Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty was born December 8, 1982 and is known professionally as Nicki Minaj.
She is a Trinidadian-American rapper, singer, songwriter, actress and model. Born in the Saint James district of Port of Spain and raised in the Queens borough of New York City, she gained public recognition after releasing the mixtapes Playtime Is Over (2007), Sucka Free (2008), and Beam Me Up Scotty (2009).
Her father, Robert Maraj, a financial executive and part-time gospel singer, is of Dougla (Afro-Trinidadian mother and Indo-Trinidadian father) descent. Her mother, Carol Maraj, is also a gospel singer with Afro-Trinidadian ancestry. Carol worked in payroll and accounting departments during Minaj’s youth. Minaj’s father was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and had a violent temper, burning down their house in December 1987. She has an elder brother named Jelani, an older sister named Maya, a younger brother named Micaiah, and a younger sister named Ming.
As a small child, Minaj and a sibling lived with her grandmother in Saint James. Her mother, who had moved to the Bronx in New York City to attend Monroe College, brought the family to Queens when Minaj was five. By then, the family had a house on 147th Street.
Minaj successfully auditioned for admission to Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, which focuses on visual and performing arts. After graduation, Minaj wanted to become an actress, and she was cast in the Off-Broadway play In Case You Forget in 2001.
At the age of 19, as she struggled with her acting career, she worked as a waitress at a Red Lobster in the Bronx, but was fired for discourtesy to customers. She said she was fired from “at least 15 jobs” for similar reasons.
Minaj briefly signed with Brooklyn group Full Force, in which she rapped in a quartet called The Hoodstars composed of Lou$tar (son of “Bowlegged Lou”), Safaree Samuels (Scaff Beezy) and 7even Up. In 2004, the group recorded the entrance song for WWE Diva Victoria, “Don’t Mess With”, which was featured on the compilation album ThemeAddict: WWE The Music, Vol.6. Minaj later left Full Force and uploaded songs on her Myspace profile, sending several of her songs to people in the music industry. At the time, she was managed by Debra Antney. Later, Fendi, CEO of Brooklyn label Dirty Money Entertainment, signed Minaj to his label in 2007 under a 180-day contract. Originally adopting the stage name Nicki Maraj, she eventually changed it to Nicki Minaj stating that Fendi flipped it when he met her because she had such a nasty flow.
Early in her career, Minaj was known for her colorful costumes and wigs, her distinct flow, and the use of alter egos and accents, primarily British cockney. After signing with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment in 2009, Minaj released her first studio album, Pink Friday (2010), which peaked at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart and was certified triple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded (2012) saw Minaj move towards a dance-pop sound with a focus on her singing. The album debuted atop the charts in several countries, spawning one top-five Billboard Hot 100 single, “Starships”. Minaj’s third and fourth studio albums, The Pinkprint (2014) and Queen (2018), marked a departure from the dance-pop stylings of her previous records and a return to her hip hop roots, spawning the Billboard Hot 100 top-ten singles “Anaconda” and “Chun-Li”. Her feature on the remix of Doja Cat’s “Say So” and her 6ix9ine collaboration “Trollz”, both released in 2020, marked her first and second number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively, with the latter making her the second female rapper to debut atop the chart after Lauryn Hill in 1998.
She often both sings and raps in her songs and combines metaphors, punch lines, and word play into her work. The alter egos are incorporated with her lyrics in British accents (Roman Zolanski) or soft-spokenness (Harajuku Barbie).
With her parents frequently fighting during her childhood, Minaj lived through characters she created as a means of escape. She recalled that “fantasy was her reality” and her first identity was Cookie, who became Harajuku Barbie and (later) Nicki Minaj. In November 2010, Minaj assumed the alter ego Nicki Teresa, wearing a colorful headdress and calling herself “healer to her fans” during a visit to the Garden of Dreams Foundation at Fuse Studios in New York. She introduced another alter ego, Rosa (pronounced with an exaggerated R), to commemorate her December 2010 appearance on Lopez Tonight.
One of Minaj’s most well-known alter-egos is “a demon inside her” named Roman Zolanski (named after film director Roman Polanski with modified surname), Minaj’s “twin brother”, whose character she assumes when she is angry. Roman has been compared to Eminem’s alter ego Slim Shady, and on “Roman’s Revenge” Minaj and Eminem collaborate as their alter egos. Roman is the boy that lives inside of her He’s a lunatic and he’s gay. He has a mother, Martha Zolanski, who appeared on “Roman’s Revenge” with a British accent and singing on “Roman Holiday” for the first time. Martha appeared in the “Moment 4 Life” video as Minaj’s apparent fairy godmother.
Minaj cites Foxy Brown and Jay-Z as major influences, Jada Pinkett Smith as one of her role models in her acting career and Betsey Johnson as a fashion inspiration.
In 2010, Minaj performed a cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, alongside singer Katy Perry, for service members during the 2010 VH1 Divas Salute the Troops concert. In 2011, Mattel created a Barbie doll with Minaj’s likeness to auction for Project Angel Food, a charity that provides food for people afflicted with HIV and AIDS. In 2012, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Minaj donated $15,000 to the Food Bank For New York City and held a turkey drive at her alma mater, PS 45.
In May 2017, Minaj offered via Twitter to pay college tuition fees and student loans for 30 of her fans. She appeared to grant their requests, ranging from $500 to school supplies to $6,000 for tuition, promising to respond to more requests in a month or two.She also announced that she would launch an official charity for student loans and tuition payments in the near future. In the same month, Minaj revealed on Instagram that she has been donating money to a village in India for a few years via her pastor, Lydia Sloley. These donations helped the village get a computer center, a tailoring institute, a reading program, and two water wells.
In August 2017, after Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston, Texas, Minaj answered a social media challenge by comedian and actor Kevin Hart and donated $25,000 to the Red Cross.
In 2019, Minaj pulled out of headlining a concert in Saudi Arabia after women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, was detained and arrested for speaking out against the Saudi regime. Minaj was praised by The Human Rights Foundation.
In 2020, following the release of Minaj and 6ix9ine’s song, “Trollz”, she announced that a portion of the proceeds from the song, along with profits from all merchandise, would go towards the Bail Project amid the Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd.