QUEEN OF RAP
THE PRESSURE IS ON AS THE UNDEFEATED CHAMPION OF HIP-HOP RETURNS WITH HER MOST PERSONAL AND PROFOUND ALBUM YET. FOUR YEARS AFTER PINK FRIDAY INTRODUCED HER TO THE MASSES AND BROUGHT FEMALE RAP BACK FROM THE DEAD, NICKI MINAJ PREPARES TO UNLEASH A WHOLE NEW PINKPRINT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS TO FOLLOW. AS SHE CONTINUES ON HER PATH TO BECOMING A MAJOR MOGUL, SHE POSES FOR MARIO TESTINO AND EXPLAINS WHY THIS COULD BE HER MOST PIVOTAL MOMENT TO DATE
V MAGAZINE cover story from V92 Winter 2014
PHOTOGRAPHY MARIO TESTINO
FASHION ROBBIE SPENCER
It’s been exactly four years since you shot your first V cover, right before Pink Friday. How would you describe the past four years of your life?
NICKI MINAJ Unpredictable, exciting, adventurous. My career took so many turns I never saw coming, and each was for the better, whether I understood it at the time or not. I’ve proven myself as an emcee and a lyricist, and that’s what I really set out to do. Now I’m about to put out my third album.
You’ve spoken about this record as one that will set a new standard for female rap. How?
NM It’s just real music. It’s not focused on whether or not you can rap. It’s about whether you can rap plus make great music, plus make something timeless, plus make something that tells a story. I think people will follow it one day, in terms of how they pattern their albums as women in rap.
You specifically talk about women in rap, but your influence extends to all of hip-hop and pop. Why is it important for you to reach girls?
NM I always feel it’s important for me to show females that they can be in charge of their own situation. I came into the game creating my own brand. I was doing things very early on that set me apart from people who just took orders and allowed their brand to be created for them. I love women who take control, who set standards, and who believe in themselves enough to lead the way in terms of their career. I’ve done that. When I win and when I lose, I take ownership of it, because I really am in charge of what I do. There are a lot of strong male rappers, who’ve influenced me a great deal in terms of my skill, my flow, and my business-savvy side. But at the end of the day, I still want to inspire women.
Was this process more difficult than it was on records in the past?
NM Yeah, just in terms of the pressure I put on myself. I’m a perfectionist. It’s going to be two and a half years since I’ve put out an album, so I feel like I owe it to my fans to give them something great. When I went in to start writing, I just felt like, You know what? Here’s a chance to really make my fans proud and thank them for sticking with me all this time! Not everyone has their third album be this highly anticipated, so for me that’s just a blessing. I’ve never seen anything like it. It shocks me all the time how willing my fans are to go out of their way to make me feel good. They’ve been really on my back and begging me to hurry up with the album, but at the same time they’ve always sent words of encouragement and said, Take your time. Do it your way. Don’t feel rushed. I’m going to do the best I possibly can, not just for me, but for them.
It reminds me of when you came out with Pink Friday. When your first album finally hit, it felt like a really important moment.
NM Absolutely! I agree! I’ve been telling people for a couple months now that this feels like leading up to my first album. It’s really crazy, there’s something about the energy that feels very much alike. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I agree.
How many songs did you record in total?
NM Maybe about 25. I know some artists do, like, 100 songs. But with me, I really don’t like to put my energy into anything that I’m not in love with. If I love it and if it really sits with me, then I mold that one particular record for a while. My biggest problem with this album, believe it or not, is finding out what the hell I can lose, because all the songs are so freaking special and they all mean something. There are songs I know I have to cut that I know my fans would be in love with. It’s getting more strict! The record companies want to go back to putting ten songs on albums, but I always do different genres of music, so if I put out an album of ten songs, my fans would probably kill me! [laughs]
Who are some of your musical influences that people might be surprised about?
NM One of my biggest is Enya. There are two records early in the album where the airiness and the whimsicalness remind me of Enya, and I sort of crafted it thinking about her and the way her music makes me feel.
You’ve recently elevated and refined your look. What led to this aesthetic direction?
