Better Days: Nicki’s Former Manager Recalls Her Leading Lady

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Tray Hova / April 16, 2010

Bye Bye Debbie. Yesterday, it was confirmed that Nicki Minaj was getting her diddy bop on by calling on none other than branding sovereign, Mr. Sean Combs to be her new manager. So far her original handler, Debra Antney, CEO of Mizay Entertainment — home to Gucci Mane and Wacka Flocka Flame — hasn’t made a comment in regards to her move. But VIBE decided to flip through an old transcript from an October interview we did with Deb, to reminisce on her first encounter with the black Barbie. It’s so hard, to say goodbye…

VIBE: How did you end up managing Nicki? Did she come to you or vice versa?
DEB ANTNEY: Actually she came to me. I went to a store one time in North Carolina, which was Fendi’s store and he said ‘Yo, I got this girl, Deb.’ Cause everybody knows how I love girls. Then he played me the music and I was like ‘Oh my god that’s so hot, then he showed me the picture and I was like ‘Oh my God she’s so pretty, then he showed me another picture and I looked and I was like ‘What the hell is this? That shit’s disrespectful’

What picture was it?
That picture with her tits out and her legs open and all that. So he was like, ‘She’s looking for management, she really wants a female. And I was like ‘Nah, I don’t even wanna deal with this. I had already drawn my conclusion, like ‘I’m not even dealing with this. Then I got a phone call, the security that Gucci had at that time, … turns out Nicki was his wife’s cousin. So I’m like ‘Why does this girl keep coming up in my backyard?’ He’s like ‘Ms. Deb she needs somebody like you.’ I said if one more person tell me something about her…

Ha, it was meant to be. 
I guess so. So then I get a call from Nicki and Gucci’s like ‘Buy her a ticket, let her come down.’ Fendi wouldn’t let her come, but we paid for her ticket and had her come down. Then she was like ‘I’ll relocate,’ because I didn’t know what I could do for her in [New York] because I didn’t have any plans of relocating back to New York. So we went and got an apartment for her. We went through our trials and errors. I made mad fuss over her. We saw that we needed her. When Nicki came, Nicki was beautiful. She was everything I wanted in a daughter and I wanted everybody to hate her. 

Like you said from that photo, Nicki was initially pretty salacious, how did you find a balance?
In her case, even though she done this, she was very shameful of it. It wasn’t something that she was very happy with, but it was something that they told her would get her over. Like sex sells and so many girls get wrapped up in stuff like that. It’s very very hard because for some, it’s in their MO, and others it’s not. Even though her words say one thing, she’s an entertainer, and it is entertainment, but it’s not who Oneka is. So that was very important for me to find out who she was.

What was the compromise? How do you find the middle ground?
She finds it. We talk about it.

Have you ever gotten into an argument where she did something too sexual?
She was like ‘Deeeb, you lunatic, you better not get mad.’ Because she did this song with Gucci and I was yelling at him like, ‘You’re going to let your little sister do stuff like this?!’ and she knows I’ma get upset.

What record was it?
“Slumber Party” (laughs). I’m very protective of her because people keep comparing her to Lil’ Kim. I don’t want people to keep judging her and I was worried how people would perceive her.

Nicki’s your first female client, how did you handle working with another female?
We spend time together, we talk about off the record things, I have a tendency of getting people to open up. I got to really know who she was. She shared a lot and I really got to see who was Onika was. All of us have little bad girls in us, it’s just a matter of when we want them to come out. Nicki’s a lot of people she’s a little girl, she’s a businesswoman, she can wear a lot of hats, that’s why we love her. —Tracy Garraud