Nicki Minaj, A Star Is Born [Cover Story Excerpt, Plus Photos]

Shot exclusively for XXL by Jonathan Mannion

Nicki Minaj is on a solo journey. True, she’s got backup from Lil Wayne and his Young Money crew, but the rocket to female-rap stardom she’s climbed on only carries one passenger at a time.

Throughout hip-hop’s male-dominated history, women have struggled to find their collective voice. A select few have achieved rap-star status (Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown, Eve), while a couple are bona fide superstars (Queen Latifah, Lauryn Hill). But none of that scares the 25-year-old unabashed rapstress, who has rocketed to fame since signing to Young Money/Cash Money/Universal seven months ago.

Onika Maraj’s entrance into hip-hop was generic by most artist’s standards. In 2006, the Southside Jamaica, Queens, native broke out as a new solo artist, and, after appearing on The Come Up—The Carter Edition street DVD, she caught the eyes and ears of music megastar Lil Wayne. Over the next three years, Nicki dropped two mixtapes, 2007’s Playtime Is Over and 2008’s Sucka Free. The following year, she put out her third, and most popular tape to date, Beam Me Up Scotty. While Nicki’s ties to Young Money were getting stronger, she linked up with Gucci Mane and his So Icey crew, later sharing management with the Atlanta trap star.

Over the course of 2009, the New York MC juggled double duty as the leading lady of two Southern rap cliques. In August, she officially signed to Young Money/Cash Money/Universal, approximately two months after rising star Drake signed to the same labels.

Rolling into the new decade, Nicki has stayed on course, while her fan base has grown with every guest appearance and video. First, she had a big feature on Yo Gotti’s “5 Star Chick (Remix),” alongside Gucci and Trina. Next Nicki jumped on the Robin Thicke collabo “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy.” Then, she had a major look on Mariah Carey’s “Up Out My Face,” show stopping performances on the Young Money singles “Bedrock” and “Roger That,” a feature on Wayne’s Rebirth cut “Knockout,” and her most recent prime-time moment, a starring role on Ludacris’s monster smash “My Chick Bad.”

Now it’s the Black Barbie’s time for a real takeoff. With her first official single, “Massive Attack,” for her yet-to-be-titled debut still under wraps at press time, Nicki’s fall 2010 release is anticipated by almost as many heads as is her Young Money brother Drake’s debut, Thank Me Later. Both artists will be dropping LPs while their mentor is behind bars, unable to be there to lend his full A-list support.

On a Friday afternoon in March, a week after the cover shoot, XXL caught up with Nicki in Los Angeles to chat about her travels and shooting for the stars.

Your buzz has been growing more and more each month. How has that felt for you?

Yeah, I guess it has been growing, thank God. I dunno, it’s been an exciting whirlwind. I never really know what to expect. But the buzz has definitely been heightening, so I’m happy.

When did you first start to feel that things were coming together for you?

I definitely think that, when I shot the [“Up Out My Face”] video with Mariah Carey, I started feeling like, Wait a minute, this is not something I really ever envisioned for my life just nine months before that.

So growing up you’re a fan of hip-hop. You’re listening to it, watching it, learning to rap, and you see what the open lane is and figure how you can try to fill it? Is that how it works?

I never look at it like that; I just kinda do what I feel. I never knew what lane I would fill, [or that] I would fill a lane at all. I didn’t even really contemplate that far down the road. I just started having fun, and a lot of that came from me seeing Wayne dare to be different, and I started feeling like I can be a multifaceted rapper. I don’t have to be a one-dimensional female rapper. Once I put that in perspective, it was like everything just got easier for me, because I no longer wanted to fit in anybody’s box—I just wanted to be Nicki…

Clearly there’s an opening, because females in hip-hop come so far and few between, but the winners make an open lane out of a closed lane. The winners just say, “I am,” and it happens, and they don’t do a lot of thinking and guessing and planning about what they can do—they just do it. And that’s kinda like how I am.

You are both a new female rapper and a new rapper from New York. Do people recognize your gender more than that you’re a New York artist?

I think very often people miss that I’m from New York, and I don’t really know why that is, but I remember I said on Twitter one time, “Shout out to Queens,” and all of the gay boys thought I was talking to them, and I realized that people haven’t gotten that I’m Southside Jamaica, Queens, New York City. I feel like I say it a lot, but I guess I’m not saying it that much, or it’s that I’m so diverse and I don’t always rap with the New York accent—I switch it up, you know. People don’t see me as just repping one city or one state. I actually really like that. That was always my goal: to be able to bridge that gap, you know, whether it’s to London.

