Who Is Nicki Minaj?

Nicki Minaj is a 25-year-old female rapper and pop star from Queens. Her debut album Pink Friday leaked earlier this week (and here I should disclaim that I love it and have been listening to it over and over like a lunatic), although the album’s official due date is next Monday, November 22.

At this point you’re either thinking “Duh, I know who Nicki Minaj is, I’m only ALIVE,” in which case, I know! I knowwww! Or you’re thinking, “Hmm, OK. I’ve heard this lady’s name, and I think maybe she wears colorful wigs, and also is she the one who raps super weirdly?” In which case, yes! She definitely wears a bunch of wigs and raps SUPER weirdly, sometimes. So, depending on which camp you’re in, feel free to stick around while I get all Nicki-y, or head elsewhere. (Obviously.)

So, we all know who Lil’ Kim is. Nicki’s basically a younger, more-relevant Kim, with long, extended nods to Gwen Stefani and Missy Elliott. She’s an undeniably talented, hyper-feminine lyricist who, like Kim, models herself after Barbie — although Nicki’s reeeeally attached herself to the Barbie thing, posing as a living Barbie inside a box, calling her fans Barbies, appearing Barbie-esque on the cover of her album, and referring to herself as a Harajuku Barbie (she’s also got an Asian fixation). And, of course, since it’s rap, and since ladies all hate each other becuase of what crazed, wicked bitches we all are, there’s naturally a Nicki-Kim beef — although it almost seems like both parties were strong-armed into it for entertainment purposes. Which is vaguely fun becuase fights are amusing to score, but mostly is sad, because Kim’s gone the eek-plastic-surgery route while Nicki’s all fresh and young and carefree with a star on the very rapid rise. (Some people have articulated this sadness better than others.)

Despite her pop-culture ubiquity this year, Nicki’s only released three singles of her own: “Massive Attack,” a twitchy, pleasantly cacophonous party track; “Your Love,” an Annie Lennox-sampling love song with an awkward, samurai-themed music video; and “Right Thru Me,” a massive mid-tempo slow jam (if that’s possible). She’s also appeared on dozens of higher-profile songs by, among others, Kanye West and Lil Wayne — bragging on Kanye’s “Monster” that she gets “$50K for a verse, no album out.” Which is a solid brag, provided the eventual album doesn’t suck.

Nicki’s also easy to hate: she’s one of those famous people who adopt weird personas (that Harajuku Barbie thing, plus also Roman Zolanski, Cookie, Nicki Teresa, and Onika Maraj — her born name), she’s dropped the ball during freestyle challenges, and her affected rap style can rub people the wrong way — she does a lot of wobbly, wacky voices, foreign accents, grunt-barks, horror-movie screams, and doll squeaks. (Although, honestly, even when her vocal clomping is at its most tiring it’s still refreshing to hear a girl sound so fucking strange; somewhere along the line she clearly stopped caring whether or not she sounds “pretty,” which is awesome. You crazy, Nicki!)

A lot’s riding on the reception of Pink Friday. Sort of a novelty act so far — a kooky hothouse lemon wedge who’s been an in-demand garnish among the big male names in rap this year — Nicki still has to prove she can stand alone as a rapper. Which shouldn’t be a problem, because Pink Friday is sooo good. It’s SO GOOD! (Although, to be fair, her best songs are the slower, not-so-rap-heavy “Right Thru Me,” “Fly,” and “Save Me,” as well as the slightly faster “I’m the Best.”)

What did I leave out? That she has an insane butt? That she’s signed with Lil Wayne’s label (Young Money Entertainment)? That she’s kind of a terrible actress? That she has unfortunate tattoos? That most of her best songs sample preexisting songs, if that makes a difference to you? That ladies love to hate her because of how sexually she presents herself? Eh. There’s something so loose and unhinged about her that I think she’d be a lot of fun.

In her own words: “Haters you can kill yo’self.” (Hah, not really, and that song is kind of infuriating, but I’ve been chanting that line to myself for months.) Team Nicki. Here’s my favorite track of hers:

Photo by wolfdab