Nicki Minaj, Always in Control

The queen of hip-hop has fought her way to the top of the music industry — and never made compromises.

Comments: 66

  1. Yas Nicki (not Nicole) Yas!

  2. I am so in love with these beautiful images of Onika. Perhaps this album may allow her many fans to see who she really is outside of the theatrical version of her.

  3. Ms Minaj is a true talent. She has created her own space in the music industry.

  4. Nice article, but Nicki is NOT the queen of hip hop......

  5. Sade vibes xoxo

  6. I was looking for an interpretation of this... It’s definitely a sartorial Sade reference, right?

  7. Can she really dress and undress herself like that all by herself with those nails? If so I'm even more in awe. Make fashion queens the lead story every day and brighten an otherwise dreary world for us all.

  8. Ask Barbra Streisand.

  9. It's truly humbling to know such creatures exist. Perhaps there is other life in the universe, only not from other planets.

  10. Dear Ms. Minaj, Does "uncompromised" mean never subject to sexual harrassment?

  11. Great article - makes for entertaining reading! It gives us a peak into the glamour of the Fashion Week and Rap/Hip Hop worlds. Its Inspiring too, to watch the lives of people who navigate their way from less glamorous work, like waitress jobs - to the top of the music universe. Whether you like a particular music, dance, or theatre - the skills needed to be great (discipline, hard work, and talent) seem to be ...the same.

  12. Minaj and her cohort of auto-tuned mini-talents are a triumph of style over substance. What ever happened to real music?

  13. It's playing at my house.

  14. She can rap like a demon and remembering that amount of words and rattling them off at speed is indeed talented. She is sex positive and say what you want about her overt sexuality, she owns that too. She ain't no man's thing. She's in on the joke.

    Look at how she nails this beginning 1:40 into the video:

  15. Real music isn't loud enough!
    People became deaf because of loud music so it's all about the vibrations from the bass!

  16. Comments in this article proves Nicki Minaj's point. her agency and her right to do as she pleases have all contributed to her success.
    I do find it interesting that she cares about the props the industry gives out. People talk and have subjective views. None of that at the end of the day takes away from all the hard work and talent that have made Minaj successful. Surely few of the men and women the industry likes to champion above Nicki have reached the financial success she has. Money > words.

  17. I'm certainly not her intended / target audience. But -- and this will give away why -- her season on "American Idol" was one of the most fascinating ever.

    Outside of the unnecessary Mariah/Nicki drama, which took away from the contestants ... I enjoyed her immensely. Learned about her. And what always shone through, underneath all the 'stuff,' -- was she was different. Authentically different. A striver and a survivor. I may never listen to another Nicki Minaj track, but I'm sure glad she's out there.

  18. I prefer listening to my Mom's music. Carole King, Phoebe Snow, Donna Summer were not only great artists, but also empowered women on so many levels. My generation's music objectifies women who sings frivolous songs.

  19. So how is anyone being objectified here? How is this music any more or less frivolous than another generation? We can celebrate icons from all generations.

  20. David,

    People said the same thing about Donna Summer. I think both Summer and Minaj assert ownership and self confidence in their display of sexuality.

  21. Queue the smug generational nostalgia that inevitably pops up in the comments whenever the NYTs gives prominent coverage to a popular contemporary artist.

    Carole King's "He Hit Me and It Felt Like a Kiss" was totally empowering to women! More seriously, my guess is the brilliant woman behind "Love to Love You Baby" would recognize Minaj--- a writer of her own music, crafter of dance floor anthems, fully in command of her sexuality and her career---as one of her heirs.

  22. Let me guess, Ms. Minaj is about to release an album.

  23. You, my friend, nailed it

  24. This is why women should write about women.
    This is magic.
    Thank you, Roxane and Nikki.

  25. I love this article because: 1. Ms. Gay's writing and storytelling is superb. "He brushes the wig so carefully, so lovingly, that for a moment, I want to be that wig. ...arranging her robe to her liking. There is regality in how she sits. That she is wearing a bathrobe is utterly inconsequential. A queen is a queen regardless."
    2. It's shows the precision, passion, craft and talent behind Ms. Minaj's success, which also includes energy from an inextinguishable divine fire.

