How Nicki Minaj Really Became Famous

Though Nicki Minaj carries her fame with supreme confidence, she's relatively new to the whole thing. Long-time musical stars such as Elton John and The Rolling Stones have had decades in the business and seen every remarkable high and shameful rock-bottom low it has to offer. Minaj, by contrast, only started her professional career in the late 2000s. 

As Biography reports, she was born in Trinidad and Tobago in December 1982, as Onika Tanya Maraj. A turbulent relationship between her parents meant she struggled in childhood, though this filled her with aspiration from an early age. A budding actress, she attended LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, but acting didn't prove to be her path. Instead, the young woman (who was writing rap songs at 12 years old, per Biography) would break into the music business.

In her early 20s, she tried several jobs to support herself, but her acerbic attitude was her undoing. She confessed, per Billboard, "I'd been fired like 15 times because I had a horrible attitude. I worked at Red Lobster... and I chased a customer out of the restaurant once... I was bad." Things turned around for her, however, when her music was discovered on social media.

A lil' help from Lil Wayne launched Nicki Minaj's career

Britannica reports that Minaj cut her teeth by making music on a local scale, working with fellow ambitious rappers hoping to make it. Crucially, she uploaded footage of some of her performances on Myspace, and they attracted a lot of local attention. Most importantly, per Biography, Fendi (the Dirty Money CEO) was immediately impressed by her talents, and she soon had a contract with the company.

As her fans know, it was Lil Wayne who really set Minaj up as a superstar. He soon signed her to his own label, because, as he explained to XXL in 2014, "I wanted a female. Every team needs a female to rep your gang... she just knocked it out the park from day one. She's just Nicki."

Billboard adds that she was, indeed, the first female to rep Young Money, and Lil Wayne helped her along the way to producing her first recordings. "Beam Me Up, Scotty" was a particular smash in 2009, and her debut album "Pink Friday" — "an ambitious, glossy stunner," per David Jeffries of AllMusic – arrived the following year. Since then, Minaj has gone on to tremendous success, and it seems she's only getting started.