The following is a transcript of Season 1, Episode 1, of the Hot Girls Podcast Series. Celebrating icons in the music industry. Listen here.
Hello and welcome to Hot Girls with me Lex On The Decks.
In today’s episode I’m going to be taking a look at the biggest selling female rapper of all time.
She was also the first female MC to perform at the Grammys, and the first to get a No.1 album in the UK. She calls herself a Queen and I agree. I am of course talking about the prolific, Nicki Minaj. I’m going to take you through her life and music to understand what it is about her, not just as an artist but as a person, that took her so far. How, she managed to achieve the level of fame and critical acclaim that she has.
I’m also gonna touch on some of the controversy surrounding her and why she doesn’t always get the respect she deserves. If we want more women to compete with Nicki, to get to that level of success, she’s someone it would pay to learn from.
OK, let’s get into it.
Nicki Minaj, was born in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago and she was named Onika Tanya Maraj. While here, she lived with her Grandmother, while her parents set roots down in the states. It was not an easy start as she tells it – her father was addicted to drugs and alcohol and they didn’t have much money so there was a lot of tension and absence in the house.
Nicki originally pursued acting. She got into performing arts school in New York called Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School. It’s a very famous arts school – is actually the place the film fame was based on. Robert DeNiro and Jenifer anniston are both alumni. She pursued acting initially but it didn’t really go anywhere for her – she wasn’t getting cast which when you think about how failure can define you, maybe if acting had gone better for nicki she wouldn’t have pursued music with the same hunger. Living in New York, most of the key players in hip-hop were from there so she started to connect to that world around her.
THE HOODSTERS to DIRTY MONEY
Nicki started MCing under the name Nicki Miraj. She joined a group called the Hoodsters, but wasn’t much of group performer and wanted to be dominating on her own. So she worked and hustled and improved her MC skills. Then she first got spotted by a guy called Big Fendi who worked with Dirty Money Records which is Diddy’s label. He signed her as a new artist. In order to get new artists out in the world, the label at that time were making and putting out this DVD series called The Come Up, was a DVD series they released, we’re in 2007 now and if you want to see old, pure, MC Nicki, this is the place to start. For people who question her ability as an MC I think these flashbacks are important. Nicki wanted to be the biggest and the richest and so her decisions to create the music she has now were deliberate, but this is where you can look back and see that talent. Fendi was the one to change her rap name from Nicki Maraj to Nicki Minaj.
The first time I heard of Nicki Minaj was on the song Bedrock which I think still bangs. *BANG* I don’t know if you remember Bedrock, it had that catchy hook from Lloyd. It also featured Drake and Tyga. Bedrock was like Young Money’s coming out song and the artists with the best verses are the ones we still hear on the radio. And I remember seeing Nicki and thinking, she’s got it, whatever it is, you just paid more attention to her.
Wayne is often given a lot of credit for the success of both Nicki and Drake. Lil Wayne did for those artists, what Dr Dre did for Eminem really. He was the one who had success at that point and come out and said, these people are good to and I’m gonna give them a platform to be public.
Those “Come Up” DVD music videos also featured Lil Wayne, so that’s when they first started to cross paths.
“He works so f*ckin’ hard. He shows me that no matter how hot you think you are you can’t give up, you have to keep that chokehold on the game… he works like it was hit first day on the job” – Nicki Minaj talking about Lil Wayne in 2008
That interview was from 2008 when Nicki had just started to put out music under Young Money. And I love hearing and seeing those kind of insights on someone. You can see that Lil Wayne, yes he had a platform for Nicki but he also gave her the kind of advice that people need to be told. To take your craft seriously. ALWAYS. And to keep working at it.
An early manager she worked with called Debra Antney who’s also managed rappers like French Montana and Gucci Mane said in an interview with vice: “Nicki has made it hard for me to work with other women. Her focus was phenomenal… There wasn’t no partying, there wasn’t no drugs, there wasn’t no guys. She worked.”
In the period from 2007 – 2009, so Nicki is about 25, 26 at this time, she started releasing music under Young Money. These songs weren’t huge but at the time she was featuring on the records of some big artists, Mariah Carey probably being the one that got the most attention. This is typically something male rappers do. Like your little mix ft stormzy, or Ray Blks got a single out at the moment ft. Chip. It’s rarer to have female MCs featuring across this but it was a great way for Nicki to build her profile in mainstream radio. And by this point she’d started to develop into this more significant, character persona. She was super confident and stood her ground as a featured artist. This was her going from underground solo work and high profile collabs.