When I listen to my favorite artists, I don’t care where they’re from. When you listen to Whitney Houston, you don’t care if she’s from New Jersey or France. Like, she has an incredible voice. So I’m glad that sometimes people don’t put me [as the] “new, New York artist.” But I am very proud to rep New York. Who wouldn’t be? We’ve seen the best male and female artists, so it’s an honor to be from New York. —Vanessa Satten

To read the rest of this cover story, be sure to pick up the May 2010 issue of XXL, featuring Young Money’s Nicki Minaj and Drake on the cover, which hits newsstands nationwide April 20.

SEE FOLLOWING PAGES FOR EXCLUSIVE PHOTO GALLERY

  • http://Pierzy11@gmail.com Pierzy

    Hey look! A story on Nicki Minaj! It must be a day that ends in Y.

    • Courtney

      shes good but, her shit lately beens so fake, like pop music…her old shit is good.
      >>>follow me on twitter @Courtney_Beatz

      • tt

        shutt up u aint good

      • montaba

        yea you say her shit lame but look i bet her life is ten times better then you

        so haters stop hatein on
        her cause she’s barbie bitch’s

    • http://rinaworld.com rina

      y ya haten on NICKI for

      • http://THUGKASKET KADAFI

        BUDDHA’S WORLD TOUR KISS

    • http://thugkasket shyne

      HOLLYWOOD THUGLORD ETURNALLY

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  • SOUTHSIDE A-TOWN

    & this is why i don’t cop every mag no more, cuz everything in it is on the site. anyway, shawty need to cut that wig shit out. she is not marilyn monroe.

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  • Jon Dog

    XXL and Nikki can both eat a bowl of dicks!!!

  • Moving Sideways

    She reminds me of a hotter, better rapping Missy Elliott. Which leads me to my next point, where the hell is Missy Elliott?

    • h8u

      @ MOVING HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD. SHE’S GOT THAT CRAZY ANIMATED SWAG.

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  • http://www.opalellysemusic.com Opal Ellyse

    Whatever folks think about Nicki is their opinion as for me I’m happy as hell for her succsess becuase she’s opening a door that’s been closed for way too long. FEMALE RAP IS BACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    http://www.opalellysemusic.com

    p.s. and she’s getting better

  • j cole

    nicki minaj and yasko are opening so many doors for female rap. theyre both sexy. yasko’s raps are a little more hardcore and deep but props to nicki all the same

    • fit2sit

      yasko got sum like 15000 myspace fans

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  • daydeezy

    @pierzy we know you dont like Girls….Niki #1 Hater…..

    • http://Pierzy11@gmail.com Pierzy

      I don’t care enough to hate her.

      If she’s so great, you should learn how to spell her name properly.

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  • gkid12345

    I thought this was Lady Gaga, it was a very very easy mistake.

  • daydeezy

    LMAO I spelled it right Cuzzzz…see your femine side comes out without you knowing it…keep exposing yourself “Fruit”

    • http://Pierzy11@gmail.com Pierzy

      Illiteracy is so sad. Almost as sad as dick riding Nicki Minaj.

  • mini minaj

    that issue looks hot i am for sure going to pick it up !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!holla

  • STOP ROCKIN SILVER & CZs

    CO-SIGN: Pierzy, SOUTHSIDE A-TOWN, Jon Dog

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  • StarmaticPR

    Ppl give the woman her props she has done well …its every blue moon we get a stand a lone ..count my own chips type of girl…ppl are so harash on the females and it makes no sense .

    Now i do nope she brings more of that PLAY TIME IS OVER flow back..lyrics were def on point thats the nicki i started listenting to…i really dont think she wanted her music to be about the barbie thing but ppl just goin crazy over it and she being put in difficult sitution

    there is still alot to be done in female rap nicki can not save it all a lone she needs her fellow femcees Remy Ma. Jacki-O. Trina. Missy. Lil Kim. and Foxy Brown to all the same GIVE THE FANS MUSIC ON A REGULAR. all jacki recent tapes have been free props 2 her that

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    iKeepitreal.net – F*ck being politically correct
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  • http://WWW.NOTENGO.CL dOnAtElO

    ESTA MINA ES BELLISIMA PERO NO CANTA TANN BIEN , EL VIDEO MASSIVE ATACK ES LA ZORRAAKE SIGA ASI YA XAO

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  • E

    a nicki i will listen your music cause i think your music i also beleive that you are the best female that rap. Rap something about my hood (cashville) in newark n.j.

