Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty (born December 8, 1982), known professionally as Nicki Minaj (/mɪˈnɑːʒ/), is a Trinidad and Tobago-born rapper, singer, songwriter, actress, and model. Born in Saint James, Port of Spain, and raised in Queens, New York City, she gained public recognition after releasing the mixtapes Playtime Is Over (2007), Sucka Free (2008), and Beam Me Up Scotty (2009).
After signing with Young Money Entertainment in 2009, Minaj released her first studio album, Pink Friday (2010), which peaked at number one on the US Billboard 200 and was ultimately certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, was released in 2012 and debuted at number one in several countries. Minaj made her film debut in the 2012 animated film Ice Age: Continental Drift. In 2013, she was a judge on the twelfth season of American Idol. Minaj’s third studio album, The Pinkprint, was released in 2014. She subsequently played supporting roles in the films The Other Woman (2014) and Barbershop: The Next Cut (2016). Her fourth studio album, Queen, was released in 2018.
Early in her career, Minaj was known for her colorful costumes and wigs. Her rapping is distinctive for its fast flow and the use of alter egos and accents, primarily British cockney. Minaj was the first female artist included on MTV‘s annual Hottest MC List. In 2016, Minaj was included on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. As a lead artist, she has earned four top-five entries on the Billboard Hot 100: “Super Bass” in 2011, “Starships” in 2012, and “Bang Bang” and “Anaconda“, both in 2014. She has accumulated the most Billboard Hot 100 entries among women of all genres. Minaj has broken other records including the most top 10 hits among women on the Billboard R&B Hip-Hop Airplay chart.
Minaj has been called one of the most influential female rap artists of all time and has often been dubbed as the “Princess of Rap” by the media. Throughout her career, she has received numerous accolades, including six American Music Awards, 11 BET Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, four Billboard Music Awards, a Billboard Women in Music Rising Star Award, and 10 Grammy Award nominations. Minaj has sold 30 million singles as a lead artist, 60 million singles as a featured artist, and over five million albums worldwide, making her one of the world’s best-selling music artists.
Onika Tanya Maraj was born on December 8, 1982, in Saint James, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Her father, Robert Maraj, a financial executive and part-time gospel singer, is of Dougla (Afro-Trinidadian mother and Indo-Trinidadian father) descent. Her mother, Carol Maraj, is also a gospel singer with Afro-Trinidadian ancestry. Carol worked in payroll and accounting departments during Minaj’s youth. Minaj’s father was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and had a violent temper, burning down their house in December 1987. She has an elder brother named Jelani, an older sister named Maya, a younger brother named Micaiah, and a younger sister named Ming.
As a small child, Minaj and a sibling lived with her grandmother in Saint James. Her mother, who had moved to The Bronx in New York City to attend Monroe College, brought the family to Queens when Minaj was five. By then, the family had a house on 147th Street. Minaj recalled, “I don’t think I had a lot of discipline in my household. My mom motivated me, but it wasn’t a strict household. I kind of wanted a strict household.” Minaj successfully auditioned for admission to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which focuses on visual and performing arts. After graduation, Minaj wanted to become an actress, and she was cast in the Off-Broadway play In Case You Forget in 2001.
At the age of 19, as she struggled with her acting career, she worked as a waitress at a Red Lobster in the Bronx, but was fired for discourtesy to customers. She said she was fired from “at least 15 jobs” for similar reasons.
2004−2009: 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“), Safaree Samuels (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 later 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. Later, 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 eventually 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!”
Minaj released her first mixtape, Playtime Is Over, 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. She released her third mixtape, Beam Me Up Scotty, on April 18, 2009; 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 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 two 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). At Jay-Z‘s suggestion, Robin Thicke featured Minaj on his single “Shakin’ It 4 Daddy“.
On March 29, 2010 Minaj released “Massive Attack“. Intended as the lead single from her forthcoming debut album, Pink Friday, the song was dropped from the album due to poor commercial performance and the next single, “Your Love“, released on June 1, became the album’s lead single, peaking at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number-one on the Billboard Rap Songs chart. In September, Minaj released “Check It Out” and “Right Thru Me” as follow-up singles. She also became the first female rap artist to ever perform at Yankee Stadium in 2010. 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. In 2010, Minaj received her first Grammy Award nomination for her guest verse on Ludacris‘ song “My Chick Bad“.
2010–2011: Breakthrough with Pink Friday
Pink Friday was released on November 19, 2010, debuting at number-two on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 375,000 copies. Upon release, the album received generally positive reviews from critics. Sam Wolfson of NME complimented Minaj’s “pop sensibility” and found her “volatility and quirks … reminiscent of heyday Lil Wayne”. Entertainment Weekly‘s Brad Wete commended Minaj’s “knack for melody” and “boasting lyrics”. Allison Stewart of The Washington Post wrote that the album “nibbles at the edges of what female rappers are allowed to do, even as it provides a steady helping of pop hits”. The album was certified platinum in December, and eventually reached number-one in the United States in February 2011.
“Moment 4 Life” was released as the fourth single from Pink Friday shortly after the album’s release. The song serves as the third single off the album, released as a single on December 7, 2010. Minaj performed “Right Thru Me” and “Moment 4 Life” as the musical guest on the January 29, 2011 episode of Saturday Night Live. “Super Bass“, the album’s fifth single, was released in April 2011, and became a sleeper hit and commercial success; it ultimately peaked at number-three on the Billboard Hot 100 and was eventually certified octuple-platinum in the U.S.
Minaj was one of the opening acts on Britney Spears‘ 2011 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 attracted protest from the Parents Television Council. Despite this, Minaj continued to perform at high-profile events throughout 2011; Donatella Versace invited her to perform with Prince for the introduction of a Versace collection for H&M, and she performed “Super Bass” at the 2011 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
In December 2011, Minaj was nominated for three Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album for Pink Friday. Also that year, she won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Video for “Super Bass“, marking her first VMA win.