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Hip-Hop Family Tree: Nicki Minaj's New York City

From Rolling Stone - September 6, 2017

Born Onika Maraj in Trinidad before moving to Queens, New York as a child, Nicki Minaj harbored artistic ambitions early in her life, and attended Fiorella H. LaGuardia High Schoolthe performing arts academy made famous in the movie Fame. After graduation, she toiled on the fringes of New York's music community. Her first break came when she worked with Full Force, the veteran R&B group and production team responsible for hits by Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, James Brown, UTFO and many others. She briefly performed in Hood$tars, a pop-rap group led by Full Force member Bowlegged Lou's son, Lou$tar. (It's also where she met her former fiance, Safaree Samuels.) She built her reputation through rugged freestyle performances on hood platforms like Smack DVD and The Come Up. It was on the latter where Lil Wayne discovered her, and he began mentoring her.

Nicki Minaj spent the next two years honing her style and image. She spit rhymes alongside street acts like Maino, Hell Rell, Red Caf, Ransom, Jadakiss, Ron Browz, Stack Bundles, French Montana, and Gravy. She traveled to Atlanta and recorded songs with Gucci Mane, an experience she'd later say was crucial to her development, as well as Soulja Boy, Yung Joc. In the process, she evolved from a hardcore New York spitter to a polymorphous, unpredictable artist that experiments with vocal tone and multiple identities. Her breakthrough arrived with her third mixtape, 2009's Beam Me Up Scotty, which generated her first Billboard charting hit, "I Get Crazy," and found her working with Lil Wayne's Young Money team like Drake, Jae Millz, and Weezy himself. An appearance on Birdman's Priceless paired her with the pioneering rapper Lil Kim.

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