Nicki Minaj, in Conversation With Jada Pinkett Smith

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We, the Queen’s loyal subjects, have loved Nicki Minaj for nearly two decades. To this day, my Barb chip fully activates every time “Itty Bitty Piggy” comes on; like, you could play it at my grandma’s funeral, and I would immediately forget about my grief and the arthritis in my knees, and drop it low with the dexterity of a girl trying to win amateur night at Magic City. Yes sis, it really is that deep.

In this Pink Table Talk with fellow luminary Jada Pinkett Smith, the Queen—always vulnerable, candid, humorous, and emotionally intellectual, sheds light on her continuous reign, the rewards and pitfalls of hard work, and a certain stark epiphany: Through a feminist lens, the female sex symbol is also always a symbol of motherhood, too.

From rap ingénue, to entrepreneur and mogul, to fashion icon, and most currently, sitting comfortable and beautiful in her new role as a full-time wife and mother, Nicki Minaj has always captivated us with her sense of playfulness, limitless imagination, and her greatest superpower—the ability to shape-shift and dream into existence whatever she wishes to be. Long live the Queen, y’all. —BRONTEZ PURNELL 




PINKETT SMITH: Hey Nicki. How are you?

MINAJ: Hi, mama. Thank you so much for doing this. I just want to make it crystal clear how honored I am. 

PINKETT SMITH: It’s such a pleasure. When I found out you were having a baby and going into that passage of your life, I was like, “Man, I can’t wait to chat with her.” First of all, let’s start with big congrats to you coming out the box with this number one hit [“Super Freaky Girl”] that’s at the top of the charts already. Does that feel good?

MINAJ: It feels so, so, so, so good because everything happened so fast, like the pregnancy and COVID. I wasn’t sure how I was even feeling about having to put out an album this year, but that song happening and people liking it, that made me happy. People have gone through so much recently that they want to have fun. It’ll probably expedite the album to come out this year.

PINKETT SMITH: Got it, got it. Well, I definitely want to talk to you a little bit about being a mom. [Laughs] How has that been? What are some of the surprises that you’ve had as far as becoming a mother? What has that brought up for you?

MINAJ: It’s funny that you asked what that’s brought up for me because nobody’s ever asked me that. Let me address that before I forget. I see myself as a baby in my son and because of that, it reminds me of moments that I had probably forgotten over time, just of me being a toddler in Trinidad. First of all, being a mother is the biggest freaking blessing on planet earth. I’m so happy that god allowed me to experience this. I’ve always loved children and I’ve always been great with children, but in the last few years I started thinking, I know it’s going to be a huge shift for me because I’m used to going wherever I want, whenever I want, and I knew having a baby was going to change all that. But I absolutely love it. I love my son so much that I don’t know if it’s normal, but it seems unhealthy because I took too long to start working and leaving him to be watched by anyone, so now I have this real bad separation anxiety. So that’s not good.


MINAJ: If it wasn’t during COVID, it would’ve been different, but I was afraid to bring people around him when he was a tiny, tiny baby—nannies that are going back home and stuff. But the other reason I brought up the second part of your question is because my son is about to be 2, and when I was 2 years old, my parents left me in Trinidad. Of course, I was very attached to my mother, and in my little toddler mind, I thought I was going to see her the next day. And she was gone for two years, so that’s a big part in my development.


MINAJ: In fact, right before I came to the States, my mother had to come to Trinidad because I had to have an operation. And when I opened my eyes from the operation, and I was maybe 3 years old going on 4, I started crying because I didn’t know who this lady was. I was crying at the side of my mother, and I started begging my cousin, who was a teenager, to come be in the room with me because that’s who I had gotten attached to in the year-and-a-half prior, you know? So I’m reliving all of those things now because I’m afraid that my son will ever feel that I left him for anything, for any reason, and for any amount of time.

PINKETT SMITH: I understand that. It’s so funny how when we have our own children, we are so focused on making sure that they don’t have to relive some of the challenges that we might have had as kids. But I want to let you know that there’s nothing unusual about adoring your child in a way that you don’t want to be away from them. I was the same way with mine.

