Nicki Minaj debuted in 2007 with a mixtape called Playtime Is Over. She wasn’t kidding: From her kooky alter-egos to her wildly outspoken Queen Radio show on Apple Music, Minaj — the first and only woman to score 100 appearances on the Billboard Hot 100 — has redefined success for women in hip-hop this decade. Yet Billboard’s inaugural Game-Changer isn’t done yet. “I’m a perfectionist and love topping myself,” says Minaj, 37, “so as long as I love music, I’ll always be doing that.”
How do you think you have changed the game?
I had an approach that had a lot of different layers. I first got the underground market and my hometown [on lock]. Then I gradually worked my way up. One of the things that I used [to my advantage] was my ability to switch my flow and be entertaining on a track. And even before I was doing music, I loved looking at magazines to see who was setting trends.
You tweeted this fall that you were going to retire and start a family.
I love music and interacting with fans, so I can’t really see taking myself completely away. But I want to be open to other possibilities in my life. I do believe it is important to become a woman outside of the magnifying glass. I have to make sure that I’m well-rounded as a human being.
It seems like your connection with your fans has really blossomed on social media.
My relationship with my fans is very unique. I’m very playful and sarcastic with them. I just feel like they know the real me because a lot of them have been with me for a long time. They know me beyond the mask that other people sometimes see me through. Because of that, it makes me more vulnerable with them. We just have a really unbreakable bond.
Will you keep expanding your business empire — which also includes your MYX Fusions liquor company and a Fendi partnership?
Oh my goodness, yes. I plan on venturing out a million times more than I am now. That was always my goal: to become a big businesswoman. I don’t want to be in such a lucrative industry and not capitalize on it — everyone else does it. [With Fendi], they ended up reaching out to my team to work on the collaboration after I put out [Queen single] “Chun Li.” I was blown away and honored. I went to Milan and met with everyone there. They allowed me to play with fabrics and look at what they were planning for their next line. I didn’t expect it to be this massive — I’m really proud of it!
In the past year, Queen Radio has become a can’t-miss event.
It’s another thing I didn’t expect to be so big. I went in blindly: “I’m just going to get on the mic and talk to my fans. It can’t be that hard.” But it takes a lot of energy. You have to be willing to be very honest and have a backbone. Queen Radio is beginning to set trends as well. There’s definitely going to be a lot more artists running into that [lane] really soon. If I can get it to a place where everyone looks forward to it every time, then I feel like I’m doing the right thing.
Thinking back to when you first released Playtime Is Over, what advice would you give to that girl from Jamaica, Queens?
I would tell her to calm down! (Laughs.) But then again, if I knew that I was going to raise the bar, maybe I wouldn’t have gone that hard. I wouldn’t change anything, to be honest. My drive and hunger is what made me become the workaholic that I am. Everything was just spontaneous — I didn’t know what to expect, it was more fun that way.