Influenced by the unpredictable rhymes of Missy Elliot along with the sexually charged attitudes of Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, rapper, television reality show judge, and household name Nicki Minaj was discovered thanks to her MySpace page. It was there that Dirty Money Entertainment CEO Fendi first heard her ability to freestyle and first laid eyes on her steamy set of promo shots. With killer curves she was obviously proud to flaunt, plus a background in the performing arts thanks to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (the school that had inspired the movie Fame), Minaj was a perfect fit for Fendi’s urban DVD magazine The Come Up. She appeared in numerous volumes, including number 11, which spotlighted her future label boss, superstar rapper Lil Wayne. Through Fendi, Wayne contacted Minaj and signed her to his Young Money label. They began to build her career through mixtapes like Lil Wayne’s Dedication 3 and Minaj’s own Sucka Free. Meanwhile, appearances on various remixes — everything from T.I.’s “No Matter What” to Jeffree Star’s club track “Cupcakes Taste Like Violence” — helped spread the word.
The big breakthrough for Minaj came when Wayne added his rhymes to her “High as a Kite” single, a mixtape favorite in 2008. The year 2009 would see more guest appearances and mixtapes, including the Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape, featuring the street single “I Get Crazy.” In 2010, the singles “Your Love” and “Check It Out” preceded the release of her official debut album, Pink Friday, which debuted that November at number two on the Billboard 200 and went platinum. She earned a handful of 2011 Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, Best Rap Album, and Best Rap Performance. An all-out media blitz followed between albums with extravagant performances at award shows across the globe, an appearance as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, and joining Madonna — alongside M.I.A. — for her Super Bowl XLVI half-time show.
In early 2012, the Eurodance-influenced single “Starships” signaled the coming of her official sophomore effort, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, an album built around her devil-may-care alter ego “Roman Zolanski.” Guest artists included Nas, Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Chris Brown, and Beenie Man, while production came from the likes of RedOne, Dr. Luke, and Ke’Noe. The album hit number one on the U.S. album charts, driven by a Top Ten showing for “Starships.” “Pound the Alarm” and “Va Va Voom” also reached the Top 40. By the end of 2012, Minaj had been announced as a judge for the 12th season of American Idol, although she left at the end of the season. It hardly affected her success, as she set two career records during 2013: most-charted female rapper in the history of Billboard’s singles chart, and the first person to win Best Female Hip-Hop Artist at the BET Awards four times in a row.
She then announced her third studio album, The Pinkprint, which appeared at the end of 2014. First single “Lookin Ass” was also featured on the Young Money compilation Rise of an Empire, released in March of that year, while follow-up “Anaconda” was nominated for Best Rap Song at the 2015 Grammy Awards. Filled with songs about guilt and failed relationships, the album was well-received by critics and debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Throughout 2016, Minaj guested on numerous singles, including DJ Khaled’s “Do You Mind” and Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side,” and she also released her own “Black Barbies.” In 2017, Minaj issued a trio of stand-alone singles: “Regret in Your Tears,” “Changed It” with Lil Wayne, and “No Frauds” with Lil Wayne and Drake. The latter track went gold and broke into the Top 20 of the Hot 100 and Top Ten of the R&B and rap charts. That year, she also appeared on the Migos track “MotorSport” with Cardi B and on Jason Derulo’s “Swalla” with Ty Dolla $ign. She returned with the singles “Chun-Li” and “Barbie Tingz” in spring 2018. ~ David Jeffries