Onika Tanya Maraj was born in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago on December 8, 1982. Her parents are Robert Maraj, a financial executive of half Indo-Trinidadian and half Afro-Trinidadian ancestry, and Carol Maraj, who is of Afro-Trinidadian heritage, and held a variety of jobs including an accounting clerk, foreign-exchange teller and gospel singer. Minaj’s father was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, had a violent temper; he attempted to kill her mother by setting their house on fire. She has two siblings.
As a small child, Minaj lived with her grandmother in Saint James and was occasionally visited by her mother, with whom she moved to Queens, New York, at age five. Minaj said that her upbringing lacked discipline, which made her “seek out and practice self-discipline”. She attended PS 45 (the Clarence Witherspoon School) and Elizabeth Blackwell Middle School 210, where she played the clarinet, for her elementary education. Minaj successfully auditioned for admission to LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, which focuses on visual and performing arts, where she studied acting. After graduation, Minaj wanted to become an actress, and she was cast in the Off-Broadway play In Case You Forget in 2001. When her acting career failed to take off, at age 19 she worked as a waitress at Red Lobster in the Bronx, but was fired for discourtesy to customers. She said she was fired from “at least fifteen jobs” for similar reasons. She also worked as an administrative assistant, in customer service and as an office manager for a Wall Street business.
2007–09: Career Beginnings
Minaj briefly signed with Brooklyn group Full Force, in which she rapped in a quartet called “The Hoodstars” composed of Lou$tar (son of “Bowlegged Lou“), Scaff Beezy and 7even Up. In 2004 the group recorded the entrance song for WWE Diva Victoria, “Don’t Mess With“, which was featured on the compilation album ThemeAddict: WWE The Music, Vol.6. Minaj left Full Force and uploaded songs on her Myspace profile, sending several of her songs to people in the music industry. At the time, she was managed by Debra Antney. Fendi, CEO of Brooklyn label Dirty Money Entertainment, signed Minaj to his label in 2007 under a 180-day contract. Originally adopting the stage name “Nicki Maraj”, she changed it to Nicki Minaj stating that “My real name is Maraj. Fendi flipped it when he met me because I had such a nasty flow! I eat bitches!”
Minaj released her first mixtape, Playtime is Over, on Dirty Money Records on July 5, 2007 and her second, Sucka Free, on April 12, 2008. That year, she was named Female Artist of the Year at the 2008 Underground Music Awards. In 2009 Minaj was involved in a conflict with ego trip’s Miss Rap Supreme winner Rece Steele, who was annoyed when Minaj interrupted her interview and put a sign behind Steele’s head; Minaj hung up on interviewers from Spate magazine when they asked about the incident. She released her third mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty, on April 18, 2009 and it received favorable coverage on BET and MTV. One of its tracks, “I Get Crazy“, reached number 20 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Songs chart and number 37 on the magazine’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart.
After Minaj was discovered by fellow rapper Lil Wayne, in August 2009 it was reported that she signed a recording contract with his Young Money Entertainment. That November, she appeared with Gucci Mane and Trina on the remix of “5 Star Bitch” by Yo Gotti. Minaj also appeared on “BedRock” and “Roger That” on the compilation album, We Are Young Money (2009). The singles peaked at numbers 2 and 56, respectively, on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100; their parent album reached number nine on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Minaj was featured on Mariah Carey’s “Up Out My Face“, which reached number 100 on the Billboard Hot 100. At Jay-Z’s suggestion, that February Robin Thicke featured Minaj on “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy“.
2010–11: Breakthrough with Pink Friday
Minaj released the intended lead single from her upcoming debut album, “Massive Attack” on March 29, 2010. Plans for the single were scrapped after an underwhelming commercial performance. As a result, “Your Love” was released as the album’s lead single on June 1, peaking at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Billboard Rap Songs chart. In August Minaj announced that the album would be entitled Pink Friday, a play on “Black Friday”. The following month she released “Check It Out” and “Right Thru Me” as follow-up singles. In October, Minaj became the first female solo artist to have seven songs on the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously and the first woman to appear on MTV’s Annual Hottest MC List.
