Whether you don't get her or can't get enough, it's hard to deny that it's Nicki Minaj's time to shine. And Sunday night (November 28), days after the release of her major-label debut, Pink Friday, Minaj showed viewers of her MTV News documentary, "My Time Now," what life is really like in the spotlight.
Produced by much of the same team behind Minaj's Young Money labelmate Drake's June documentary, "Better Than Good Enough," the film follows the bewigged mic-ripper as she crafts her hotly anticipated album, which dropped on Monday. The curtains are pulled back on the "Right Thru Me" lyricist's hectic lifestyle as she closes in on the November 22 drop date, giving fans a rare glimpse of the Trinidadian-born, Queens MC born Onika Miraj as she grapples with her past and faces her promising future.
Journalists from magazines such as Spin and Rolling Stone comment on the perfect storm of hype that has accompanied the Young Money femcee's debut — Team Minaj's major presence on and off the Web, the impressive list of high-profile features — maintaining that the Queens spitter needs to churn out a pretty much flop-proof album, a task that Minaj readily rises to. With her favorite dried cranberries and almonds on standby — Minaj insists on snacking on the trail-mix ingredients while recording — viewers got an intimate look at the wordsmith in the studio as she crafted Pink Friday.
Fueling the Minaj mania are her turns on the awards-show stage, including her notable appearances at the 2010 BET Awards, which sparked debate over whether the Young Money diva was lip-synching. The chatter frustrates Minaj but ultimately the drama motivates her to really turn it out at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards pre-show, where she helmed her first solo televised performance alongside will.i.am.
"I've been led down a lot of dead-end roads," Minaj says candidly about her winding journey to hip-hop stardom, recounting pre-fame gigs as a waitress, customer-service rep and office manager. However, the "Your Love" MC didn't let the roadblocks shut down her dream, and her ferocity is evident in a scene where Minaj lays down the vocals for the Eminem collabo "Roman's Revenge."
"Roman is a crazy boy who lives in me and he says the things that I don't want to say. He was born just a few months ago. I think he was born out of rage," she explains of her disorderly alter ego Roman Zolanski, who fittingly trades bars with Em's belligerent Slim Shady persona on "Revenge." "He was conceived in rage so he bashes everyone and he threatens to beat people and he's violent."
Minaj also breaks down her writing process in the scene, explaining that whatever persona she invokes — whether it's the unchecked fury of Zolanski, the saccharine cheekiness of "Barbie" or the throaty, theatrical wails of Zolanski's mother — the words come to the MC organically.
"When I write a rap, like, my brain doesn't compute, 'Now write rap.' It doesn't. You just have to let it happen and just don't second-guess yourself too much and then it gets done," she says. "To me, music is spiritual, so it moves you in a weird way that you cannot teach in school. I'll hear a beat and words just start coming to me."
The "Check It Out" spitter also sounds off about the business behind the music. In one scene, Minaj rattles off a powerful invective about what she sees as unfair double standards for women in entertainment.
"When I am assertive, I'm a bitch. When a man is assertive, he's a boss. He bossed up. No negative connotation behind bossed up. But lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch," Minaj remarks, while going off about sub-par photo shoot amenities and getting visibly frustrated about an unnamed person who refuses to return a favor to Minaj. "Donald Trump can say you're fired. Let Martha Stewart run her company the same way and be the same way. [People will say], 'F---ing old evil bitch!' But Donald Trump, he gets to hang out with young bitches and have 50 different wives and just be cool. 'Oh, Donald, we love you, Donald Trump!' "
The assertive, no-nonsense Nicki is a side of the hip-hop star fans who've been following her since her "Come Up" DVD and Beam Me Up Scotty mixtape days are familiar with. But in "My Time Now," the Barbie army gets to check out the lyricist's more vulnerable side as she journeys to Trinidad for the first time in seven years for a concert. Minaj greets family members she hasn't seen in years without all of the fussy trappings of a global celebrity, sporting dark, straight locks and a T-shirt. Minaj squeals, enveloping excited relatives in warm embraces and catches up with her kin as they all pile up onto a couch in a swanky hotel. Later, she picks up the tab for a family shopping spree as rabid fans descend upon the mall for a shot of the hip-hop Barbie.
Raised by her grandmother while her parents laid the groundwork for a better life in the U.S., Minaj gets emotional in one scene as she remembers her late elder, who died before the young Nicki scored success. She faintly nods and struggles to hold back tears as she concedes her grandmother would be proud of her achievements, before quickly picking up a mirror to salvage her makeup.
"A lot of times, when you're from the islands, your parents leave and then send for you because it's easier when they have established themselves; when they have a place to stay, when they have a job. I thought it was gonna be for a few days, it turned into two years without my mother," she says of staying behind with relatives on the island nation.
She also speaks about her father's debilitating drug addiction, which rocked the youngster's Queens household.
"When you're on crack, you can't keep a job. And when you can't keep a job, you don't have money. And when you don't have money, you steal. And you steal from your family," she says.
Ultimately, Minaj's story ends on a note of triumph, as she cruises through a Long Island neighborhood in a chauffeured Maybach and tours the home she just purchased for her mother and younger brother, who she playfully ribs as they discuss paint colors, just like any other big sister.
"I am amazed at what I've seen in this film," Minaj said in a statement. She continued, "This film is my heart & soul. The visual component to Pink Friday. My fans are the most incredible humans on this planet. Words could never translate my gratitude. Thank you for standing by me. It's our time now."
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