MINAJ: Really?

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah, girl! I sure was! I didn’t want to leave them ever. I don’t want you to think that something’s weird about that. Especially for those of us who’ve had our own challenging childhoods. We just want to love them deeply and have them know that they’re loved. But that kind of precious connection is so special. And let me tell you, there’s only a small amount of time that your son is going to be two.

MINAJ: Right, right, right! 

PINKETT SMITH: Don’t feel bad about wanting to cherish this. There’s nothing unusual about that. And I love hearing that you’re having that experience. I just love that for you, Nicki, I really do.

MINAJ: Thank you, Jada. 

PINKETT SMITH: One of the greatest gifts we have is being mothers. And with this single that I heard too, I was like, “Wow, okay. So Nicki is now married, she’s now a mother,” but you are not afraid to still be Nicki Minaj. And I want to tell you, because that can be challenging for us as women: Sometimes when we become mothers, people are like, “Oh, now that’s all you are.” So when I saw you come out the box at number one, I was like, “Okay, she figured out how to approach her art.” It’s like, “No, no, no. This is the place. I am still a woman.” Talk to me a little bit about being able to protect that space for yourself, to be the artist you want to be, to be the woman you want to be.

MINAJ: Can you do all of my interviews for the rest of my life because listen, oh my god. Okay. Here’s the truth that I would not have revealed to anyone but you. The truth is, the video is about to come out and I haven’t even shown it to my husband. Normally I share everything with him. I’ve said this many times, but we grew up in the same neighborhood and he’s five years older than me. I was, I think, 17 years old when I met him, so he was 21 or 22. I’ve known him for a long time, so because of that we are really good friends and I never feel fear to share anything with him. But this video, I haven’t shared it. And it’s because—oh god, how do I say this— I’m big on respect and loyalty, but at the same time, I do feel that for the last couple of years, I have been leaning more towards wife and mom. And I feel like either you’re going to do it or not. So I had this conversation with myself and I had it with him as well, but it’s like, I don’t know how to be a watered-down Nicki Minaj. I just can’t do it!

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PINKETT SMITH: [Laughs] MINAJ: When I was pregnant I couldn’t even record certain songs. That body was very uncomfortable for me, number one. And then you have the baby, and your body’s going through all these changes and mentally you’re going through it. It was difficult for me to write on the whole.


MINAJ: But then this song came along and because I didn’t approach it in a sexual way, I approached it in a fun way, it’s like I tapped back into who I was. People might not get this from me, but I was never trying to be sexy, I always was laughing. I think that I can look sexy, but I don’t think of myself as a person that is—you know how some women walk into the room and they’re just like, “Ooh.” I’m not like that.

PINKETT SMITH: [Laughs] I totally understand, Nicki!

MINAJ: Okay, good. So because of that, after a few years I had forgotten who I was because I was only reading who people were saying I was. And then it dawned on me like, “Wait a minute. When you were saying your sexually explicit lyrics before, Onika [Minaj was born Onika Tanya Maraj], you weren’t trying to be serious. You weren’t trying to turn people on. You were trying to be funny and goofy and stupid. Like, just tap back into you.” You know? And so that’s how I approached “Super Freaky Girl.”


MINAJ: And then, I figured it out again. It’s like, “Yo, I can be both.” Because at the same time, I’m very goofy with my son. I do nothing but animated voices with my son all day to the point where I need to stop! [Laughs]


MINAJ: So he knows that momma is goofy and kooky. And so I still felt true to myself on “Super Freaky Girl.” As opposed to, a lot of people were sending me songs, Jada, a lot of female rappers, especially, and I didn’t want to be mean, but every other word was “pussy” and “fucking” and da da da, and I wasn’t there. I don’t think I can ever fully be there.


MINAJ: But also, I don’t think the new female rappers really understand who I am. A lot of the girls that came before me, they really were those sexual beings, and I was so inspired by them. But I’m not like that, I’m more the goofy girl. Even some of the new male rappers—I turned down a Gunna song because it was just moaning and groaning on the track, but Drake ended up doing it and it worked great for them. And free Gunna by the way, I have to make sure I say that. But it’s just like, I told her I’m not there. I said, “Look, sweetheart, I’ve put this song on 50 times to try to write to it. I can’t. I’m just not in that moment right now.” Not saying that I’m not a freak with my husband, you understand?

