From the Wonderland archive: we spoke to the all-conquering Pink Lady as she released her second album, Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.

Nicki Minaj Wonderland Cover Photographer Matt Irwin

This interview first appeared in Issue 29 of Wonderland, Feb/March 2012.

Nicki Minaj’s people really, really don’t want me to ask her about her bottom. Or about her feud with Lil’ Kim. They are so worried about these topics that they text, email and call to remind me not to talk about them. But, intriguing as her booty and her beef are, happily there are even more mind-boggling things to ask Minaj about. Specifically, how over the last year she’s become one of the most famous women in the world. The kind of famous, in fact, that – aha – demands outrageously lengthy, luxurious and diva-ishly precise riders on photoshoots for magazines, it turns out.

With visions of the specifically demanded silverware being insufficiently polished, or the waffles being not quite well-cooked enough, I’m almost scared to ask her how the shoot went. But she pronounces it “one of my favourite shoots I’ve ever done – I swear, for real” and enthuses about the bathing suit shots in particular.

Nonetheless, it’s clear she likes to be in charge in this sort of situation. “Yeah, I’m definitely a control freak.” But that’s a good thing? “Absolutely! You gotta take control of your career and your image – who else should take control of it, right?”

As Minaj has shot to superstardom, the former seems increasingly inseparable from the latter. This isn’t to disparage her talent – none of us are ever going to forget her chorus on Kanye’s ‘Monster’ in a hurry, nor her platinum-certified debut album Pink Friday – but her pinkified, eye-popping, cartoonish outrageousness, as well as the whole Minaj world of Barbz and Ken-Barbz and alter-egos seem to be spiralling into infinity, making her unique position as a Woman in Hip-Hop ever more curious. I interviewed Minaj back in 2010, just before Pink Friday was released. Back then she gave the impression of being just a little bit freaked out by how huge she was about to become. Right now, before the release of album number two, she only wants to get bigger and bigger.

Did your last year pan out how you wanted?

Absolutely. I could not have asked for anything more than what’s happened. It was a slow build but it just kind of exploded at the end of the cycle and I’m really thankful for it. I feel now I have a grasp of who I am, more so than two years ago.

Wow! When we first met I was amazed at how much of a sense of self you had already.

There’s definitely a lot more!

In what ways?

Well, when I get in the studio now I don’t second guess myself like I used to. There were so many things on this album that I just did in one take and I left it. There were so many things that I just freestyled. I felt like my fans totally get it now – they totally get me and they’re the only ones that matter. I have a certain connection with them, a certain sense of humour with them that only they understand. A lot of the things I recorded have that same sense of humour. I think that when you hear it you’ll definitely hear a shift in confidence and you’ll hear a lot more humour.

Does that mean more alter-egos? 

Yes! There’s one that’s going to be very famous and that’s Saint John Paul The Third. And he’s on a song called “Roman Holiday” and he meets Roman [Zolanski, one of Minaj’s alter egos] and he’s the member of a choir and he basically tries to rehabilitate Roman along with Martha.

Where do these people come from? Does it start with the voice?

They usually come into being with a voice and then I name them and then I sort of try to create who this person is in relation to my other characters. It just kind of becomes one weird maze!

Has the fact that lots of your fans are really young surprised you?

Yeah, it did surprise me. But when the album came out I didn’t really have an idea of who my core was going to be, I just went along and I was just having a good time. But now that I see the fans are very young at times… it’s a lot of the reason why I censored myself on the first album – I felt that I had to. There’s going to be a clean version of every explicit song that I put out and if a parent wants to get it they can get the clean version and the kids can still have it on.

Do you think about having kids of your own?

Of couuuuuurse! Oh my God. I’m like, already a mother in my head. I loooove, love children. I don’t know why. But children make me very happy. Speaking to children you can learn some of the most fascinating things in a very simple and honest way. It’s one of my favourite things to do, is speak to children; I just really love how they can express them- selves without having gone to college and having life experience.They’re just able to look at things in a way that just kind of puts everything into perspective. And it’s just an honest reaction.You won’t get a thought-out reaction and that’s what I love.

You surprised Sophia Grace, the toddler who became a viral hit after her cover of “Super Bass”, on the Ellen show. That must have been a 2011 highlight?

I definitely think the Ellen DeGeneres moment was amazing. I love children and I have a weird connection to children, so to see a little kid that was from another country put out my rap and sing my song with this amazing confidence and tenacity… wow. I never had any idea that it would be such a big deal, to be completely honest. I just thought, you know, we’ll make a little girl’s day and that will be it. I had no idea it was going to become such a huge phenomenon the way it did.

How do you deal with this level of fame? What keeps you sane?