Pink Friday was released on November 19, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 375,000 copies. “Moment 4 Life” was released as the fourth single shortly after. The album was certified platinum in December, and eventually reached number one in the United States in February 2011. Minaj performed “Right Thru Me” and “Moment 4 Life” as the musical guest on the January 29 episode of Saturday Night Live. “Super Bass“, the album’s fifth single, was released in April 2011. The song peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and has been certified octuple-platinum in the U.S. Minaj credited the song’s initial exposure to its mention by Taylor Swift. Minaj was one of the opening acts on Britney Spears’ June 16 – August 13 Femme Fatale Tour. She and Kesha appeared on the remix of Spears’ “Till the World Ends“, which peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100. On August 7, 2011, Nicki experienced a “nip slip” during a live performance on Good Morning America. Minaj was criticized for wearing the low-cut shirt during her performance which led to the brief exposure of her breast on a live telecast. ABC apologized for incident. Minaj, while interviewed on ABC’s Nightline show, apologized for the incident and denied that she intentionally sought to expose herself on live television as a publicity stunt. The incident soaked protest from the Parents Television Council. President of the PTC president Tim Winter stated, “the Parents Television Council has something to say about Nicki Minaj’s wardrobe malfunction this morning. For the umpteenth time in recent memory a morning news show has included inappropriate content for children and families.” Winter called out Good Morning America for not using the five-second delay to prevent the broadcast of the exposure.
Since her breakout with Pink Friday, Minaj has been involved in a feud with rapper Lil’ Kim, who accused Minaj of copying her style. Although Minaj’s “Roman’s Revenge” was thought to be directed at Kim, she said the song was “everyone who has been in interviews talking” because “no one is worth having their name mentioned out of my mouth and they never will get that.” Kim escalated the feud with her mixtape, Black Friday (2011), whose title and artwork mimic Pink Friday; a fragment from Minaj’s diss track, “Tragedy“, previewed that April. Their conflict sparked a feud between Minaj and rapper Foxy Brown, who said Minaj misrepresented their conversation about Kim. Brown released the diss tracks “Hold Yuh” and “Massacre” (directed at Kim and Minaj) in November 2010 and January 2011, respectively, but Brown and Minaj settled their dispute in June 2012.
2012–13: Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded and American Idol
Minaj released her second studio album Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded in April 2012. The album was preceded by the promotional singles “Roman in Moscow” and “Stupid Hoe“. Critics suggested that the latter song was directed at Lil’ Kim, who said: “If you have to make a song called ‘Stupid Hoe,’ you must be a stupid hoe.” Minaj and rapper M.I.A. joined Madonna to perform their single, “Give Me All Your Luvin’“, on the Super Bowl XLVI halftime show on February 6, 2012. She was the first solo female rapper to perform at the Grammy Awards, premiering “Roman Holiday” during the 2012 ceremony on February 12. Her exorcism-themed performance was controversial, with the American Catholic League criticizing Minaj for bringing a fake “Pope” to escort her on the red carpet. The “exorcism” scene that was performed during her appearance was criticized as well. According to the Catholic League president Bill Donohue “Perhaps the most vulgar part was the sexual statement that showed a scantily clad female dancer stretching backwards while an altar boy knelt between her legs in prayer. Finally, ‘Come All Ye Faithful’ was sung while a man posing as a bishop walked on stage; Minaj was shown levitating.”
“Starships” was released in February 2012 as the lead single from Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. The song reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100, and was the fifth best-selling single of 2012. Minaj was sued by Chicago artist Clive Tanaka in September 2013 for its alleged copyright infringement. Follow-up singles “Beez in the Trap” and “Right by My Side” were released shortly after. Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded was released on April 2, two months later than planned. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 253,000 copies, and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in June 2012. However, its mix of hip-hop songs and mainstream pop material received mixed reviews from music critics. “Pound the Alarm” and “Va Va Voom” were released as the final singles from the album. Minaj began her headlining Pink Friday Tour on May 16, 2012, which was followed by the Pink Friday: Reloaded Tour beginning October 14. Although she was scheduled to headline the June 3 Hot 97 Summer Jam at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, at the request of Lil Wayne she canceled her appearance the day of the show after Peter Rosenberg of the station called “Starships” not “real hip-hop”. The following month, Minaj voiced Steffie in the animated film Ice Age: Continental Drift (2012). She won awards for Best Female Video (for “Starships”) at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards and Best Hip-Hop at the 2012 MTV Europe Music Awards. An expanded version of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, subtitled The Re-Up, was released on November 19. That month, Minaj was the subject of a three-part E! documentary titled Nicki Minaj: My Truth. She announced plans for her own record label after signing Parker Ighile, Brinx, Keisha and Blackout Movement.
