Oh Nicki!: The Making of a Global Superstar

Fri., Aug. 3, 2012 12:50 PM EST
by Yvette Caslin

Images by Joi Pearson
Story by Yvette Caslin

Reigning hip-hop princess Nicki Minaj has catapulted to superstardom in the less than two years since the release of her first album, Pink Friday in November 2010, which sold over 2 million copies. And thanks to her creativity and the fact that she is often on songs with other artists, critics regard her as a major force in music.

Early on, her Harajuki Barbie persona — an imaginative, fun, coquettish, girly girl fashionista who adores all things pink — stood as a paradox to the beloved Barbie doll. Minaj appeared on television and in music videos making curious facial expressions, goofy cadences and awkward body gestures, because as she put it, “I don’t want people to think I’m up here trying to be cute. I’m trying to entertain, and entertaining is more than exuding sex appeal. … I don’t find it fun watching someone trying to be sexy. It’s whack.” But, we still think she’s cute.

It doesn’t matter if she’s risqué or restrained, we love this bootylicious emcee that makes daring statements with both her fashion and physical offerings. Her young fans aren’t the only the ones who can’t get enough of her; Minaj mania extends beyond hip-hop. The flirtatious Young Money princess has achieved a global marketing presence that leaves bygone female rappers in awe, and contenders hopeful.

She has made her mark in our minds and lives, bypassing the ghetto superstar route taken by predecessors like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Minaj was tapped to perform with pop goddess Madonna, where she flaunted a PG-rated cheerleader outfit during the Super Bowl halftime show. We can have a drink with Nicki because she is one of the new faces of Pepsi’s ‘Live for Now’ campaign. And pucker up since she joined forces with M.A.C. Cosmetics to create VIVA Glam Minaj, and her Pink 4 Friday lipstick sold out every Friday night it was available, over the course of four weeks. We can dress like her because she has an endorsement deal with Adidas, in which she’ll sport looks designed by famed celebrity stylist Jeremy Scott. And we can have her scent, because she’ll release her first fragrance with Give Back Brands, the same prestigious beauty company that partnered with Justin Bieber for his Someday fragrance, this fall. Lastly, we can have Minaj at our fingertips since she’s teamed up with OPI Nail Lacquer for her own limited-edition collection of polishes: “Super Bass Shatter,” ”Fly,” “Metallic 4 Life,” “Pink Friday,” “Save Me,” and “Did it on Em.”

It’s this worldwide fascination that spurred self-proclaimed pop culture junkie and journalist Isoul Harris to pen a new book, Nicki Minaj: Hip Hop Moments 4 Life. An all-things Nicki Minaj manual, Harris culled never before published quotes, shocking trivia, beautiful pictures and juicy facts about the Trinidadian-born badass babe.

“When I visit cities like Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Tokyo, Moscow and even Brisbane, Australia, I notice Nicki’s reach. Yes, she became a superstar solely as a rapper, but on her debut album, she delved into the pop world a little and even more on her sophomore album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded. With pop songs like ”Starships” and “Pound the Alarm,”combined with her fiery personality and image, she has placed the female emcee back on the map around the world, and she is also doing her part to keep hip-hop relevant on the world stage. EDM — electronic dance music — moves the masses these days, and she is combining hip-hop, pop and EDM for an interesting mix — whether hip-hop purists like it or not,” shares Harris.

Due out this October, Harris’ book will share exclusive interviews with industry insiders and showcase vibrant images of the underground artist to global superstar. Read what else he has to say.

What inspired you to write Nicki Minaj: Hip Hop Moments 4 Life?

Nicki Minaj has become a pop culture firebrand, and more importantly, a household name in a few short years. Not more than five years ago, she was a no-name underground rapper working at odd jobs to survive in the city. With sheer determination and an undeniable talent, she now has fans around the world and record shattering achievements. I decided to write Nicki Minaj: Hip-Pop Moments 4 Life because I wanted to write a book that explored her rise to fame and her place in musical history.

(Nicki Minaj performs in Atlanta)

How do you define the Nicki brand?

