Do you rehearse those over-the-top face and body animations?No, I hate rehearsing. I never rehearse what I’m gonna do in a video. It’s just that I have this love-hate relationship with the camera. I wanna please the camera so bad. The perfectionist in my brain is like, “You have to be on.” I always want to feel like I gave everything my all and never, never, never exhibit laziness.
Yikes. That’s a level of personal drive that nobody can ask for. At this point in your career, I’m sure you can call certain shots that you couldn’t before.
In the beginning people thought they knew who I was but they didn’t. They tried to create something. Whenever I’m being me, the people love it. They connect with it. But whenever I find myself in a situation—prime example, during a photo shoot, if a photographer is telling me every little thing to do, I shut down. And you might as well kiss the photo shoot goodbye. I’m an artist in every motherfucking sense of the word. I work well with people who trust my instinct and understand that I am the marketer and promoter of the Nicki Minaj brand. This did not come overnight. This did not happen from a record company. No manager created this.
I never came into what I’m doing dissing anyone. I gave everyone their props and it’s unfortunate that people felt intimidated and attacked me.
I always got a kick out of the endless debates over who was managing you. I’ve known you through three sets of managers [Deb Antney, Puffy and James Cruz, and Hip Hop Since 1978] and in every case, it was always clear that...
Little do they know, I manage myself.
Yes. You were always the first and last word.
Right. People assume that I am not the brains behind this operation, and they don’t give me my credit. I could give two fucks about credit. I just want you to leave me the fuck alone. Let me do me. Don’t tell me how to pose; I know how to pose. When I’m recording, I just have to go in and do it, you know? Even my engineer thinks I’m crazy because I’ll hear something different on a track, and he’ll insist, “No, no, nothing was moved.” [But I tell him] “Tony, something was moved.” And later, sure enough, “You were right, there was a two-second delay here.”
Do you always feel like the smartest person in the room?
I meet people that are smart every day. I love collaborating with creative people. I’m not walking around saying I know everything. Hell fucking no. I want to build something. I just don’t allow anyone around me who drops the ball constantly. I’ve never been happier with my current management, because Gee Roberson is such an intelligent man. I learn from him every day, and I’m very, very turned on by people that I learn from. Not sexually—I just love being enlightened. All artists should want to learn the business as they go along. If you’re in this shit, talking about how you just want to be an artist, you’re fucking stupid. It makes me cringe.
Some artists feel more comfortable being puppets.
Right! Because if you’re telling me you just want to be an artist, you’re telling me that you do not want control over a brand you’re creating. You don’t want any say in a brand that you’re creating? I can’t. I can’t rock with that theory.
This being Complex’s 10th Anniversary issue, it seems fitting to look forward to the next 10 years... Where do you think you’ll be in 2022?
In 2022, I’ll definitely be married and I’ll definitely have my two children.
Why just two?
OK, I might have three, but I do want at least one boy.
Maybe if you get a full set early, you can stop there.
No, no, no. I don’t think I even need a girl. I need a boy though.
Wait, you don’t feel like you need a girl?
Yeah, ‘cause you think I’m going to dress her up in wigs. No. [Laughs] I really need a boy in my life. A baby boy. Because…I’m so attached to my little brother and I felt like that was my real son. And boys, they’re just so, I don’t know... My heart just melts when I see them.
OK, so in the next 10 years, married…
Oh, I will definitely be married.
And two children.
Will you still be working?
I always said There’s no way I could still be doing rap, ‘cause what will I still be talking about? But now that the public has given me this opportunity to do all types of music, I might have more longevity. As long as I can continue to experiment, then I might be doing music in 10 years. I know that I don’t feel like I need to be doing music in 10 years to feel fulfilled. And I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t know when to call it quits. Let’s just say that.
How do you measure that? By sales, by hits, popularity?
It’s just about you and your heart. When you’re still relevant to the culture. But who am I to know? I’m only on my second album. Maybe you never get that memo in your brain that tells you, Quit it. I would enjoy a career like Jay-Z’s, where he raps because he wants to, not ‘cause he has to. I think that’s the scary part when, after 10 years in the game, people can’t pay their bills and now you’re desperate. And so that’s why I always say, business first.
In some ways hunger is very attractive, but desperation…
Is not. Yes. I love that.
Did you always know what you wanted your brand to be?
I didn’t know who I was as an artist. I knew who I was as a person. My morals and everything, they’re still the same. And then I took it upon myself to create this artist, Nicki Minaj. I wanted to do what a label cannot do. Now, labels are going to think they can re-create this. [Laughs.] But they can’t.
They’re definitely trying. It's the Nicki Effect. Since the success of Pink Friday you must see that the industry has changed. Corporations see a female rapper who has more visibility and more income streams than her male counterparts. So new female artists are viable, and that creates a more competitive atmosphere.
When I first got in, doing freestyles and mixtapes, I did a song called “Still I Rise.” I was talking about how so many women were pulling me down and ripping me apart. I said, “Every time a door opens for me/That means you just got a better opportunity to do you/Better understand these labels look at numbers and statistics/If I win, you win, it’s just logistics.”
So in order for my theory to be proven right, I have to open doors for women. The up-and-coming females who wanted to get in—when you guys are coming out and dissing me, and all that negativity....They saw me as a threat instead of seeing me as “she’s going to open the door for us.” I never came into what I’m doing dissing anyone. I gave everyone their props and it’s unfortunate that people felt intimidated and attacked me. Then it became a ripple effect. But now it’s all love. My music is a way for me to have fun. Sometimes I’ll say things and I’ll laugh. But it’s all love. I’m in a great place and I just wish everybody the best.
WATCH NICKI MINAJ'S BEHIND-THE-SCENES VIDEO:
ADDITIONAL CREDITS: (STYLING) Rose Garcia. (SET DESIGN) Phillipp Haemmerle. (HAIR) Terrance Duquette. (MAKEUP) Joyce Bonelli. (CLOTHING) IMAGES ONE, FIVE & SIX: Dress by Obesity and Speed / Shoes by Christian Louboutin / Hat and bracelets by Patricia Field. IMAGES TWO, THREE, FOUR & COVERS: Top by Ralph Lauren Purple Label / Leggings by American Apparel / Shoes by Giuseppe Zanotti / Sunglasses by a-morir by Kerin Rose.