Nicki Minaj: 'I Have to Be Amazing'

Interview with rapper Nicki Minaj after her very secret show at 30 Days in LA.
Nicki Minaj at 30 Days in LA
Nicki Minaj at 30 Days in LA © Grizz
By Rebecca Haithcoat

LOS ANGELES — The pair of peacock blue, six-inch Christian Louboutin stilettos looks even more imposing off Nicki Minaj’s doll-like feet. Perched on a swiveling makeup chair in her dressing room deep in the Teragram Ballroom in downtown LA, Minaj has slipped out of them, and no wonder. Walking in those shoes is hard enough, but she just finished dancing, strutting, patting her butt and snapping verse after verse after verse in them onstage for the past hour and a half.

There are very few true surprises in life, and anticipation of that feeling seemed to be why the tickets for last night’s final Red Bull Sound Select Presents: 30 Days in LA sold out in under a minute, even though the headliner remained a secret until she stepped out from the wings. A ribbon of electricity had run through the crowd, and strangers chatted each other up, taking turns guessing who the special guest might be. No leaks hissed around the room, though, and when the two metallic fuchsia thumbprints appeared onscreen, people pressed forward, eager. Dimples popping and Barbie-pink jewel-encrusted microphone twinkling, Minaj had slinked out slowly, even a little shyly.

Was she scared?

“It’s a little more nerve-wracking, because you don’t know if they have any guess or clue that it’s you. Once they know it’s you, you don’t know if they’re gonna be happy that it’s you!” she says after the show, flipping a lock of hair over her shoulder and erupting in her signature trill of laughter. A little press-wary at first, she quickly warms up — and even caps the interview by posing with us in a selfie. Below is our chat about who excites her, why she writes and rewrites her verses multiple times and women being bosses. Have you ever played a secret show before? How’s it different from a performance where everybody knows it’s Nicki Minaj coming out?

Nicki Minaj: I have, and it’s always like, hmm, let’s see what energy comes with this. When it’s a great energy like tonight, it’s just a blessing.

Does it remind you of the early days of your career?

Yes, actually, yeah, that’s a good question. I used to play small venues like this all the time. It’s intimate, it’s fun, I can get very personal with people and feel very one-on-one. It’s nice energy for a change.

Nicki Minaj at 30 Days in LA
Nicki Minaj at 30 Days in LA © Grizz

It seemed like you were making lots of eye contact. How does being that intimate with a crowd affect you? Does it make you more nervous or more comfortable?

Actually, it felt more comfortable today. Of course when you go out in front of 16,000 people, it’s like, "Oh my God." And then you know you’re on a big jumbo screen behind you, and you know they can see every little thing. So when it’s like this, you kinda feel like it’s family, like you’re in your living room.

Tinashe played a 30 Days in LA show and I know she opened for you on your tour. What makes a good show, a good performer?

Well, I think what makes a good performer is you really connect with the people, no matter what. I usually have dancers in back of me, and I feel great when I can come out with no dancers and still have people jumping around and excited and dancing and happy. I think a great performance leaves you feeling happy and feeling a new connection or a new awareness about that artist that you didn’t have before.

Do you have any favorite artists right now, or predictions about who’s gonna break next year?

I’m enjoying The Weeknd’s music right now. He’s already broken this year. But I’m really enjoying him overall, just his vibe, his tone, what he’s contributing to the culture.

What advice do you have for new artists?

New artists … try your best to be yourself. Try your best to ENJOY yourself. But make sure you keep your mind on your money and your money on your mind. [Laughs]

Nicki Minaj at 30 Days in LA
Nicki Minaj at 30 Days in LA

You set a good example, especially for women in business who want to be in control of their careers. I really appreciate that as a woman who’s running her own life.

Yeah. Shout out to all the go-getters out there, the women that are determined to make it, determined to chase their dreams and to become more than what people predicted. I’m a big fan of women who venture out and do more than people possibly thought they could do. Women who’ve been told no, just sit back, sit in the back, you don’t have to do that much, you don’t have to be the top, you don’t have to be the boss. And those women make me excited. They inspire me. And that’s what I wanna do. I wanna inspire girls and other women that need some sort of inspiration that’s it never too late to become dynamic and exceptional in whatever you do.

How should new artists work on themselves, work on developing their talent?

I think you have to make sure you’re not lazy. Even now, I still rewrite verses five and six and seven and eight and nine and ten times. Because I want it to be perfect. Don’t rest on our laurels. Keep trying, as if it’s your first day on the job. That’s how I think of it. When it comes to creating, I always feel like, wait a minute, I can’t take any shortcuts. I have to be amazing, this has to be great, people have to love this, people have to know I spent quality time on it. That’s my motto.

What’s exciting you creatively, what do we have to look forward to from you next year?

A lot of acting. "Barbershop" is coming out. It’s their third one, and I’m happy to be a big part of this one. My fans are gonna looooove this. People who aren’t my fans are gonna love this. It’s so amazingly written, the comic timing is so epic, the writing is so great. The cast is so well thought out and well put together. I’m gonna work on another movie! I haven’t said much about that. And of course my TV show will be coming out. I’m excited to introduce the world to the young Nicki. I think we’ve already met her, actually. I found two little girls I’m super excited about. It’s gonna be a lot of fun.

More: Red Bull Sound Select Presents: 30 Days in LA

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