NM It’s a very natural transition for me. I’ve already done crazy. I always thought that at this time in my career, for my third album, I would be wearing my real hair. And it goes so well with The Pinkprint! The name of the record is obviously derived from Jay Z’s The Blueprint, which is something scaled back and getting down to the essence of how things are built. I’ve stripped myself down. You’re seeing me, you’re seeing my face, you’re seeing my hair…you’re seeing my soul! There are songs on the album where I am going back and forth saying, Do I release it to the world? Is it too personal? But I think it’s important for my growth, in the same way that having a natural look is important for my growth, so people can get to know me as a person.
You’ve become known for wearing Versace. What attracts you to Donatella and the brand?
NM I’m so in love with Donatella. What I love about Donatella and what I love about Versace is that it’s so rich. It’s not afraid to be rich and braggadocious. To me, it embodies everything that “supermodel” meant. It’s nostalgic for a time when Naomi Campbell ruled the earth, and to me she represents diva and confidence and beauty and an attitude. There are attitudes in fashion and in hip-hop that match each other…it’s an almost snobby type of feeling. [laughs] It’s fun! It’s like showing off! I think rap is a lot of showing off, and fashion is too. Versace is like, Look at me, bitch. I’m here.
A lot of the country fell in love with you when you did American Idol, where you showed a more nurturing and relatable side of yourself. How do you strike a balance between being controversial and being commercial?
NM It’s so hard! Rap is very judgmental and I never want to stray too far from who I was when I came into the game. I always push the envelope because I’m Nicki Minaj. I have to. No matter who I’m on a song with, I feel like I have to say at least one thing that no one else is willing to say. Whether it’s Madonna or Britney or Beyoncé, they always tell me, “YES. Be yourself. Talk your shit.” At the end of the day, Middle America didn’t know me when I was underground. I still have to please my core fans and show them there’s nothing wrong with the girl I was when I came into the industry, and there’s nothing wrong with the girl they are. You know? There’s nothing wrong with speaking my mind, as long as when the song cuts off I’m still a businesswoman and I still respect myself. That’s where the true balance lies in my life. Women should be allowed to be as hardcore and sexual as we want, because men do it all the time.
Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” is widely considered a classic, yet some took offense to the lyrics and the video for “Anaconda.” Anchors on morning news programs were outraged. Is there a double standard?
NM If a man did the same video with sexy women in it, no one would care. You’re talking about newspeople who don’t even know anything about hip-hop culture. It’s so disrespectful for them to even comment on something they have no idea about. They don’t say anything when they’re watching the Victoria’s Secret show and seeing boobs and thongs all day. Why? Shame on them. Shame on them for commenting on “Anaconda” and not commenting on the rest of the oversexualized business we’re a part of.
You come across as very brave as an artist. Where does your confidence come from?
NM [sighs] Thank you! Seriously, that is the best freaking compliment in the world. I don’t know! I look at myself as such a regular girl and I have insecurities just like everyone else. I don’t know where the hell this thing comes from where I feel like, Who gives a shit about what everybody else says? [laughs] When I put out the artwork for “Anaconda,” I didn’t plan on doing anything like that. I haven’t put out a picture like that in five years, probably. And I was thinking to myself, Why have I stopped doing certain things? Whose approval do I need? Some man in a suit telling you the weather? Why? We all live in this world where we won’t do something because of how “they” will talk about us on Instagram or Twitter or Facebook. Are people going to laugh or are they going to diss us? It’s disgusting! We are not ourselves anymore. We’re so afraid of what’s going to happen on social media that we’ve been robbed of our free spirit! You know what I mean? We’re all so nervous, it’s like we’re living life for people who don’t even fucking matter! I see people who I know who put out pictures on Instagram based on a lie because they want the approval of some 14-year-old in Wisconsin. It’s insane! What happened? What happened to when artists were just artists and they brought you into their world? They didn’t have to worry about a bunch of people on Twitter voicing their opinions. That’s what I love about “Anaconda.” Fuck showing your ass or being sexy. What I love about “Anaconda” is that I told the whole industry to go fuck themselves.
Were there ever any people who said you’d never make it?
