As Nicki Minaj notes in her cameo on Kanye West's recent "Monster," she currently commands "50K for a verse" with "no album out." That last part is about to change: Capping a year spent chart-surfing with Drake, Lil Wayne and other high-rollers, the 25-year-old MC releases her debut LP, Pink Friday, on November 22. TONY recently caught up with Minaj in a midtown studio.
A lot of your raps have been based on this idea that you've "made a million off a mixtape," just the idea that you've come so far without putting out a proper album. So what are you hoping to get out of actually releasing an album at this point?
[Laughs hysterically]. Well, maybe I shouldn't put one out, if you look at it that way! I want respect from my peers; I want respect from the world as an official artist, an artist that knows how to make music and songs and an album. And when you haven't put out an album, there's still something looming over your head a little bit. And I know that I'm capable of really giving a body of music—I'm not a feature artist. You know, some people are just good on a feature. I'm just good enough and I want to show that.
You've been so powerful as a guest artist, stealing someone else's show, and I'm interested to see what you'll do when it's your show. Are you thinking a lot about that?
Mm-hmmm, but I'm excited about! Not that I'm thinking about it like, [Sadly] Mmm, dag. I'm happy about it. I've been waiting my whole life to do this.
Mixtapes and singles, that's sort of how music is consumed now. Is the physical product important to you?
Or is it just the music? No, it's just the music for me. I would like them to buy it on iTunes. It doesn't matter. If they get it on iTunes, they'll get the iTunes deluxe edition—they'll get three extra songs. It doesn't matter to me if someone has the physical album; I just want them to have my music. I want to have a body of music, so that when I go to my shows, I'm not only doing features. I'm not only doing the hot 16 on that song—I'm doing the entire song, and people know that it's from my album.
Do you still buy CDs, or do you consume music digitally?
I do both, but that was a good question: Do I care if they have the physical album? My particular fans, though, the younger fans, they really want a physical album. They want to have the poster; they want to have the booklet.
I think that comedy is really important to your music, and the humor is something that really appeals to me about it, like "Somehow I understood him when he spoke Thai" [from "Your Love"]...
[Laughs] Random things.
Do you think of yourself as a comedian as well as a musician?
Are there comedians you admire, along with other rappers?
[Laughs] You have really great questions! Like, by far... No, I'm serious! Yes, I do consider myself to be a comedian. I love Martin [Lawrence] and I love Chris Rock and I love Larry David and I love Judge Judy! She's a comedian to me in her own right. It's like, you should be crackin' up laughing. Some things in the songs should make you crack up. I like that.
In addition to the comedy, your raps also have this really competitive attitude, like "I just annihilated every rap bitch in the building." Is there an element of comedy in that, too, or is it meant to be an actual put-down?
It's not meant to be mean; it's meant to be funny.
So it's kind of like on the schoolyard—
[Sings tauntingly] Nyah-nah nah nyah-nah. That's what rap is. That's what hip-hop is to me. It's like, "I'm this—I'm better than you, and anybody doin' what I do, I do it better." So what people don't understand is, I don't hate these girls. Like sometimes you would wish something bad on a person, if that was your real enemy. These people aren't my real enemy—they're a competitor in a sport. It's no different from friggin' goin' on a basketball court. You gonna show off—you gonna do your craziest tricks and say, "What?" And [I'll] push you to the floor if I need to, to show you I'm better than you at playin' ball, but I don't go to bed at night hating these people or wanting something bad to happen, you know? It's so different, and yeah, there is a lot of comedy in it, and there is a lot of just, like, schoolyard [Twists neck to illustrate], twisting your neck—it's just like that... But I am better.
Do you think that's been a problem in hip-hop in the past, that things that are just meant as a dis get turned into an actual real-life feud?
That happens with anything. I mean, not just in rap. Things turn violent every day. That has nothing to do with rap. It's just personalties. It doesn't bother me, and I'm not gonna change because of it.
Why does there still have to be that distinction of a "female rapper"? Why are there not as many women doing this?
[Softly] I don't know. I wish I knew.... I really don't know. I think girls need to write their own raps, though. I think girls need to go in the studio, take a beat, start writing, stop depending on people to do shit for you. Because then, when it's no longer your moment, you're lost! You need that ghostwriter that you used to have from '98. [Laughs] It's like, "Mmm-mmm." I think girls after me, and some girls before me—let's be honest: There's a lot of girls that've done a great job. But I just think women in hip-hop have really predominantly been the sidekick. You have to take yourself out from being the sidekick to the superhero. You can't be Robin forever, you know what I mean? And that's what I'm doing; that's what Pink Friday is. It's like, "Bitch, I'm Batman, ho." [Laughs].
So you're competing with all rappers, not just female ones.
The past year has been so huge for you—your profile has risen so immensely. Do you remember when the moment was that you said to yourself, "I'm becoming a star"?
