It's tricky being Nicki

By Scott Kara

Dolled up: Nicki says her Caribbean roots have likely influenced her love of dressing up. Photo / Supplied
Dolled up: Nicki says her Caribbean roots have likely influenced her love of dressing up. Photo / Supplied

Nicki Minaj is a good Christian girl. Though as you may have noticed from her videos, the hip-hop pop diva and rapper is a little crazy, oozes a brazen sexuality, and has a tough and quite often dirty command of language that puts most male rappers to shame.

In the video for banging chart-topper, Starships, Minaj shows she's comfortable in her own skin, fitting her voluptuous figure into an itsy bitsy pink bikini, the explicit version of Beez in the Trap has rhymes that make you wilt, and going back a few years, her demented duet with Eminem on Roman's Revenge off 2010 debut album Pink Friday is venomous verging on nasty.

She really is a fruity and fearsome piece of work.

But on the phone from Los Angeles, where Minaj is on her Pink Friday Reloaded Tour which also sees her come to New Zealand in September, she is lovely and charming with an unlikely softness to her, especially when she's talking about her family or "going home" to Trinidad and Tobago where she was born.

However, the 29-year-old can turn quickly, and puts up an imposing offensive when something gets to her.

When TimeOut has a little bit of fun, putting it to her that some of her lyrics and outfits would surely be enough to make Jesus blush, Minaj bites back.

"Yeah, I'm sure they would," she says seriously. "Everybody is a sinner. Aren't you a sinner? Or are you a saint?"

Yeah, a bit of both I guess, I say.

"I feel like pop stars are expected to be the new saints and nuns of the world when they [saints and nuns] are doing shit in their lives that would make us blush. You know, cheating on their wives and doing all sorts of nonsense, but it's like a celebrity has this magnifying glass on them.

"But no, I think Jesus would blush about you, I think he'd blush about me, I think he'd blush about everybody, even my own mother. I don't think loving God means that I'm a perfect human being. I think he knows my flaws, and I think he's sat with sinners, and I think he healed the sick, and I think that he is an amazing God and he deserves to be praised and I will continue to praise him no matter if people have a problem or not."

Okay then. Having been put in our place by Ms Minaj (real name Onika Maraj) there is no denying she is making some of the most inventive and challenging hip-hop and pop music around - even if the nagging catchiness of Starships is craze-inducing.

She is prolific too, and since 2007 has released three popular mixtapes, two albums, including latest record Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded which came out in April, and done a string of high-profile collaborations with everyone from Justin Bieber and Eminem to Madonna and Mariah Carey.

It was rapper and record company owner Lil Wayne - a mega music star in the US who's famous for his customised gold and diamond teeth - who discovered Minaj and gave her her big break in the late 2000s when she signed to his Young Money Entertainment label.

"I was so nervous," she says of her first meeting with him. "When I was about to see him I almost couldn't walk. My brain wasn't sending a message to my legs. People thought I was joking but I couldn't move."

This was around the time Lil Wayne was at his peak, having just released his classic 2008 album Tha Carter III.

"He was taking over the game and he was such a big superstar to me. I knew that just meeting him could change my life," she remembers.

It did. She's sold more than three million albums world-wide, amassed more than 13 million Twitter followers, and, adding another string to her bow this year, was the voice of Steffie the woolly mammoth in Ice Age: Continental Drift.

"And one of the best things about my relationship with Wayne is that he's still inspiring me and a lot of it has to do with his work ethic. He never rests. He never gives up. I really really respect that about him."

Her family is also an important part of her life, though she is noticeably guarded about saying too much about them. It's not that she doesn't want to talk about them, but she just likes to keep her family life separate from her career because they keep her "grounded".

"I try hard to keep my family out of what I do because they are my outlet. I need that out, you know, because the business gets to be so much and you begin to live your life like it's one big show. But when I go home I'm just Onika and I really, really enjoy that. And they see me doing things at awards shows and all that, and they will text me, but I try my best not to talk to them about the business because I just want to know what they're doing."

Her family life hasn't always been so rosy. Born in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, on December 8, 1982, Minaj moved to New York when she was five.

She grew up around domestic violence, her father had addiction issues and to cope she made up alter egos she would live her life through, including an early version of "Nicki Minaj".

And that obsession with fantasy characters and versions of herself continues to this day. On Pink Friday the world met her "twin brother" (and sometimes a demon) Roman Zolanski, the narrator of a number of songs, and his mum Martha, with the British accent, both of whom show up again on Roman Reloaded.

While the two albums both merge pop, dance and hip-hop, with a mix of futuristic and banging beats, they are different in that the debut is brutally honest and musically challenging whereas Roman Reloaded leaves more to the imagination and is more accessible thanks to its cheesy party hits.

"Sometimes I felt the first album was a little too revealing, too emotional at times, and the other thing about your first album is that you've had all these emotions pent up inside to release - and that's what you do on your debut.

"But on the second album I was more concerned about just having fun," she says of the mix of "hard, abrasive and crazy" songs like the taut and tense Come On A Cone and the "party driven" ones such as current hit Pound the Alarm.

She went back to Trinidad recently to film the video for the song and although she has been home before, this time she was welcomed as a bona fide superstar.

"Going back to Trinidad was the most heart-warming experience and this time the way I was received there, and to know it was by my own people, they rolled out the red carpet and they were so lovely and helpful, it was heart-warming."

She says she felt proud and for the first time started to realise that "they were part of me and yes, Trinidad does influence my music".

"I feel it has inspired me more than I even realise."

Not suprisingly Minaj looks very comfy in the carnival outfit she wears in the soon to be released video - so, are her Trinidad roots where she gets that inherent sexiness that she has on screen and in photos?

"Oh, all the women down there are really sexy. And I know my mum, when I was growing up, she was always really, really sexy. She loved to dress up with short mini skirts and high heels - a very west Indian woman type of lady. So that is a part of me.

"And I definitely relate to the carnival situation because I love to play dress up."

The Collaborator

Just some of the Minaj menagerie - her guest spots with other stars...

Featured on her albums and vice versa
Rihanna
Sean Garrett
Kanye West
Lil Wayne

Featured on her albums
Will.I.Am
Eminem
Chris Brown
Natasha Bedingfield

Featured on their albums
Justin Bieber
David Guetta
Mariah Carey
Madonna
Christina Aguilera

Who: Nicki Minaj
What: Hip-hop pop Where and when:Vector Arena, Friday, September 28
Tickets: On sale midday August 3 from ticketmaster.co.nz. Live Nation pre-sales start 10am tomorrow. See livenation.com for details.
Listen to: Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012); Pink Friday (2010)

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a4 at 24 Jul 2014 05:30:50 Processing Time: 587ms