The first time I heard Nicki Minaj rap, I swore I was really listening to Lil Wayne. Taking in her well-enunciated verse on “Don’t Stop, Won’t Stop” from 2007’s Da Drought 3 mixtape, I thought I’d seen through Wayne’s version of Scarlett, the female MC that Nas created with vocal distorting effects for his Street’s Disciple album. The first verse of “Don’t Stop, Won’t Stop” is full of the pop culture swathing and semi-gross sex boasts that Weezy is known for, but it was Minaj who wrote and rapped, You be Harry Potter and I’ll be Hermione/ I’ll be early/ I’m the girl they call the one, like on my first birthday/ I’m in that Range Rove, rocking a Kangol/ The pussy real good, it taste like mango.
I eventually figured out that Nicki Minaj was a real person by watching her pull rubber band choked stacks of money out of a Baby Phat purse while sitting in a dingy stairwell on the “Carter Edition” of The Come UP’s DVD magazine. Her segment, which also includes an a capella freestyle, immediately followed Wayne’s. In the verse, Minaj jumps in and out of a faux British accent as well as a ransom-call whisper, but still maintains a femininity lost in too many female rappers who attempt to toughen up their delivery by mistaking bass for bearing. “I knew that if I was a rapper I would stand out,” she says. “I’ve always liked that idea, standing out in the middle of all the boys.”
Having since been branded a Young Money artist by Wayne and traveled with him on the I Am Music tour, Minaj is still technically unsigned, or probably more accurately, undecided on a label for her debut. Releasing music strategically, including her Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape, Minaj is focused on thinning the vixen image that is currently eclipsing her actual abilities. “Right now, they know a name and they know a face,” she says, “but I don’t think a lot of people really associate me with my music.” A quick Google image search reveals that Minaj’s most successful promo tool so far has also become her biggest obstacle: a photo of her squatting down to recreate Lil Kim’s infamous Hardcore promo poster. Though slightly overwhelmed by the reaction, she doesn’t discount what the shot has done for her. “Artists should be all-around entertainers,” she says. “That means, when I go outside, my shoes should entertain you, my hair should entertain you. Whatever I say should entertain you.”