So you’ve got, Onika the actress, then Nicki Maraj the MC. These two people came together to become Nicki Minaj the performer.
This is probably the defining moment of her career. You have this track by Kanye West, featuring himself, Jay-Z and Rick Ross on a record. In terms of success and respectability in the industry it doesn’t really get much more stand out than that. Then you have this chick Nicki Minaj who’s pretty new on the scene and done some decent features. Around this time, I saw an interview with Kanye to described Nicki as the most dangerous artist around, at the time. He actually said he thought she had the potential to be the second best rapper of all time. He was like no-one’s gonna beat eminem but you could be second best. And essentially on that record created one of the most iconic verses of all time. I would say it’s probably my favourite feature verse ever, and I’m not alone in that…
Both Ed Sheeran and Adele have very publicly rapped the verse.
By the time Nicki actually released her first proper solo single Massive Attack, she was a pretty big hit. Her first album was called Pink Friday and it featured songs like Moment for life and Right thru me, which is a tune. She used myspace to keep promoting herself..
This is probably the point where opinion really started to divide on Nicki because it would be fair to say this was a pop album, maybe an rnb album and i think people were hoping she would be releasing a hip-hop album. Massive attack the separate single which had a more unique sound but didn’t land too well. This was her showing her range but also I think her saying she wanted to be a superstar.
From that record she then released Pink Friday Roman reloaded which was much broader and a better record in general, and you got a sense that she had accepted herself and who she wanted to be as an artist. This featured tracks like Beez in the Trap with 2 Chainz but also Pound the alarm and starships.
“This is who I am right now. Take it or leave it.” – Nicki Minaj
Her style was a very bold statement, she was very colorful and playful… its a bit like the Katy Perry thing really, its fantasy world. Other people would call out lady gaga as well. Its this larger than life character thing that has made pop stars so successful.
It’s hard to think of male rappers who have done this to such an extent. Eminem did the character and comedy thing but that was purely on the song, he didn’t come to red carpet events in character.
Ya know, Nicki can rap like the best hip-hop MC but she did something different has brought more character. That allowed her to be bigger. It’s hard to predict in any way, the kind of success she would have had had she been a purer MC. But, the most fundamental thing I think to understand about her decisions as an artist is that they were deliberate and deliberate from her.
She has been, for the past decade really, the poster girl for rap beef. Like if you want to beef then it’s probably gonna be with Nicki and I think a lot of that stems from this ridiculous notion that there can only be one woman at the top. So press are always creating this culture of like, if you’re coming in you want to take on Nicki. I’m gonna talk just a little bit about some of the beef she has had. There are enough women hungry and talented enough to be chart topping now so i think this can melt away. Research has shown that women are less supportive of other women in conditions where they are both underrepresented and feel there are only a few opportunities for advancement. Lady Leshurr was actually offered 250k to write a diss track about Nicki, like this isn’t something purely coming from the artists, its heavily encouraged by management. Nicki does get shit for not bigging up other female artists as well, like she famously skipped Lil Kim as being one of her influencers whereas Remy Ma for example brought out like MC Lyte, Young Ma, Queen Latifah out on stage with her. I think that’s historically been absolutely fair but hopefully something she’s growing out of. When she toured the UK recently she made a point to reach out to Ms Banks, Lady Leshurr and Lisa Mercedez.
Honestly i think the Nicki and Cardi beef was a media swirl. For men historically rap beef has kinda been a good thing… but for women it can hold us back
Nicki is at the top is because of her music and her consistent effort. She never stops pushing. She’s only actually had 4 studio albums, which isn’t loads over a 10year period, but she has made sure those albums are cut and polished and showcase her range.
Queen, her latest album is probably more full of hits than any other which in a streaming generation is smart you know – people aren’t just going out and buying 2 albums these days and listening to them on their walkman.
If Nicki had stuck to rap more, would she be more respected by certain people? Absolutely but she probably wouldn’t be as successful as she is. I to people who question whether she is one of the greatest rappers of all time, absolutely question it but let’s base that on her raps. No one judges Picasso on the work he did outside of cubism. Though I can see why that decision leaves her excluded sometimes because its generally hip hop purists making those lists.
I would like to see her battle though, but maybe she just doesn’t wanna give us that.
So, How big do you want to be? If you want to be as big as Nicki you need to be accessible to a broader range of people and that is a choice it’s not an accident.