NM Of course! I talk about that all the time, I talk about record executives telling me, “Oh no no no. Female rappers don’t make it anymore. You’ll never get away with that, and you’ll damn sure never get away with rapping and singing.” People who I loved very much attempted to deter me from experimenting with my craft, but I felt I represented all kinds of girls, not just one girl. I am from the hood, I really did grow up like that, and it’s not a fabricated story. But even within the hood I had dreams to get out and grow as an artist, as a human being, and as a woman. I never want to place limits on the intelligence of my fans. They can understand me. It’s why we love music. It’s the reason we can hear our lives on a record that we didn’t write and wonder, How did that just happen? It’s because we all go through the same things in life! I had someone very close to me tell me to give it up. “You’re living in a fantasy world. Get a nine-to-five.” I remember how bad it hurt me, and I cried my eyes out. And when I was done crying, I got my ass up, put on a beat mixtape, and started writing to some beats. That’s really been my life ever since.
Where did that strength come from?
NM I didn’t feel I had anything to fall back on, and I wanted to make my mother proud. I wanted to get my mother out the hood! That was what kept me focused on my goal. Some people want to do this shit because they want jewelry and they want fame. I didn’t want that. It just sort of came with the package I signed up for.
Did you have a premonition that it would all turn out this way? Are you psychic?
NM [laughs] Oh my God! Sometimes I think that I am psychic. I mean, I did predict that I would be in Paris with Beyoncé four years ago on Pink Friday. I’ve always had a strong belief in myself, I’m not gonna lie. My mother believed and believed and believed, and then there was one point when even she lost faith—just a little tiny moment—and it was hurtful, but I understand that as a mom she just wanted me to plan for my future. She was like, “Maybe you should think about going to college,” and “what if this doesn’t happen?” And it was devastating to hear her say that, because she was my biggest supporter, and I just remember thinking, If my mother’s losing hope, then this is more reason for me to go full steam ahead, because now I have to show her that this was all worth it, that all those times I sat in my room for hours writing rap, that it paid off. She’ll tell you!
Do you have the same friends today you had back then?
NM Let me tell you something. I have the same friends that I had when I was 16, and I thank God for that. I thank God that in the fakest world I could have chosen to be in, I have the realest friends and family in my life. These girls were there for me when I did not have a dollar to my name. They were there for me when I needed my girlfriend to cosign on an apartment for me, when I needed cash, or needed a ride somewhere, and they’re still here today. I haven’t made any strong girlfriends in the industry. I’m anti new friends, in a way, because you just never know. So if you have real friends, cherish them.
You speak a great deal about becoming a mogul. What’s next in the empire of Nicki Minaj?
NM I’m working on a TV production project that I think my fans are going to be excited about. I’m working on it as we speak.
Will you act in it?
NM It’s a toss-up. I may. You may hear my voice, you may see me. We’re not sure as of yet. We’re still working on the idea.
Leading up to the album, are you nervous? Is there anything you’re afraid of?
NM Great question. I think I’d be lying if I said there are no nerves there. It’s always a nerve-racking process. It’s like you’re having a baby and then you’re giving it away to the world to dissect. That’s never an easy thing to do, but for the most part I just feel love and excitement.
What can we expect?
NM You can expect a great intro piece that really walks you through where my mind has been the past two years, and there’s a strong love and relationship section that has been lacking lately on the radio. It’s not the glossy stuff, but the nitty-gritty, the fights, the heartbreaking things that people don’t really touch on in rap. And for my core, I have the hard shit. It’s the stuff that makes everyone excited and gives them the stink face in the room, and makes people bop super hard. There’s something for everyone, but it’s not separated into genres. It has a nice flow.
What do you hope people take away?
NM I hope they find themselves in the album. I hope they release something. If music can make people feel good, you win. When I play this album for people, no matter how emotional or how hard the record is, it seems like it makes people excited, it’s a conversation piece, and they feel like they’re looking through a peephole at my life. I want to give people a glimpse into my world, and I want them to be able to play this record three years down the line and say, “You know what? That’s a classic.” That’s my goal, and that’s what’s going to happen. I truly believe it.
The Pinkprint is available December 15 from Young Money/Cash Money and Republic Records