Nicki Minaj Bio (Circa 2008)

Take a look at the confidence, sex appeal and lyrical strength of Nicki Minaj, and it’s no wonder that Lil Wayne wanted her to be the face of Young Money.

Singing hooks for other artists early on, the Queens native’s career as an emcee started about a year ago. Fendi, the CEO of Brooklyn label Dirty Money Records, heard the tracks on Nicki’s MySpace page and had to contact her to put her on his The Come Up DVD series.

“My whole thing was, I didn’t want to go to anybody. I wanted to heat up the streets first, and have them come to me,” Nicki remembers. “I was so out of the loop with the whole underground DVD circuit. I just met some dude named Fendi, heard about a DVD called The Come Up and I hopped on it.”

This installment of The Come Up was “The Carter Edition,” and had segments with Lil Wayne and Jay-Z, and Nicki’s video immediately proceeded Wayne’s. The emcee du jour, who was putting together his Young Money crew at the time, was so impressed by the video that he immediately began pursuing her for the label.

“I always liked him,” she says. “So for him to turn around and see me and like me? It’s almost like it was meant to happen.”

Wayne and Nicki linked up through Fendi, and the two have been recording ever since. Nicki would later appear on the “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” freestyle on Wayne’s critically-hailed mixtape Da Drought 3.

But Sucka Free: The Mixtape is all Nicki. “Baddest Bitch” sees her showcasing nimble-tongued shit-talking while also singing her own hook, and on “Brraaatttt,her hardnosed verses (“I leave clips in ya head like a beautician,” she quips) have no problem keeping up with those of fellow East Coast emcee Ransom. “High As A Kite” shows the potential of the future of Young Money, as Nicki and Wayne rhyme each ooze with the swagger that embodies the label.

“Everything is true to my New York essence, but it’s something you’re not used to hearing from female rappers,” she says. “It’s all about the swag. I never look at what people are saying, I look at their aura—do I want to hang with them, do I want to go to a club with them?”

Nicki has a clear understanding of how things work for being so new in the industry. While her witty lyrics and engaging delivery already equip her to rap circles around both her male and female peers, she also realizes that her looks are what’s going to catch eyes: the double-sided promo poster for Sucka Free shows a bikini-clad Nicki squatting, while seductively licking a lollipop.

“There’s a place and deal for everyone in the business. You have to know your niche and be confident in that, take it and go,” she unapologetically states. “I know my lane is probably going to be ‘sex sells,’ but at the end of the day, I know I’ve got skills. And if that’s my niche, I don’t have a problem saying that that’s my thing.”