It’s crazy because the way I see myself, I feel like I experience a personal calm, you know, a personal peace that I’ve just been able to gravitate to recently. But I don’t really look at myself as a big star, to be completely honest and maybe this has a lot to do with me coming up on the underground circuit. But I always feel like, oh my God, I still have so much to do, I still have so much work to do and so I guess that makes me continue to be hungry. I don’t vacation, I don’t really party, because I’m always feeling like I have to get to that finish line. I just feel this weird thing inside of me that keeps on saying: “You haven’t done enough, you have to give more, you have to do more.” So I guess maybe I won’t see the success until ten years from now, you know? I’ve always been like that though. I’m kind of always in the future thinking, ‘well what needs to be done now?’

So do you ever allow yourself to take a little moment to feel proud or excited?

No. It’s kind of sad. I really don’t. I really, really don’t. I just don’t know, it’s not in my genetic right now… because to me, when I stop, when I’ve stopped in the past and kind of just lived in the moment then that’s when I got the rug pulled from under me. So now it’s like you can’t, you can’t let up.

Is the Nicki who goes home and takes her make-up off at the end of the day a very different person from the on-stage Nicki?

Oh they’re definitely two completely different people. Obviously what I would wear at home is not what I would wear up on stage and I think, when I’m at home it’s a way more introspective character and I think the person people see on stage is anything but.

I find it hard to imagine you doing normal, boring things…

Well, I watch a lot of Judge Judy. And I watch a lot of Forensic Files. And I cook – I cook spaghetti really, really good; I cook macaroni and cheese really, really good; I cook chicken really, really good.

What’s the best thing you’ve bought yourself?

I want to hear that you’re enjoying your wealth! Well probably my most Barbalicious thing is my pink Bentley. But it’s kind of crazy because I’ve also been wearing this vintage Barbie jacket and my Bar- bie chain so I’m completely whoring myself out right now on Barbie.

And of course you had your own Barbie made of you, right?

Yesss! Oh my goodness, yes. That is every girl’s dream. That’s like: wow, big deal. It’s a one-of-a-kind doll. I was just so honoured to do something with Mattel. I mean, they change everyone’s life. They are a staple of our culture. Barbie gets a lot of love but she also gets a lot of shit.

NIcki Minaj for Wonderland ph. Matt Irwin 2

How would you come to her defense?

I feel like Barbie is great because it doesn’t only focus on beauty – you have Barbies that work, they have tons of different jobs now. And they come in different shades, which I love, and different hairstyles. So I think that they’ve gotten to the point where they’re making girls feel like it’s OK not to look like or be like the traditional Barbie. Now in terms of a body image, even male action figure dolls are cut up more than the average man – it’s just how people make dolls!

Nicki Minaj for Wonderland ph. Matt Irwin 3

Now, I know you love London…

I was born in London in my past life, no one can tell me different. I probably was like a queen in London, I was probably the people’s queen that fought for lives… and I probably started off as a maid and then was just, like, really revolutionary and moved all my Barbz into the big queen mansion. That sounds about right to me.

Have you had much time off while you’re there?

Well this time when I come back I’m going to have more of a moment. I didn’t really get to do any sightseeing. The best part when I came this last time was the fact that the Barbz waited outside the hotel and were rapping songs and I could hear them and I really fed off that energy, I really appreciated that love. It will forever be the place where I got the warmest welcome in my career.

What’s the craziest thing a fan has ever done?

Well I think the most extreme thing is when I see people with tattoos of my name or my face. I have this weird connection to them because that’s some real over-the-top, passionate love for someone. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old to me, I always do a double take and I’m always in shock.

Anyone you’d consider getting a tattoo of?

Jada Pinkett. I was so obsessed with her. It’s so ironic how the world works because I had been obsessed with Jada Pinkett and then ten or 15 years later, whatever it is, I’m doing a song with her daughter. Who would have known!?

You must have had a lot of who-would-have-known moments by now – have you got used to them?

I really haven’t gotten used to anything at this point. It’s happening so quickly. Why do you think you have had such huge success – what is it about you and your music do you think?You know what, I have to say that my Barbz are so passionate that it’s beyond the music – it’s more about a culture and a movement. My movement is sort of larger than life, because of my fans. They’re so passionate and they don’t let up. They’re amazing people and they really believe in me.

When you have a gang of people that really, really believe in you and they’re really, really out there spreading the word it’s almost impossible to lose because all you have to do is follow up with music that people can understand and feel and there you have it. You know, two years ago when I was doing interviews before I was famous, I was saying I don’t want to be boxed in. When this album comes out they definitely won’t know what kind of category to put me in.

Nicki Minaj for Wonderland photographed Matt Irwin

Words: Hermione Hoby (Follow Hermione on Twitter @hermionehoby)
Images: Matt Irwin