Nicki Minaj is arguably, the best female rapper of all time. Born in Trinidad and raised by her grandmother on the Caribbean island until the age of six, in 1989, Minaj left Trinidad and was flung into the cold and uncomfortable poverty of New York City public housing. Raised in South Jamaica, Queens, Minaj was exposed to all sorts of negative things growing up.
Minaj’s father fell victim to crack upon his move to the US from Trinidad in the mid-1980s, and his substance abuse led to physical abuse and domestic violence in the household. Minaj has recalled how sorry she felt for her mother, who would receive beatings from her father, who abused alcohol and crack cocaine.
During a narcotised rampage, Minaj’s father set fire to Minaj’s house to kill the rapper’s mother, Carol Maraj. Minaj’s mother held several jobs in New York to make ends meet. She was an accounting clerk, a foreign exchange teller and also worked in retail on the side to make sure her children were well fed.
Minaj, from a young age, was always very theatrical. The rapper has said this is because she was trying to escape herself and her dire reality and loved to make other people laugh. By inhabiting and creating various fictional characters, Minaj revealed she was using her imagination to place herself outside of her immediate reality and into an imaginary world that was much more pleasant and enjoyable than the one she lived in. The rapper has also said that because she had to bottle in so much of herself in the household, at school, she felt liberated and free to express herself in any way she wanted, a luxury she wasn’t afforded at home.
With such a natural talent for acting, Minaj chose to attend Fiorello H. LaGuardia high school for performing arts. Here, the rapper (real name Onika Maraj) met people she felt were like herself. Kooky and a bit crazy. After graduating as a drama major, Minaj went straight into doing auditions and bagged the off-broadway play In Case You Forget in 2001. Performing in the evenings, during the day, Minaj held a hospitality job waitressing at the American restaurant chain Red Lobster.
However, tirelessly auditioning for new parts and not hearing anything, Minaj began rapping full-time in 2003 alongside her friends Loustar, Seven Up, and Safaree Samuels as part of the Hood$tars. But that was short-lived. After featuring on various mixtapes in New York, Minaj was asked by black entrepreneur Fendi if she wanted to appear on a popular underground hip hop DVD known as ‘The Come Up DVD’. She appeared on ‘The Come Up DVD’ several times between 2003 and 2006, and under Mizzay Entertainment, an Atlanta-based management company in 2007, Minaj’s segment appeared after Lil Wayne’s cameo. Noticing Minaj, Lil Wayne contacted Minaj’s management, and in 2007 Nicki signed a record deal with Young Money.
Releasing several mixtapes between 2007 and 2009, such as Scotty Beam Me Up and Playtime Is Over, in 2009 Minaj featured on the smash-hit Young Money record ‘Bedrock’ alongside Lil Wayne, Lloyd, Drake, Tyga and Gudda. This exposed Minaj to the world, and the rest is history.
Since she entered the mainstream circa 2009, Minaj has sold over 100 million records worldwide and has earned 21 top ten singles in her career thus far. She has been accused of shady practices behind the scenes, such as paying off journalists to write bad reviews about her competition’s album sales, stealing record concepts and instrumentals from labelmates and blocking certain artists from appearing at award shows by blackmailing the organisers. With a cult following known as the ‘Barbz’, Minaj still has a viciously loyal fanbase.
Minaj’s first-ever televised freestyle was at BET’s 2009 edition of ‘The Cypher’. Similar to XXL’s ‘Freshmen Cypher’, annually, the BET awards would put the best up-and-coming rappers in a cypher, each getting 16 bars to rap.
Although this was Minaj’s first televised cypher, she had still filmed several freestyles before. However, these were for underground DVDs and not primetime TV. The earliest freestyle available of Nicki Minaj is known as the ‘Dirty Money’ freestyle, which was shot and recorded in 2004. Below you can watch Minaj’s first televised cypher alongside Joe Budden, Buckshot and Crown Royal.