She may be diminutive, but Nicki Minaj packs a lot of talent into her 5-foot 2-inch frame. Born in the Caribbean, she moved to New York as a five-year-old and has overcome a difficult childhood to become one of the most successful rap artists of this or any other generation. Minaj has also branched out into television and film, in demand for her colorful bubblegum persona and image. She’s active on social media and in fashion and has launched several fragrances. Her label-mate Lil Waynecalls her “an icon” who has “reached far beyond anything I would have imagined. Nicki will go down as one of the best to do it in the history of music.”
Tough Childhood in Queens, NY
The rapper and singer Nicki Minaj was born Onika Tanya Maraj on December 8, 1982, in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, and moved with her family to Queens, New York, when she was five years old. Minaj’s father was a severe drug addict with a long history of violence. At one point, he set fire to the family’s home in a failed attempt to kill Minaj’s mother. Those early struggles, Minaj has said, helped fuel her drive to rise above the life her parents knew. “I’ve always had this female-empowerment thing in the back of my mind,” she told Details magazine, “because I wanted my mother to be stronger, and she couldn’t be. I thought, ‘If I’m successful, I can change her life.'”
To reach that point, the young Minaj developed personas for herself that would allow her to reinvent herself. An early incarnation was “Cookie,” then came “Harajuku Barbie” before finally settling on Nicki Minaj. “Fantasy was my reality,” she has said. Minaj clearly had a knack for performance. At the age of 12, she authored her first rap, then went on to delve into acting at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, the school that inspired the movie Fame. But her acting career didn’t take off, and she took up a range of steady jobs, including waitressing at Red Lobster, where she was fired for being rude to customers.