Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj might have been born in Trinidad and raised in Jamaica, Queens, but the 25-year-old rapper and one-woman style tornado makes music like she comes from another planet. Minaj’s Harajuku Barbie aesthetic and penchant for autographing the breasts of her devoted female fans notwithstanding, she is arguably one of the strongest female voices to emerge in hip-hop in the last decade. “I don’t mind being called a weirdo,” says Minaj. “There are a lot of people in hip-hop who are probably never going to get what I do. But, by just being myself, I end up touching a lot more people who might never have paid much attention to a female rapper.” Minaj has worked hard to establish her own voice, writing all her own material and not leaning on sex appeal. “I made a conscious decision to try to tone down the sexiness,” she says. “I want people—especially young girls—to know that in life, nothing is going to be based on sex appeal. You’ve got to have something else to go with that.” It was Minaj’s oversize personality and kaleidoscopic raps that drew the attention of her new friend and mentor Lil Wayne, who signed her to his Young Money label in 2009. Since then, Minaj’s progress on her hotly anticipated debut album, Massive Attack (due out this fall), has been slowed only by her popularity as a collaborator. She’s popped up on tracks for artists such as Usher, Robin Thicke, and Mariah Carey. “One of the biggest highlights of this year was being onstage with Jeezy, Wayne, and Drake in the middle of Jay-Z’s set at Madison Square Garden,” says Minaj. “And not only did we do a song together, but I was in a video with Mariah Carey! I still haven’t gotten over that!”

Photos: Nicki Minaj in Los Angeles, April 2010. Dress: Gia Lee. Bracelets: Ben-Amun. Shoes: Gucci. fragrance: gucci by gucci. Styling: Fatima B. Hair: Terrence Davidson. Makeup: Day/Buddhaflyy. Special Thanks: The Association and Industrial Color.