  26. I love Roxane Gay. She seemed like the perfect person to interview Nicki Minaj. Her intellectual prowess combined with her strong grasp of pop culture and Black culture should have yielded an incredibly insightful interview. But I have to say I was disappointed. It seemed to lack an objectivity that I expect from Ms. Gay. I didn't need her to cut Nicki Minaj down or criticize her for criticism's sake, but the almost-worshipful way she described the encounter made me question if I could trust her as the narrator to be critical, if criticism was called for. There also seemed to be a lot of telling about Nicki Minaj and not much showing. It's very easy for me to believe Nicki Minaj possesses a high level of intelligence, but i would have preferred concrete examples to add to my own mental narrative as to who she is, rather than just taking Ms. Gay's word for it. I know the last interview I read with Nicki Minaj for the NYT ended with Nicki Minaj ending the interview early over a question she perceived as disrespectful. Perhaps the NYT was fearful of the same fate here. I don't really feel I learned anything here.

  27. True, but keep in mind that this was written for T Magazine, which is about fashion, lifestyle, and selling luxury items, and the tone was very much in keeping with the typical T profile.

  28. OK, she may be great at hip-hop but why not do a front page for someone who is an amazing new talent , a complete singer/musician who changes the whole picture..............his name is Jacob Collier........

  29. Why do you feel the need to lessen a spotlight on a successful Black woman, written by another successful Black woman?

  30. Oh please, that was hardly his point. It's completely reasonable to suggest that an artist is one-dimensional. That judgment has nothing to do with gender or race. Shame on you for saying otherwise. She's a pop artist at the moment, not a cultural icon for Christ's sake.

  31. Thanks Henry, I should have said "pop artist", maybe hip-hop is too narrow , the color thing isn't involved. I'm 76 and play jazz so I'm not really up on talent outside the jazz world. Collier blows me away, he's completely original.

    The great singers I know from jazz ( Black women) are mostly gone now Ella, Nina Simone, Carmen McRea , many more.

  32. Sorry Nikki and NYT: No one is always in control. 20 years from now she'll be old and no one will care. Can she control that?

  33. You too, will become ‘old” if you are fortunate.

  34. I like her 'Anaconda' youTube vid ... funny, vile, imaginative. I like Leo Moracchioli's home made thrash metal cover of it better.

  35. Thought the Queen was Mary J Blige. Did she abdicate?

  36. Come on, even I know Mary is R&B, not hip-hop. She's also a greater talent. And has more style.

  37. Ronald, Mary is hip-hop. The duet with Meth solidified her title and "What's the 411?" created it. Do you remember the sample for "Reminisce"? Hip-hop is more than rap.

    She is the queen of hip-hop soul, a sub-genre of the genre.

    Be that as it may, Nicki Minaj is not the "queen" of anything other than album sales and crossover appeal. She has a ghostwriter and a penchant for fashion. Is that all a woman needs to be on the top of the rap charts? Several women have better bars than Nicki and they do not refer to themselves as queens of rap. She must be referring to her borough.

  38. MJB is the queen of R & B.

  39. Not sure if New York Times readers are Nicki's primary audience.. but I saw her in concert and have listened to her music over the years – she's the only consistently good female rapper out there today.

  40. I wondered the same thing, but here I am at least!

  41. I found her music by chance; she's amazing! Quality will win.

  42. I just wish when she was on American Idol, Steven Tyler had been on with her. Everyone would have had a blast except maybe Simon if he was on too. He might have had to seek therapy.

  43. Contrary to what most believe, this woman is highly influential in the modern world. I think instead of trying to fathom why the article appears here you should ask yourself why you've taken the time to read. I'll tell you why, because you see a strong independent black woman with record breaking data, and hit records. She deserves to be here just as much as any other performer. Don't be so quick to react, you need to research and learn that Nicki Minaj has been a hit for over a decade now. There are no other words needed. Well done Nicki, well done.