Nicki’s brand is a unique one. Unlike other female rappers, or burgeoning pop stars, her brand has changed and has constantly evolved over the years. She emerged as a hyper-sexual, wild child lyricist — similar to Lil Kim — then she morphed into a multi-personality wielding, rap wunderkind being featured on established pop stars’ songs, and now she is a pop star herself, with the unique, and brave, position of having one foot in the rap world and another firmly planted in the pop universe. Her brand is self-constructed and will never be successfully duplicated.

Speaking of Lil Kim, was the Nicki/Kim beef, in your opinion, real or a publicity stunt? How did it affect her career if at all?

The beef between Lil Kim and Nicki was real, but could have certainly been avoided. A lot of people, including other female rappers of the past, came out and immediately believed the false notion that Nicki never paid any respect to Kim or those who came before her. It’s definitely not true. During my research for the book, I looked at and read just about every interview Nicki did from the early days in the clubs to articles in Vogue [magazine], and early on, she always mentioned that Kim paved the way for her and she had her respect. The ’beef’ did not hurt Nicki’s career at all … nor did it hurt Kim’s. In actuality, an entire generation who would have never known anything about Kim’s place in hip-hop history, now know her, yet they still do not fully understand her impact. In my book, I definitely address this. I have an entire chapter on the relationship between Kim and Nicki and how egos, other people and outside elements played an unfortunate part in their situation.

Have you ever met Nicki?

Yes. I interviewed Nicki in 2010 a few weeks before the release of her debut album, Pink Friday.

They say first impressions are lasting ones, what was yours?

Before I actually spoke with Nicki, I admittedly had the same opinion as a lot of people at that time. I believed her to be a gimmick of sorts — a rapper with certain skills of course, but with an appeal that was riding the colorful coattails of Lil Kim. However, 10 minutes into our conversation, I was amazed by a few things: her intelligence and ability to communicate exactly what she is feeling and thinking in the moment, also, by her sense of humor. She is a funny girl and lives and breathes for sarcasm. While she may enjoy a rerun of “Martin,” she is also watching “Seinfeld” and dying for Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

With your background in pop culture, do you believe there’s only room for one black eccentric pop female at a time?

There is certainly room for more one than one black eccentric female star at one time. In hip-hop, fans need to make room for more than one star in their minds. This genre has been conditioned to think that only one female rapper can exist or be on top at one time. And if there are two, then they are pitted against each other. Its sexist, narrow-minded and unfortunate because it will keep someone from enjoying Nicki’s hip-pop hits, as well as enjoying the 90s hip-house sounds of burgeoning female rapper Azealia Banks. There is room for all. Music is all about variety.

I would love it if Nicki would step outside the box and do something with Azealia Banks. A bold move like that would completely destroy the notion that there can only be one top female rapper at once.

What role does art play in Nicki’s fashion?

Nicki sees her fashion choices as art and a vehicle to push and express her creativity. Sure, her outrageous costumes beg for attention. But, they are also an extension of the Minaj brand.

What will be her staying power?

Transformation as well as a willingness to maintain the one thing that all of her fans — whether pop or hip-hop enjoy — it’s her skills as a rapper. The book explores Nicki’s struggle and inner-conflict between ”Street Nicki” and ”Arena Nicki.” She is still struggling with this notion, as evidenced by the situation she just experienced by pulling out of Hot 97’s Summer Jam. After reading the book, I think people will definitely understand her better.

What color do you like best on Nicki? Why?

I know the colorful wigs are a part of her act and people now associate her with blonde hair, but I like Nicki with black hair. It frames her beauty. She is a beautiful young woman.

What’s your favorite Nicki single? Why?

“Monster” will forever be my favorite song with Nicki. The verse displays both her talent and the untapped potential of what is to come.

Isoul Harris is senior editor at Uptown magazine. His work has appeared in InStyle, Vibe and The New York Post. He has been an entertainment reporter for People and ”CNN Headline News.” He has also interviewed Janet Jackson, Will Smith, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Usher among others.

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