PINKETT SMITH: Right. Of course!

MINAJ: I’m not saying that at all, okay? But I don’t choose to express the sexual side right now in that overt way.

PINKETT SMITH: I understand that. I think people who haven’t had children don’t realize what it takes for us to really step into some different shoes to stay connected to the woman. So I get it. As we get older as women, we get more comfortable in being what we are.

MINAJ: Yes! Oh my god. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. You tend to think you’re going to be feeling worse when you’re in your late thirties or early forties, or you think when you’re about to be 40 years old, “Oh, I’m going to feel like shit,” and then you end up feeling amazing.

PINKETT SMITH: [Laughs] Yes! Because you get to a place where you get full acceptance of yourself. And just hearing you when you were like, “When I was coming up people thought these things about me and what have you.” It’s like, “Okay, maybe I’ll play that role. I’ll try that skin on for a minute.” It sounds to me like you’ve tried on different skins and you’re starting to find the skin that is yours, defined and shaped by your hand and your understanding, so that’s real dope.

MINAJ: Yeah.

PINKETT SMITH: Where do you feel like the state of hip-hop is right now, as a whole, but specifically for women?

MINAJ: I wish there was some more singing. I remember listening to Monica’s first album, for instance, and I couldn’t put it down. Or, of course, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Now, what happened was that we introduced this guy who was a really great rapper, but he has great melodies, and his name is Drake. And then the industry has changed so much in that, “Well, if I could be a rapper and I could get the same reaction that the R&B singers used to get from the girls, then I don’t even have to know how to sing. I could have the best of both worlds.” The biggest male rappers now are giving the best melodies. I always say Lil Baby, for instance, his melodies are freaking dope. He’s not a singer, but he’s got catchy hooks and melodies out the wazoo, and it’s like, “Oh my god, I see the switch.” I remember when [Lil] Wayne had started singing, whether it was in his rock era or after. Some people liked it and some people didn’t, but he was singing and using autotune. So I think over time, because the quote-unquote “rapper” or the “hood” person has always been more appealing to us, and when I say to us,I mean to us. Now it’s like, that’s who everybody wants to be. So now, the singers went out of style. But I wish the singers were back in style. Right now when I go to listen to music and I just want to be in my little somber place, even that used to inspire me as a writer of raps, which is crazy. Do you know what I mean?

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MINAJ: But can I tell you the truth, Jada? What I’m seeing now is that so many new artists are trying to become the person they looked up to instead of giving us a new flavor! And it’s irking the crap out of me! I know I could see so much talent in some of the new artists, females, males, whatever. But they lose me when I’m seeing the person who they are trying to be like or sound like more than I’m seeing who they are.


MINAJ: And so if I’m hearing too much of that artist who already has hits out, when I’m finished listening to your song or watching your performance, I’m going to go and play that artist. I’m not going to go and look more into you, because you’ve just reminded me so much of the other person. Now you just woke up all the other hits that they had in my head, and it’s later for you. 


MINAJ: When I started falling in love with rap, I felt like everybody was their own unique thing. Whether it was the Jay-Zs and the DMXs or the Wu-Tang Clans or the Nases or the Pacs or the Biggies. Even the female rappers, whether it was Eve, MC Lyte, who I’ve always loved, even Left Eye’s voice was so unique, to Salt-N-Pepa. [Lil] Kim and Foxy [Brown] never even sounded alike to me. Everyone had their own thing.

PINKETT SMITH: You had to. 

MINAJ: Right! You had to! Because think about it, we had a magazine that we might see our favorite person on. We couldn’t just go and binge mad photos on their Instagram and see their personal life and see this and see that. So you had to stand out. You might be in one photo in the magazine for the next couple of months, you know? 


