Nicki Minaj: Artists To Watch 2010

Poet Says Nicki Minaj Should Have Message In Music
Jonathan Mannion

Nicki Minaj

Until Lil Wayne discovered Nicki Minaj on the DVD series "The Come Up" two years ago, nearly a decade had passed since a female rapper created much buzz in the music industry.

Minaj, born Onika Maraj, has appeared on albums by Gucci Mane, Mariah Carey and Robin Thicke; received nods from Jay-Z and Beyoncé; and been courted by the likes of rapper Game for future collaborations.

Listen to Nicki Minaj's "Ponytail"

Now, the bawdy, potty-mouthed MC from New York's Queens borough, who officially signed to Cash Money/Universal Motown Records through Lil Wayne's Young Money label in early 2009, is working on her as-yet-untitled debut with hopes of releasing it in the third quarter. Aside from her Young Money family, she hopes to work with producers Polow Da Don and J.R. Rotem on the set.

"I feel really blessed," the 24-year-old says. "This is my time, and it makes me feel like I need to deliver a classic album. I don't want to let people down that get excited about me, and I know it'll be great because I'm hard on myself, and I work hard."

With Wayne's blessings, Minaj has released three mixtapes since 2007, all featuring guest appearances from her label chief. "When I heard him say my name it was such an OMG moment for me," Minaj says of their first collaboration, a remake of Young Gunz' "Can't Stop, Won't Stop." "I wasn't big enough for someone of that caliber to notice. I didn't think it was my time yet. It was very surreal."

Now, as she prepares her solo debut, Minaj continues to show the world what the fuss is all about, working with Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Keri Hilson, Bobby Valentino and Ludacris. She also appears on the Young Money album "We Are Young Money," released Dec. 21 and distributed through Universal Motown.

But she still remains humbled by all the opportunities and the accolades. "I never thought I would be one of the girls in that elite female rap group," she says. "I'm just as shocked as everyone else."