Nicki Minaj, “A Star Is Born” (Originally Published May 2010)
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.
When you started working with both Gucci and Wayne you were essentially down with two crews at the same time. How did you manage to establish both of those relationships and create situations where neither of them worked against each other and were beneficial to you?
First of all, I think if I was a guy we wouldn’t even be having this conversation about that because guys if you look at the way men work in hip-hop, they don’t care about crews, they team up and feature together all the time and I think because women [have] predominately been a part of one crew, people were just judging it by how the past relationships with women in hip-hop kinda panned out. But what I do is what the boys do, I team up with who I wanna team up with. I’m Young Money, period, but that doesn’t stop me from working with Gucci and working with Jeezy and working with anybody the same way it doesn’t stop Wayne from working with Gucci and Wayne’s been working with Jeezy. I don’t see why people question it other than people scrutinize women so much, but I’m glad that I was able to kind of do away with those myths that a female can only be down with one crew. I love Gucci to death, Gucci’s a great friend of mine but I am Young Money and, again, the guys do it all the time.
Do you get tired of being labeled the female MC?
You know what, I’m a female entertainer, but I don’t let it offend me when people call me a female MC or female rapper, because I just look at it as a challenge. I’m about to climb over every single barrier and just put females on a different map altogether. So I take it as it comes. Like, I don’t think in five years people will consider me a female rapper—I’ll be, like, an entertainer. But, as of right now, I get it. I started off in the underground hip-hop circuit, so I’m a female rapper right now. But it’s just the beginning.
One way female rappers have gotten attention is with sexually explicit lyrics and a sexy image. Is there pressure for you to skew your content that way, because of the idea that that’s what people wanna hear from female rappers?
I never feel pressure to say anything sexual. I think people have come to understand my personality now, and even when I do say something sexual, it’s almost funny. I’ve turned a lot of songs down if they’re too overtly sexual, because I don’t believe I have to do that. In the beginning, I think I did feel I had to do that—I’m not gonna lie. But, as of right now, I do not feel like, in order for me to get attention, I have to do anything sexual. The majority of my fans seem to be younger girls, [and] they’re cool with me making weird faces and putting a pink weave in. It’s more about the character that I’ve built and less about the sexuality now, I think.
The character you’ve built has been transitioning a bit since we first met you, with the different colored hairstyles, your new clothing style. Is that because it’s all now more accessible to you, or because you’ve got more people wanting to dress you?
Well, again, I think, in the beginning, I allowed myself to be told what I should look like, sound like, and now I’m at the point where I want my personality to always come across. If that means a blonde wig that day [or] a weird London accent on my record, that’s what I’m gonna do.
I feel like it’s my time to show who I really am. You guys can take it or leave it. I love kooky style. I love things that look like a photo shoot every day. I wanna play dress up. I want people to always wonder what I’m gonna look like. It’s really exciting. When people come out in this business, you don’t know how long you have to make a mark to be heard, to be seen. So with the time that I have, I want to make it exciting, and visual stimulation is very important to me.
When I see somebody, a part of me liking them is taking them completely in, from the hair, the outfit, and the lipstick, and all that. Just as a girl, I know how I look at other girls, and I think it’s a very fun aspect of hip-hop that sometimes we don’t pay attention to. I just wanna step it up a notch and be a little bit more creative with it. I think sometimes I push the envelope just to get a reaction, because when [people] stop talking, then there’s a problem. Whether they love it or hate it, that’s actually one of my stipulations now: It has to be an outfit that they’re either gonna love it or hate it. ’Cause if they say, “Eh, it’s okay,” then I failed.