MINAJ: I don’t know what’s happening, but I want to urge all the new artists to just believe in yourself, trust that you are that superstar that you loved coming up, and get that something special! Please! For god’s sake! [Laughs]

PINKETT SMITH: [Laughs] I so get that! A little birdie told me how you are so savvy in terms of how you handle your business, but before I get to that I want to know if there’s anyone out there—artist or otherwise, that you feel like offers you any inspiration creatively or with how they handle their business.

MINAJ: Of course, there are always people out there inspiring me. Let’s see. Do you want to know what’s so funny? This might be very odd, but I just stumbled upon this guy, his name is Skeng. One day I’m on TikTok and I heard this song and I went on YouTube to listen to it more, and I ended up going to song after song from this guy. I already love dancehall, but it’s been a minute since a new male dancehall artist stood out to me.


MINAJ: What inspired me was he isn’t trying to be like anyone. I loved how freaking raw it was. And his sound was just so different. People may not know him yet but they will. The other person that inspired me was BIA. She’s a female rapper and I ended up remixing her song. And she inspired me because of her voice, Jada. And not only was her voice different, but it was her flow and choice of words. Normally when I listen to a female rapper, I know what line they’re about to rhyme. But with her, when I heard “Whole Lotta Money,” what made me want to remix that song was that she was talking about stuff that I don’t hear girls talking about. Then in terms of business, of course I always note Jay-Z for being a pioneer that spear-headed his own vision and showed us that we could be moguls and business owners outside of hip-hop.

PINKETT SMITH: I have to agree with you there. And I heard that you yourself are really savvy with your business. We’re first generation, so I want to know, how did you get financially literate and why was it important for you to have ownership in that way? Because that’s not a given. How did you educate yourself in regards to how to handle your business?

MINAJ: I guess you just learn as you go, you don’t really get a formal lecture about it. But it’s always in you. Since I was young, I always loved the idea of common sense, number one, and women being in charge of their destiny. I always thought that was important. I loved hearing about queens from any part of the world, how they did their thing, and how they got to where they got.


MINAJ: I vowed I would never be one of these Black women, these men, these Black rappers that make all this money and then have nothing to leave for their kids. I would promise my family since I was a kid, “I’m going to get rich and buy you a house.” I had all these big dreams, but it was always important to me what I was going to leave behind. So even though I’m not even halfway where I’m trying to go financially, I know that no one is going to be on top of my stuff more than me. And I feel like as women, people always assume that they can play with you, for lack of a better term, and I just can’t have that. I have to leave something behind because we work hard. Yo, this industry, it takes so much out of you mentally, man. And to do all of this and then not have anything to show for it? I refuse.

PINKETT SMITH: I love hearing that. So let’s talk about that for a minute, just how challenging and how hard it can be because I think a lot of times people look at the glamour side of it, and don’t recognize how hard artists like yourself work. So let’s talk about some of the sacrifices that you have to make.

MINAJ: Oh my god. Well, I would’ve definitely spent a lot more time with my family. I think people take that for granted. People take for granted that they wake up every day and hang out with their parents or siblings. They don’t realize that as an artist, if you are on tour for six months or a year, and then prior to that, you’re rehearsing, and then prior to that, you’re taking care of everything else, it leaves very little time to do all those fun things. But I guess, you could either have one or the other.


MINAJ: It’s a rea-deal sacrifice, especially as a woman. For instance, when you go outside, you have to be on. If for one second that smile is not on your face, you’ll get called every word in the book.

PINKETT SMITH: There you go. 

MINAJ: You could be having a real human moment—nothing matters! They will say the most horrendous things about you. So imagine dealing with personal changes, private things, and then when you go out and be around people, you have to keep a fake smile plastered on your face because if not, you have to go back home and read a bunch of horrible stuff written about you on the internet. So on top of what you were already going through, now you have idiots all over the internet saying horrible things about you. Prime example is the actor Chadwick Boseman.

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MINAJ: When he was losing all that weight and people were saying horrific things about him, they had no idea that man was going through so much, and still going to work, and still being a trooper, and shooting for hours and hours, and doing red carpets. But that’s to give you an idea of people not knowing what you sacrifice. You sacrifice so much! A lot of times people just suffer in silence in this industry, just so that you’re able to do what you love.

