If you know just one thing about Nicki Minaj, know this: She runs her own show. You can love her or hate her—but nothing in between, please.
This feature appears in Complex's 10th Anniversary Issue (April/May 2012)
Here’s a drinking game that gets the job done: Take a sip of Nicki’s drink of choice, a margarita, for every one of her recent accomplishments. Solo set at the Grammys. Super Bowl halftime show with Madonna and M.I.A. M.A.C. Cosmetics campaign. OPI’s Nicki Minaj nail polish collection. Mattel’s Nicki Minaj Barbie Doll. Pink Friday certified double-platinum. You’ll be under the table before you get past the last six months.
Nicki’s growth from mixtapes to main stage is unheard of for a female rapper. The 29-year-old Queens MC has stats that match up more with 50 Cent than Salt-N-Pepa. The speed of her rise from Young Money rookie to Fortune 500 trophy has been so fast, it can only be measured in clicks, retweets, and YouTube views.
Actresses perform “Superbass” karaoke and fashion editors fawn over Nicki’s theatrics. Legend has it that after hearing Nicki’s verse on “Monster,” one of the song’s other MCs called it the best female rap verse ever. But in the eye of the storm, who has time to smell the flowers and check their hashtags? Refusing to lie back and bask in her success, Nicki keeps her steamroller moving full speed ahead, fueled by hard lumps of coal. While we all debate and discuss her, Nicki will launch her sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded...and her fashion line...and her fragrance line...and her world tour—all moving forward with a firm grip on the steering wheel.
Is there only one direction for her to go? “She’s done everything and she's everywhere in a time frame that breaks every record,” says Pharrell Williams, a man who’s seen many star trajectories, of Nicki’s explosion. “The only thing left is...inner. We know when she flexes there’s nobody who can stand next to her. But talking to yourself is the next challenge.”
Who has time for self-analysis when there’s a world to conquer, competition to best, audiences to satisfy, and a future family to plan? It’s enough to keep a Barbie and her alter egos very busy.
I came out with Young Money, the biggest hip-hop label in the world at the time. And then it was, 'How do I branch away from Lil Wayne?' I’ve just been constantly on this quest to stand alone.
What wows you these days? Everything that comes your way keeps becoming bigger, bigger, bigger.
If I wasn’t doing it, I wouldn’t believe it’s possible. I remember when I was working with Jay-Z. It was like, “Oh my God. Did I really just do a song with Jay?” I worked with Mariah and it wasn’t commercially successful. But I had fun and I made a real friendship with her. It was, obviously, a life-changing moment for me. It does feel like every moment is getting bigger and bigger. Not only did I get a call to do a song with Madonna, but then I got a call to do a video with Madonna, and then—oh, by the way—you’re going to do the Super Bowl with Madonna. This is not really happening.
Do you have to put the excitement off to the side to keep yourself from freezing up?
I happen to be a pessimist, and maybe that’s a good thing because I don’t stop to smell the roses—which is not a good personal thing. I don’t stop and enjoy those moments. I’m just [snaps fingers] on to the next. Always on to the next and never in the moment.
When you’re constantly exceeding your own expectations, how do you set new goals?
Doing the Super Bowl with Madonna doesn’t really change Nicki Minaj’s personal goals. My goal right now is still to put out Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, sell five million copies eventually, and tour every country in the world. That’s what I’ve been working toward. So while the world is talking about, “Oh my God, I can’t believe Nicki Minaj was at the Super Bowl!” I’m mixing and mastering my music. In my scheme of things it’s way bigger.
Because those surprises can’t replace the things you want to achieve by yourself?
Because my goal the whole time has been for people to see me as a stand-alone artist. I came out with Young Money, the biggest hip-hop label in the world at that time. And then it was, “How do I branch away from Lil Wayne?” One of my biggest records was with Drake, “Moment 4 Life.” Even with the Super Bowl, it’s Madonna’s moment. I’m just sharing in that moment. It’s not Nicki Minaj’s moment. Nicki Minaj at the Grammys—that’s my moment. I’ve just been constantly on this quest to stand alone.