  44. While I agree with Karlos' eloquent, true, generous, and informative words, and while I admire and appreciate Ms. Minaj's music, one thing I've got to state for the record: the reason I've "taken the time to read" this article is singular: because it was written by Roxane Gay. She, the author/interviewer, is a literary force to not only be reckoned with, but paid attention to. Her work, be it fiction, essays, or, as here, journalism, is singular. I urge those who appreciate the multitalented Nicki Minaj to take some time and seek out Roxane Gay's books. She's incandescent.

  45. Well, not my thing, but years ago when I saw some of the very first street rap and break-dancing, I said to myself that this will become some form of great popular art, like Rock 'n Roll before it. Clearly, Ms. Minaj is one of the greats of this particular thing.

  46. I was as stuck by the phrase "always in control" as was another reader. It sets the tone for the interview. I am happy that Ms. Minaj represents the Black Hilary Clinton of her generation: tough, uncompromising, focused. But life always throws a curve ball when we least expect it. Life changes in 7 year cycles (more or less). Lets hope that Ms. Minaj's curve balls are further away so that she can expand further. But something feels - as I read thru the course of this article - that the curve ball is coming up. Perhaps it is that another crest of the wave that only approaches that seemed ominous to me. She is a strong woman. But so was Cleopatra.

  47. "tough, uncompromising" Sounds like Donald Trump. Hopefully women seeking equity won't be attracted to the worst qualities of powerful "successful" men. But that's just a hope.

  48. I think she may have been a Trump supporter.

  49. It's really extraordinary, in the same week as we are excoriating Harvey Weinstein for mauling women, to be examining the 'achievements' of Nicki Minaj, whose infamous "Anaconda" video was one of the vilest, most revolting items of poison for young minds ever to be promoted by our debased music industry. What, you fail to see the connection between the tastes, predilections, habits of producers like HW & the corrosive content being pounded directly into your kids' brains by the likes of Miley Cyrus (Disney asset!) or Minaj? Or perhaps you imagine there are no Harvey Weinstein types at Warner Music, or in the other great music label "owners?" It's part and parcel of the same phenomenon, in which the willingness to be exploited as a provider of obscene content -- in private, for HW, or on a public concert stage -- is far more important than actually having any talent. Content-wise, Nicki Minaj has nothing to offer. If you intend to clean up Hollywood, you had better include the music industry. Let's get back to basics: actual musical ability, having something to say that matters, resisting the impulse to use a sex act as a means of drawing attention to yourself. Great stars succeed on the merit of voice, discipline, creative versatility, good taste. Streisand, Midler, Lopez, Mrs. Carter, inter alia. One Republic. Adele. Minaj? Cyrus? Nothing to applaud folks. Not a thing.

  50. Have you ever actually listened to Miley Cyrus or Nicki Minaj? Cyrus, in particular, has an incredible voice - listen to her rendition of Jolene, for example. And it takes talent to do what Nicki Minaj does with her voice, which you can appreciate whether or not you like rap music. And both of them clearly demonstrate discipline and creative versatility, even if some of what they do is in poor taste. Which, by the way, was a comment often made about Bette Midler in her early years. So I respectfully disagree that there is "nothing to applaud." Open your mind and your ears to diversity.

  51. I'm a 60-year-old white woman who grew up in Appalachia, and in response to all the naysayers: oh please, relax a little. Nicki Minaj delights me. I don't have to approve of her in every detail. She is an unafraid entertainer with bold style. She doesn't have to be more than that.

    As for her music—well, I confess, I don't actively seek out her music, but her songs are fun when I hear them. And honestly, music is only one component of her performance and her outsized persona. She's one of those entertainers like Madonna and Gaga who make sense only as a complete package of music, style, imagery, and persona. That "only" bothers me, though; for good or ill, the ability to become a pop icon is even more rare than great musicianship.