In September Minaj joined the judges’ panel for the twelfth season of American Idol with fellow new judges Mariah Carey and Keith Urban and the returning Randy Jackson. That October a leaked video circulated, with Minaj and Carey in a heated argument during auditions in Charlotte, North Carolina. Carey accused Minaj of saying, “If I had a gun, I would shoot that bitch”, but Minaj denied the allegation. Carey said that Minaj created an “unsafe work environment”, increasing her security as a result. Tensions escalated after Carey said that Minaj did not have a number-one song on the Billboard Hot 100 during a live broadcast in May 2013, to which Minaj responded in a series of “extremely harsh” tweets directed at the singer. Minaj and Carey left the series that month, at the end of the season. That year Minaj was the most-charted female rapper in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, with 44 entries. Her seven nominations led those for rap musicians at the 2013 Billboard Music Awards, and she was the first rapper to win the BET Best Female Hip-Hop Artist Award four consecutive times.
2014–present: The Other Woman and The Pinkprint
Minaj’s first live-action theatrical film The Other Woman was filmed in spring 2013 and premiered on April 25, 2014. She played Lydia, assistant to Carly (played by Cameron Diaz). In 2013, Minaj described her then-forthcoming third album, The Pinkprint as “a continuation of The Re-Up with a lot more” and said it would focus on her “hip-hop roots”. During an MTV interview, she said that her third album would be “next level” and have “much to talk about”: “I’m really excited and the people that have been working with me now, have been people that I haven’t worked with before so it’s like they’re bringing a new sound to the album that I’ve never experimented with.” “Pills n Potions” was released as the lead single from The Pinkprint in May 2014. “Anaconda” was released in August as the second single, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming her highest-charting single in the U.S. to date. The video set a 24-hour Vevo record, accumulating 19.6 million views on its first day of release, breaking the record previously held by Miley Cyrus for “Wrecking Ball”. The album was officially released on December 15, 2014, peaking at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. In support of the album, Minaj embarked on her third international concert tour entitled The Pinkprint Tour.
On June 29, Minaj became the only artist to win the BET Award for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist for five consecutive years, while also tying Missy Elliott for the most wins with five. In November 2014, Minaj released a lyric video for her third single “Only“, with visualizations inspired by the Nazi Regime and the work of Leni Riefenstahl. There was immediate backlash from fans, calling the video anti-semitic and insensitive. The Anti Defamation League stated that it was “troubling that no one among Minaj’s group of producers, publicists and managers raised a red flag about the use of such imagery before ushering the video into public release.” The ADL called the “Only” video “insensitive to Holocaust survivors and a trivialization of the history of that era. The abuse of Nazi imagery is deeply disturbing and offensive to Jews and all those who can recall the sacrifices Americans and many others had to make as a result of Hitler’s Nazi juggernaut.”
Minaj performed at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards on August 24, 2014. On November 9, 2014, Minaj hosted the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards at the The SSE Hydro, Glasgow, Scotland. She also won an award for Best Hip-Hop. In December, Minaj received two Grammy nominations for Best Rap Song for “Anaconda” and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for “Bang Bang” with Jessie J & Ariana Grande,at the 2015 Grammy Awards. In March 2015, Minaj embarked on her third world tour entitled The Pinkprint Tour. The tour kicked off in Europe. It is scheduled to travel to the United States, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Dubai, Philippines, Australia & New Zealand. In March 2015, made history as the first female artist to chart four songs simultaneously in the top 10 of Billboard’s Mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop airplay chart.