The Queens-raised Harajuku Barbie, known then as simply Onika Maraj, was more invested in theater than music during her years at NYC’s arts-focused LaGuardia High School. But after a brief, unsuccessful stint in an Off-Broadway play, Nicki found herself in a string of unsatisfying jobs she could never hold down for too long.
“I’d been fired like 15 times because I had a horrible attitude," she told Billboard in 2010. "I worked at Red Lobster…and I chased a customer out of the restaurant once so I could stick my middle finger up at her and demand that she give me my pen back.”
She then joined a four-person rap group called the Hoodstars (along with Scaff Beezy, her rumored boyfriend to this day), but soon left to pursue a solo career—at this point, under the name Nicki Maraj.
Nicki’s break came when Fendi, CEO of Brooklyn label Dirty Money Entertainment, came across her MySpace. He signed her almost immediately, convincing her to change her name from Maraj to Minaj (“Just because I have a nasty flow, and I eat these bitches”). Fendi brought in Debra Antney (perhaps better known as Waka Flocka Flame’s mom) as her manager, and co-signed her on his Come Up street DVD series (Nicki appeared on Volume 11 in 2007, spitting venom and brandishing a stack). Lil Wayne saw her Come Up appearance and was instantly won over. That same year, she contributed a verse to Da Drought 3. Finally, in 2009, Young Money announced they’d officially signed Nicki, just a few months after her third (and best) mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty, dropped.