flooded with every single thing in the world. But she is different. She’s unique, and she’s busted through all the noise,” he says.
Indeed, no rapper has stretched the boundaries of hip-hop quite like Minaj has in the last two years. Aside from her sex appeal and fashion sense, she’s become one of music’s most in-demand collaborators, recording with Rihanna, Usher, Ludacris, Mariah Carey, Robin Thicke, Sean Kingston, Trey Songz, Christina Aguilera and labelmates Drake and Lil Wayne, among many others.
During the week ending June 26, she had more songs on the Billboard Hot 100 (four) than any other artist, becoming the first female rapper to accomplish the feat. And Minaj’s “Your Love” was the first single by a female rapper to reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Rap chart in seven years. Ironically, Minaj dethroned current nemesis Lil Kim — more on that later — who was the last female rapper to hit the top, in June 2003, with her cameo on 50 Cent’s “Magic Stick.” In a generally grave year for artist development, Minaj is one of few new acts — alongside B.o.B and Mumford & Sons — who can claim legitimate breakthrough status in 2010.
Universal Motown president Sylvia Rhone marvels at Minaj’s mic skills, noting that she has “proved that she can go toe-to-toe with today’s top male rappers.” The buzz began last year when she appeared on Robin Thicke’s “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy.” Even Jay-Z took notice, making a suggestion for her verse. “I had never met Jay at that point,” Minaj says, “but he told Robin Thicke that if I did the song I should say, ‘I be, I be, I be, I be, I be on that money shit.’ So I took that line and just ran with it.”
Ludacris’ platinum-certified “My Chick Bad” single and the Young Money hit “Bedrock” further boosted Minaj’s credibility. Then there was Usher’s “Lil Freak” and Trey Songz’ “Bottoms Up,” which showcased her range as she masterfully reconfigured her raps to fit the R&B-driven and club-heavy songs, respectively.
But it was last month, when Kanye West released “Monster,” a new song featuring Minaj, Jay-Z, Rick Ross and Bon Iver, that skeptics-mostly male-finally recognized she was more than a hip-hop Jessica Rabbit. “Can we just talk about Nicki’s verse????????!!!!!!!!! I toooooooooooooooold yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallll!!!!!!!!!!!” tweeted West, who, just weeks before, had dubbed Minaj the “scariest artist out right now” with the “potential to be the No. 2 rapper of all time” after Eminem.
“When I do songs like ‘Monster,’ when I’m on a record with Jay-Z and Kanye West, when I’m on a record with Wayne and Em — I definitely think the dudes give me respect,” Minaj says. “They haven’t come easy but I think people are starting to give me more props.”
To seal the deal, Minaj leaked the single “Roman’s Revenge” a couple of weeks ago, which served as the official introduction of her most belligerent persona, Roman Zolanski. On it, although Minaj claims not to be directing rhymes at her, it seems the rapper takes aim at Lil Kim, who’s targeted Minaj in recent rants for not paying sufficient homage to the female rappers who have come before her.
“‘Nicki she just mad ’cause you took the spot,’ word, that bitch mad cause I took the spot? Well, bitch, if you ain’t shitting then get off the pot/Got some niggas out in Brooklyn that’ll off your top,” Minaj raps on the track.
“‘Roman’s Revenge’ is where I’ve become a different human being,” Minaj says. “I didn’t give a damn who I offended, whose feelings I hurt — this needed to be said, and it cracks me up when I listen to it. I’m a maniac on that track. I knew true hip-hop fans would love this.”
Minaj credits mentor Lil Wayne for sparking that fire in her. After she dropped out of the second leg of Wayne’s 2009 I Am Music tour, he kicked her out the crew — a turn of events that wasn’t made public. “I started to record by myself and I lost track of what I was doing and who I wanted to be,” she says. “It wasn’t until I linked back up with Wayne that he gave me this speech. He said, ‘What happened? You were hot,’ and it just hurt me so much. I wanted to prove to him that I was still hot. It hurt my ego so bad that I went back with a vengeance.”
Surprisingly, Minaj’s solo attempts haven’t been quite as ferocious as her guest features have. Although first official single “Your Love” reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, the track wasn’t even meant to be released. “I didn’t like the song and I didn’t put it out,” she says. “Someone stole it out of the studio and put it on the Internet and I cried because I was mortified. I was humiliated and remember telling Drake, ‘This is going to ruin my career.’ ”
That track followed the now unofficial lead single, “Massive Attack,” which Minaj says she pretends doesn’t exist to avoid feeling further embarrassment. The track charted but fell off soon after and was, according to Minaj, one of the low points of her career.
However, follow-up singles “Check It Out,” which peaked at No. 14 on the Rap chart, and “Right Thru Me,” topping out at No. 24 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, were well-received but not like “Your Love.” But then in comes “Roman’s Revenge,” No. 56 on the Hot 100, and, as Minaj anticipated, a fan favorite.
“She has done well [on radio],” WQHT (Hot 97) New York VP of programming Ebro Darden says. “‘Your Love’ was huge, ‘Right Thru Me’ is growing, and it seems like ‘Roman’s Revenge’ has people interested as well. She developed a following long before she had music on radio.”
Lil Wayne, who was recently released from jail, says he’s “not shocked at all” about Minaj’s success. “Both Drake and Nicki Minaj are both born stars,” he says. “I am just blessed to have them on the team.”
Cash Money president Bryan “Birdman” Williams isn’t surprised either, stating that Minaj has the right team — including new managers Sean “Diddy” Combs and James Cruz — to help her reach the top. “If she looks at us and our accomplishments, we’ve laid out the blueprint for her to accomplish a lot,” he says. “She stands on her own with her talent, but a strong team is what makes or breaks an artist.”
Now that Minaj has laid the groundwork, Universal Motown VP of marketing Katina Bynum says the label can begin rolling out a structured marketing plan for “Pink Friday.” iTunes has a preorder promotion that instantly gives buyers a copy of “Roman’s Revenge” upon purchase. MySpace will host a contest where selected winners will get a one-on-one experience with Minaj. “Maybe a shopping spree or meeting her backstage at a show,” Bynum says.
“There will also be a release-week event — either a performance or an album release party in New York or Los Angeles.”
Minaj is set to do an AOL Sessions performance and a “24 Hours With Nicki” webisode series will air as well. Yahoo is shooting exclusive footage for a “New Now” episode and an in-studio video performance and interview. “As we go forward, we’re talking about a partnership with Foursquare for a performance and maybe a Nicki look-alike contest to take place simultaneously in different cities,” Bynum says.
Currently, there’s a flyaway radio contest and a $1,000 shopping spree competition going on across the country. A tour is also in the works for next year. And while details are scant about her future ventures, Minaj is working with MAC makeup to start her own line, hopes to get into acting and wants to start a children’s charity. She also plans to further develop her live show, working with choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson and a voice coach.
But for now, Minaj is fine-tuning the final details of “Pink Friday” and continuing to cement her status as the baddest bitch in the building-even if it means summoning the angry girl from a couple of years ago.
“I push people around me but I don’t push anyone more than I push myself,” she says. “I tell people all the time, ‘You want to work for me? You have to give 250,000%,’ because when I’m in the booth, I don’t half-ass it. I demand perfection from everyone around me and if you can’t live up to that, then bye-bye.”
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