Nicki Minaj, also known by her birth name, Onika Tanya Maraj-Petty grew up in Queens N.Y. amidst a troubled household.
As a young girl, Minaj developed alter egos in order to cope with her chaotic home life in bustling New York. Instead of rapping, she originally wanted to act and devoted a considerable amount of time to pursuing that craft until she realized her niche lay elsewhere.
In the gap between her acting and music careers, Minaj worked several steady jobs to support herself.
Imagination as an Escape
Minaj was born in Trinidad and Tobago then moved to the States when she was five years old. Her family settled in Queens, New York.
Her father was a supposedly a violent drug addict, who did immeasurable psychological damage to the family. Minaj created what she calls ‘alter egos’ to deflect the trauma of witnessing these age-inappropriate situations.
While she admits that her upbringing was not ideal, Minaj credits her early traumas as formative experiences:
It was during this time that Minaj cultivated her first alter ego, Cookie. Minaj remarks that Cookie was a manifestation that occurred as a result of necessary escapism: “To get away from all their fighting, I would imagine being a new person.”
Minaj’s first alter ego, Cookie, appeared in childhood and stuck with her while living in the family home. Her varied egos are defined by different personality traits, styles, likes, and dislikes.
Cookie, who was present throughout her teenage years, had a style that was bright and girly, in conjunction with a personality that was childlike and innocent.
The next major alter ego Minaj displayed was The Harajuku Barbie, also known as just Barbie. Barbie is one of her well-known egos and is a strident departure from the childlike innocence of Cookie.
The Barbie look is inspired by Japanese Harajuku, which is a cultural center of style and fashion. In this vein, Minaj has another ego, Chun-Li, whose origin is officially listed as ‘somewhere in China’.
As demonstrated in these personas, her visual style is at times very informed by Asian culture and influences. Harajuku Barbie is also known for her pastels, soft baby voice, and naive air.
Another particularly well known Minaj ego is Roman Zolanski. Roman is best known for being a vulgar and angry homosexual male from London.
Roman is also known for his blonde hair and erotic styling, based mostly in black. His character is foiled by yet another persona, his mother Martha Zolanski.
Martha is the overprotective and mild-mannered antithesis of the bad boy Roman. She is known for dressing in white generally and is styled like a fairy tale character.
The mother and son duo actually face off in the music video for “Roman’s Revenge“.
Minaj now utilizes the coping mechanisms she developed as a kid in order to introduce new stylings to her music. Through her alter egos, she conveys different rap flows and personality styles to her audiences.
Making a Living
Even with all the characters in her head, pre-fame Minaj still single-handedly had to work to support herself. She apparently had a variety of jobs from waitressing at Red Lobster to office managing; however, several sources say that her temper caused her to be fired from several of these positions.
During this time, Minaj was also working to be an actress before she discovered her rap prowess.
In 2001, she starred in the off-Broadway show, ‘In Case You Forget’ by Ben Snyder. The show was about teenage graffiti artists who lived in the Bronx; regrettably, there is no footage or photos of the production.
Paved Her Own Way
Minaj faced adversity and pursued ill-fated dreams before realizing her full potential in music. She now utilizes her alter egos in a way that is positive and fun, as opposed to their original distressing necessity.
She even worked a handful of ‘normal’ jobs before launching into stardom. Just like any ordinary person, she started out with next to nothing and was subsequently able to build a music empire.