  • B.G

    Nicki Manaj Sucks she can’t even rap. Whereever they found her they need to put her back. Have you really payed attention to her rap, she really doesn’t make any sence. Prancer,donner and cupid, it doesn’t evern make sence. Who ever likes her is stupid

    • brianna wade

      nicki minaj can rap i dnt kno wat u on dnt try 2 go ham on her lik dat i bet she can rap betta dan any utha chick on da street maybe not dat gurl keys bt she can go ham in any song she eva make so get it rite

  • B.G

    Nicki Manaj Sucks she can’t even rap.

  • http://buddhakiss806@yahoo.com buddahkiss

    THE KING OF THE CAROLINA BUDDHAKISS THE DON CEO OF THUGKASKET ENTERTAINMENT

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  • http://facebook robert

    nicki minaj i will love t meet u sexy

  • BADASS

    I THINK NIKKI IS THE HOTTEST THING RIGHT NOW SHE CAN RAP HER ASS OFF BUT TO ME SHE HAS NEVER SAID LILKIM AND FOXYBROWN OR ANY OTHER FEMALE EVER INFLUNCED HER THATS WHAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND I KNOW SHE WANTED TO BE LIKE THEM BUT SHE NEVER ADMITED OTHER THAN THAT KEEP DOING YOU AND GOD BLESS.

  • http://www.bet.com Ducth’s

    I Think she is trying to b lik lil wyane tooooooooooo much dnt you think !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anonymous

    nikki is awesome she reminds me of a lil kim they take shit to the extreme they are determine female they need to do a single together it will be a smash i cant wait until the album droppppppppppppppp ….

  • asia

    nikki is awesome she reminds me of a lil kim they take shit to the extreme they are determine female they need to do a single together it will be a smash i cant wait until the album droppppppppppppppp ….

  • http://rina.com rina

    y ya haten on a NICKI 4 ya aint doin sht in ya liye so let her be wht she wants to be

  • junya boon

    I wanta have a Minaja with Nicki, Then a star really will be born, much LOVE

  • http://aol miss b

    WOW some one said nicki is the best female artist. NOw hold up remy ma is in jail not dead.. u mo fos aint neva seen smack dvd or rap battles with females in em go on u tube like lady luck? sorry to say but nickys ok her underground shit is ok!!! but shes aint no best hell no i kno bitchz that will blow her ass out da water evern her undergrown shit like warning go look that one up an see how she changed her shadow up!! im not haiting ill bump to her music to get ready for a nite out but homegirl aint da bestttt at all!!!

    • http://www.myspace.com/l33nylyn l33ny lynn

      Yeah, her pics are mad nice and all! First thing first I will say that Remy Ma was and will be one on of the best female rappers that are behind bars. Personally, Nicki is just holding this title down for Remy until she makes her return. Let Nicki do her lil thing and be with Diddy since she is juss so damn money hungry! She is a very playful rapper she is not into the rap battles and the true deep lyrics… and giving back to her community… we done already found all this out to be real. so good luck with ur day job nicki!

  • Anonymous

    HOLLYWOOD THUGLORD ETURNALLY

  • http://google Kimberly

    Yo nicki suck ya fuckin dick cuz u cant fuckin rap even if ya fuckin lame azz life fuckin depended on it. u sound like muthafuckin car crash. so just fuckin rappin it aint gon get cho no where. u think u all that cuz uve been fuckin the young money crew yo u just need to shut the fuck up copykata. u aint young money cuz u aint got no muney lezbo. u and young money can suck a bunch of dicks cuz i bet yall fuckin need the godamn muni. get the hell out of here. stooppid. wateve

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  • http://submityournewsri.info/ Alena Durrani

    Excellent report, well written I must say.

  • http://inspiringthoughtsci.info/ Stuart Aybar

    Do you know of your content reminds me of some other the same one which I read some other place?

  • antonique

    stop hatein bitchs lol

  • kizzy

    i like so jelous of u u with drake h is my husband i want to see him my bro got tickets to you rickross and idk who else but tell drake i love him

  • http://facebook jackboy dayday

    is yall made cause she doing her thang yall some hateing ass people the shit she doing yall cant even do u fucking bums