Nicki Minaj KING ME After bringing females rappers out of extinction, running the charts and resurrecting a legion of Barbs, Nicki Minaj is now negotiating an identity between hip-hop royalty and fashion. Will the real Nicki please stand up? --Clover Hope
In September 2011, the fashion world was invaded. During New York’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, a photo of Nicki Minaj sitting front row—the equivalent of courtside—at a Carolina Herrera runway show made the Web rounds. Nicki sported a blonde updo wig and a top adorned with brightly colored pom-poms, a human version of the balloon-powered house in Up. Seated next to the former street DVD queen who once re-created Lil’ Kim’s notorious squat pose, an image of a very different kind: Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, sporting her own stock uniform—frigid grill, bobbed cut and dark shades—arms folded in per- petual disapproval. The juxtaposition of hip-hop’s reigning queen and fashion’s most feared Svengali in discourse had music and fashion blogs babbling. And it happened again days later at the Oscar de la Renta show. It was a big deal to all, but mostly to Nicki Minaj, who held up her prize in a tweet to her then roughly 6 million followers. “Oscar De La Renta w/my date Anna Wintour again” she tweeted. “Oscar is a very handsome man. So is Valentino. Tell ya all about the collection in a bit!”
Four months later, an aggravated Nicki is holed up in a Los Angeles studio, on the phone, roaring against any mention of the word “pop” in association with her art, addressing herself in third person (“Nicki Minaj has been singing since her first mixtape,” she says). It’s an ongoing debate that stemmed from her 2010 crossover debut, Pink Friday. While she tried to put the glittery Barbie persona and the ’hood chick in equilibrium, the album had some thirsting for more of the hardcore “put this pussy on your sideburns” Nicki Minaj of mixtapes like 2006’s The Come Up: The Carter Edition (the DVD led to her inking with Lil Wayne’s Young Money/Cash Money camp) and 2009’s Beam Me Up Scotty. All featured hot bars and, yes, an occasional singsongy lilt. To foresee her potential at that time to hawk M.A.C lipstick lines, break records and morph into a sparkly real-life anime drawing, you’d have to be an A&R Nostradamus or some otherworldly Martian.
But now Nicki’s star status is indisputable. She’s the first female rapper to have seven records on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart (including “Your Love”). She’s murdered multiple guest verses (from Kanye West’s “Monster” to Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up”) and toured with Britney Spears. Goody-good- ies like Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez have rapped her girly summer banger “Super Bass” in concert. And by the time you read this, Nicki may have won the Grammy for Best New Artist.
Either way, she faces a new world of expecta- tions for her sophomore effort, Pink Friday: Ro- man Reloaded. Which may explain why trying to interview Nicki post-Pink involves excessive stalking and careening around roadblocks. (When her label mate Drake’s name is brought up, a rep listening incognito interjects, “Maybe that’s a ques- tion for Drake. Nicki, do you want to answer that?”) Her newly minted superstar status—and the scrutiny it brings—may also explain why Nicki herself is extra vigilant with her words. With a promise to return to “Mixtape Nicki” for this set, she refuses to acknowledge any deliberate pop ambi- tions. And you can feel Minaj rolling her eyes on the other line when asked just how much of Roman Reloaded features the playful rap-sung tunes of her platinum debut, which made her both a crossover rap phenom and fashion’s urban it girl. “When I say ‘Mixtape Nicki,’ it means not censoring myself and not caring what anyone thinks,” she tells VIBE via phone. “That has nothing to do with pop. You can do a pop song that doesn’t censor yourself.”