  52. Hip hop is NOT music. It is unstructured noise. Minaj is no Ella Fitzgerald or Nina Simone.

  53. I certainly admire her for making it to the top; but it is the hip hop industry itself that has sold out and compromised from its once-pure and soul-shaking roots, and Minaj has gone along for the ride

  54. She may be talented, but the content of her music is disturbing. Even my teenagers daughters said that she is not making the world a better place for them.

  55. To all those "baffled" or "reviled" at the "talentless" Nicki Minaj, consider this:

    This year, posted an article listing "The Best Rapper Alive, Every Year Since 1979." They named Nicki Minaj the best rapper alive in 2014 -- the only woman on the list. Unless you deny that hip-hop is music or something (in which case I can't help you), then at least grant her that a well-respected music publication crowned her the best in the world in a notoriously competitive, male-dominated genre. Vulgarity aside (male rappers are never vulgar), she is extremely good at what she does: rap.

  56. You make great points, but I want to just point out that many male rappers are very vulgar in their songs.

  57. At almost 72 years old, Nicki Minaj would seem to be the most alien singer to my age group--but I like her! She doesn't try to be what everyone expects but what she wants to be, which is what I like about her. I respect anyone who doesn't try to bend themselves to what will make money but what will make a statement. I admire her.

  58. Nicki Minaj is a woman who likes what she does, and apparently so do others. She is a confident, genuine woman who doesn't mind if you don't agree with her, because it wouldn't matter much to her if nobody likes her. Rapping is a passion, and she'll do it if she wants, just like how she went her first five years without gaining much attention. Love her or hate her, she worked hard to get to where she is, and she is completely her, in mind and body.

  59. There are so many superlatives in this article describing mediocrity. That is pernicious. What is more pernicious is that art at its best should affirm life sustaining values, good values; however, vulgarity violates that principle. I can barely watch a single video, (and I forced myself to watch two) of this proclaimed singer.

  60. Eloquently written 4 dat beautiful X factor!...I don’t think this content is front page news...however my mind keeps wondering and wandering into that abyss of amazing bad ass Nicky Minaj kiss

  61. I have liked her collaborations and solo work, but did not like the unnecessary cat fight she engaged in with Mariah Carey on Idol...for all her merits, Minaj is nowhere near Mariah's league, despite of course Mariah's pitfalls.

  62. These comments remind me of the end-of-year awards type issues of Rolling Stone magazine I used to thumb through as a teen in the eighties. Readers' best and worst lists. They would usually run along these lines: Most loved: Madonna. Most hated: Madonna. Most talented: Madonna. Least talented: Madonna.

  63. I'll believe others here when they say Roxane Gay is an "incandescent" writer, and I'll believe others when they say that Nicki Minaj is a real talent. I've got not problem with that. But this article doesn't make either case. First, every human being in the world makes compromises. It's part of being human - and I'd like to think sophisticated writers would understand that, and perhaps reveal those to the reader to humanize her subject. To say she's never compromised is a cliche written by a freshman journalism student. Second (and I'm only on the subhead), we're told she fought her way to the top, but I defy you to find any mention in the article of Nicki doing any fighting. There was no conflict I could see here at all - it's an endless stream of adoration, success, breakthroughs and praise. We jump right from getting flashes of inspiration as a waitress in Queens to being the first female artist signed to her label. I'd be there is a real story in between, a story of a real human being managing to do some incredible things in the world, but we won't read about it here. This is hagiography.

  64. Nobody notices she copied the style of a murdered singer once again. No, this isn't the style of the singer sade at all, its selena written all over it. She's copied her before and she's done it again. Complains about cultural appropriation but then does it herself. RIP selena

  65. I love Selena, but you are incorrect. Nicki, Selena and Lady Gaga's flair is a throwback from Patti Labelle. Patti Labelle hasn't accused anyone of cultural misappropriation and out of respect to Selena, neither should you.

  66. Of course Nicki Minaj is famous. She wrote and performed that favorite anthems of twenty year old guys, "anaconda". All the lyrics fit to print, a so called satire to a handful, selling the objectification of women to the masses. How timely a selection.