Nicki Minaj is having her photo taken. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – so incisive, dramatic and bossy. “No close-ups,” the rapping pop star growls. Then she kittens up to the camera, pouts, thrusts, threatens, giggles and pleads. Each pose lasts a split second. Blink and you miss it. Miss it, tough luck. The photographer looks shell-shocked. He’s got more, and less, than he bargained for. “I think that’s enough, thank you,” she says. She walks over to him, wiggling her astonishing cartoon bottom like a rudder. “Let me see what it looks like,” she says. “OK, that’s enough.”
Minaj, 29, was born in Trinidad and brought up by her grandmother while her parents made a new life for themselves in America. At the age of five she joined them in Queens, New York. She says she read her way through much of her childhood. “It was an escape.” From what? “Bbbbrrrrrrrrrr,” she says, with an impeccable impersonation of a ringing phone. “I don’t know. In all the books I read, there were big houses and they had all this nice stuff and I always wished that could be my family.”
She began singing, rapping and inventing characters in her bedroom – again, escape. At six, she told her family she was going to become famous as a soap actress. She studied drama at LaGuardia High School (aka, the Fame School). Kanye West recently called her “the scariest artist in the game” and said that she had the potential to be “the number two rapper of all time” (nobody would beat Eminem, he added). Her acting ability and imagination are integral to her rapping – the characters, accents, flow, enunciation and ability to glue together the most unlikely words. “Saviour of rap for women? I’m a comic book heroine, but when the wind blows in I’m so Marilyn,” she raps, in a rare moment of public doubt on the track, “Can Anybody Hear Me?” She’s more likely, though, to be telling fellow female rappers it’s not even worth trying to compete with her - “Bitches ain’t serious/Man these bitches delirious/ All these bitches inferiors,” she raps in “Come On A Cone”.
Was she always determined to out-brag and out-curse the boys? “Yes, definitely. That’s why I say stuff like, ‘Dick in your face’, because I don’t even wanna refer to female genitalia any more.” Why not? “I just feel I have bigger balls than the boys.”
Has she always felt like that?
“Is that the persona or you?” I ask.
“No, that’s definitely me.”
“Is that because you don’t think boys have big balls, or because you have huge ones?”
“I just have huge ones.”
“Can anybody compete on the balls front?”
“Yeah – Madonna.”
“Who’d win in a balls-off with Madonna?”
Minaj refers so often to her male genitalia, it’s not surprising there’s been talk about her sexuality. When asked if she thought there could be a successful gay rapper in a notoriously homophobic world, she suggested she was gay. “TMZ were just yelling stuff out to me, and they were like, ‘Do you think there’ll ever be a gay rapper?’ and I said, ‘You have one.’ It was just in fun.” So she likes boys? Silence. Girls? Silence. Both? Silence. Neither? She grins. “Yeah, none.” Oh come on! “I don’t like any of them. Sexually or otherwise.” Minaj says exactly what she wants to: not a word more or less. There are, of course, contradictions aplenty. Her music certainly does not suggest an aversion to sex or sexuality. Nor does her appearance. After rowing publicly with fellow rapper Lil’ Kim, who claimed Minaj had borrowed heavily from her, she asked, “Why in the black community have we got to hate on each other? Gaga didn’t on Madonna... we’re helping each other.” Fine sentiments, but in the song “Itty Bitty Piggy” she states, “It’s like I’ve just single-handedly annihilated, you know/Every rap bitch in the building”. Hardly collegiate.
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© Simon Hattenstone / The Guardian / The Interview People