V Vintage: Nicki Minaj... Before The Fame
The truth is we always knew Nicki Minaj was destined to be hip hop’s next it girl. We knew it when we chose her as one of the main reasons why the Bronx-bred art form was still alive and kicking in our August 2008 “Real Rap” issue. We knew the animated rapper born Onika Maraj was worthy of the early hype when we caught up with the Queens, New York MC in July 2009 as she was beginning to embrace her role as the savior of female rap. At the time of our acclaimed 60 Rappers In 60 Days interview series, Minaj (Yes, that’s the then 23-year-old copping a page from Lil’ Kim’s 1996 Hardcore book for her Sucka Free street release) had just dropped the buzz-heavy mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty.
She had experienced her first taste of superstardom after going out on the road on Lil Wayne’s I Am Music Tour and her recording deal with Weezy’s Young Money imprint had yet to be announced. Yet Minaj was already experiencing the pitfalls of her rising infamy as rival spitters began making her a prime target. Before her song-stealing cameos on Ludacris’ “My Chick Bad,” Young Money’s “Roger That,” and Usher’s “Little Freak;” before her own polarizing debut single “Massive Attack;” before she shocked the music world by naming Diddy as her manager. This is Nicki Minaj before the fame.—Keith Murphy
VIBE: Do you get a little intimidated when people call you the savior of female rap?
Nicki Minaj: I don’t think intimidated is the word. I definitely get excited by it. I don’t want to let anybody down. I’ve always been the type of person to make everybody happy and get things done. I want everything to be 100 percent perfect. I do feel it when people hold me to high expectations.
On your latest mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty, you covered a diverse range of musical genres from dancehall to club music to hardcore hip hop. Will we see that type of production range on your major studio debut?
I think that the album will be a little bit more focused on one type of sound. But you know, I definitely want to be one of those artists that continue to do their mixtapes. The people that just really love the ‘Street Nicki’ can still get a dose of that; but I think that when the album comes out, it will be more focused on things that you would hear on the radio. It will be more radio-friendly because honestly, those are the type of records that I like to write. I don’t think people know that about me. Records like “Kill da DJ” and stuff like that, I have fun writing that; I have fun singing. Those songs make me happy. So I think I want to make my album more like that. But whatever I do, I always will have those real songs where I talk about real things.
Do you have a specific story you want to get out to the fans?
I have a song I wrote called “Autobiography.” I came from a very intense living situation, with having a parent on drugs and not having a lot of money. So I always want to talk about the real things. But I think 90 percent of my music, I want it to be ‘feel-good music’. I’m already recording tracks for my album, but when it comes time to actually say, ‘this is the album,’ I may be in a completely different space than I’m in right now.
Now as far as the label situation goes, everybody’s been asking the $64,000 question: “What label is Nicki Minaj going to sign with?”
People will know within 30 days. I don’t think I want to wait too much longer than that. In another interview I was basically talking about the other deals that I had seen that other female rappers had signed. I felt like they weren’t treated like a star. I feel like before you sign anything in this business, you have to truly believe that you’re not only a star, but a superstar. When you think of yourself like that, you won’t really just go ahead and sign the first thing that comes your way because you’ll know that all the fame and fortune stuff will happen. Like right now, I’m not concerned with people asking, ‘When are you going to be mainstream?’ I’m not concerned with those things because I know that it’s destined to happen for me. What I’m concerned about is being a female and getting my business in order. Those are things I think a lot of females didn’t think about before. I hope that girls that come after me will remember that Nicki Minaj said, “Get your business in order first and then do what you love to do.” You’ll then be happy on both sides of the spectrum. So that’s what I’m doing. I was being a little hesitant, but we’re looking at contracts right now. You know, we’ll see what happens. I’m just gonna put it in God’s hands and leave it there.
Talk about the experience of being on Lil Wayne’s I Am Music tour. You’re still a relatively new artist and you get to see a superstar on stage sell out every night and have thousands of fans scream his name. That has to be eye-opening, right?
That tour made something inside of me say, Oh my God, I want this! I know that I have this in me, and I want this! It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It made me really kick in into that next gear and say, I’m about to go hard or go home! I have one more chance to prove to the underground world and prove that I am who I say I am. And I did it. I did it with Beam Me Up Scotty. I put out music, it wasn’t just freestyles. It was music; it was talking about a lot of different things like you said. It was showing versatility and showing rap skill, and singing and all of that.
What type of influence has Wayne had on your career?
Wayne has always been my biggest influence. It’s weird because I sit down and talk to Wayne like he’s just a regular human being, and then I walk on stage with him and there’s 20,000 people screaming for him. I think it puts it into perspective for me like, Wait a minute, this is actually attainable. I could have this; I just need to focus and remember that my grind is just beginning. I always say that that’s what I learned from Wayne the most; he never stops grinding. It showed me, Yo, this dude is the truth, and I’m going to follow in his footsteps.