There have been so many different moments. The VMAs was one; Yankee Stadium with Jay-Z and Kanye West, that was another big one for me; just being asked to be on Kanye's album was huge for me. I won three BET awards, three hip-hop awards with no album out. There's been a lot of things, but I guess I don't sit down and take it all in, pause. It just happens and then I look back and say, "Thank God for this blessing" and blah blah blah. But I'm sure there's a lot of things happening every day that I don't even believe.
Another thing I really like about your raps is the self-nicknaming, how you kind of roll off all these names like Lewinsky or the Ninja. What is that all about?
It's always been in rap. I mean, it's like Jay-Z: Jigga Man, Hov, S. Carter. I see the big boys do it, and I guess I do it. Dag, the only one who don't got a frickin' nickname is Kanye West! [Laughs]
What drew you to the Lewinsky? That was so out of left field.
I don't use Lewinsky anymore. [Mock-exasperated] I don't want to talk about it!
You said something about "the mistress" in one of the raps—
[Still mock-exasperated] Ooookay, I get it! No, it was just, like, a joke at that time, because [Lil] Wayne was the President, and I called myself [Laughs] Nicki Lewinsky. It was a funny joke, but I don't like it anymore.
Any new names coming that we can get a sneak preview of?
Hmmm... Have you heard of Roman?
He's a gay boy—he lives in me.
I look forward to that.
He's out—he's out of the closet already.
I was wondering how you felt about the rap in which Drake is basically proposing to you. What did you think when you heard that?
I thought it was cute. He's a cute little lamb chop. He let me hear it before it came out, though, and I was like, "Whoa, are you really gonna say that?" I didn't think he was gonna leave it in the song, but I love it.
I'm wondering about the distinction about rapping and singing. You're known more as a rapper than a singer, but would you ever want to even that out?
Mmm-mmm. I would never even that out, but I would always do a little singing.
I think that duality is interesting, because there's a part on the mixtape where you're talking about how the first part was raunchy and you kind of wanted to move into a more "delicate" mode. Do you think a lot about both sides of that coin?
Mmm-hmmm. It's important to me to stay true to both sides, because I have fans on both sides, so I can't stray away too far from the crazy, real edgy stuff...[Quietly] 'cause my fans won't like me.
Do you think you can still be believable singing a sweet love song after you've done all that—
Absolutely. I've done it on Pink Friday. I'll play you the song before you leave. I'm believable at whatever I do, because I'm dead-ass doin' it. Like, I'm not in the studio with somebody doin' it for me. My fans have gotten to understand that I am many different people, and one day they get one thing, next day they get another thing, but it's still true to me, and they don't question it. Like with "Check It Out," the song I have with Will.i.am, it's, like, so pop, but, you know, it's gettin' played. You would think people would be like, "What?!? She's selling out!" But it's charting; it's on Billboard, and it's selling on iTunes, so it's like... The moral of the story is, if I box myself in, it's suicide. That's the problem with rap: If you're not careful, you suicide yourself. You gotta do whatever it is that you love, and not be afraid. 'Cause if you're afraid, then they can smell fear, you know? I think with me, in the beginning I was afraid to do certain things, so it seemed unnatural and uncomfortable, but now, it is what it is.
Yeah, because "Your Love" was the first song that grabbed me...
You like that song?
I think it's great, yeah. You're sick of it?
Why do you think it's stupid?
[Laughs] I don't know. I recorded that song a long time ago, so it doesn't feel like me, who I am now. Like, "Right Through Me" is more me, right now, talkin' about a love story, but that one was more, like, fictional. But it was a pretty beat, and I love the sample, and I love the hook.
Well, you shouldn't get too down on it—it's a great song.
[Laughs] I know, right? "Damn." [Snaps fingers in mock disappointment] You know I broke the record?
For the first female rap artist in seven years to top the Billboard rap charts, and I was No. 1 for eight weeks.
So you can't disconnect yourself too much from it.
[Mock-sighing] I guess... Fine.
Do you ever think about how you would plan a full headlining show? How would you fill an evening of entertainment?
[Assumes uppity British accent] Oh, well I'd have tons of girls all around the stage, and I'd have lots of color, and—I dunno—I'd probably have, like, you know, spaceships bursting out. And I'd give away lots of gifts, and I'd mingle with the crowd, and...dance routines, darling, and big, poufy dresses too, and ninja outfits too, and then, just, going crazy... Lots of wigs, too. And then a moment where I'm just [Tenderly] sexy and, like, serene and I'm with one boy and I'm doing a dance, like a pantomime or something. [In normal voice] And then that's it!
[Mock-unimpressed] Only that?
[Laughs] Are you beginning to think I'm crazy?!?
So how many of those wigs do you have [Points to pink wig]?
[Mock-glamorously] Oh, lots, darling.
So is there someone that you have on staff who deals with only that?
Lugs my wigs around...dot-com. [Laughs]
Nicki Minaj playsNov 25.