PINKETT SMITH: You just made a very, very important point, that idea of having to suffer in silence, because it’s almost as if people have this idea of who Nicki Minaj is, and that, “Nicki Minaj has no problems. Her life is perfect. She has everything she could want.” And it’s almost as if an artist like yourself is not allowed to be human at all. It can definitely weigh on your mental health.

MINAJ: Yeah. Sometimes I’ve seen people be shamed for saying the most simple things that they’re dealing with because they’ll be like, “Oh, well, you shouldn’t be complaining about that.”


MINAJ: Because the thing is, everybody thinks that having money is the only thing that matters. And if you mention anything that might be bothering you, some people look at you like you’re complaining.

PINKETT SMITH: Yeah, exactly! Or that you’re not grateful!


PINKETT SMITH: So how do you manage that, Nicki? When you inevitably have to deal with people thinking that they know you and having certain expectations of you and not always being kind? How do you manage that?

MINAJ: I started taking my little hiatuses from the internet where I just disengage, because you can’t read everything, you can’t respond to everything. And guess what? There are people in your home who actually love you. And sometimes you just have to say, “Do you know what? Goodbye, I’m going to give back the love to the people that’s actually really giving me love, and that’s going to be there for me in real life, and bye to everyone else.” For young artists, just know that there are no rules. You can take time for yourself and for your mental health.

PINKETT SMITH: That kind of time is so important. You’ve been in the game for a while, Nicki, and you’ve had great successes, and you’ve also had challenges and adversity. Through it all, as you are on this phone today, and you are coming into your own wisdom, what would you say is one of your biggest life lessons? And I know that’s a very broad and big question.

MINAJ: I’ve been itching to answer this one recently, actually, so thanks for asking. One of my biggest life lessons is: Save. Your. Money. Let me tell you something, Jada. I always say the best thing about me and probably the worst thing about me is that I am way too financially generous, right?


MINAJ: To the point where I thought that you’re supposed to not only take care of your family, but take care of your best friends too! “Hey, everybody! I’ll take care of you! Your grandmama too! I’ll take care of your mommy, and your best friend!” I think that’s why god always opens new doors for me—because I believe in giving. At the same time, I see a lot of younger artists come in the game, and I know that it’s a one percent chance that they’ll be here in ten years, but I don’t think they understand.


MINAJ: I went to school for acting and that was the school where I made a fool out of myself by telling them that I was going to Tower Records to give my number to Will Smith, to give it to you. Everyone laughed at me, and I will never forget it, but oh well!


MINAJ: But I remember when we had our first day of school in the ninth grade, they said, “Look around. Only one of you in this room will make it.” Of course, everybody was like, “It’s going to be me!” And of course I thought it was going to be. I would always use your name or Halle [Berry]’s name, because you two represented the best in beauty, acting, everything. I was like, “Watch, by the time I’m 19, I’m going to be the biggest actress in the world.” Girls, listen, that didn’t pan out. [Laughs]

PINKETT SMITH: [Laughs] Well, guess what? You became a big-ass artist, that’s for damn sure!

MINAJ: Thank you. So I’ll tell you this story. I saw this girl one day, and she said that the person she’s affiliated with has the kind of money where he’ll never go broke. And my hand hit my head immediately like, “Girl, you did not just say that.” If Mike Tyson could go broke, anybody can. I want people to understand the money that these labels and these endorsement deals throw at you at the beginning of your career, and all these advances that you get, baby, those ain’t going to come every year.


MINAJ: My first year, before I even put out my first album, I bought my girlfriends a Benz, a BMW, and two Range Rovers. I shouldn’t have been buying those kinds of vehicles. They should have been getting a decent vehicle until maybe later on when I was really stacking bread. Thank god I did keep getting money, because I was spending kinda crazy at that time. But I wish people understood, save your money. Every time people come to my house, they think they’re going to see 20 cars in the driveway, living la vida loca. No, no, no. I don’t have nobody to prove anything to. I’m quite happy. Thank god that I could not work for the last couple of years and still be good.


MINAJ: But it didn’t have to go that way! When we was going through that COVID thing and people couldn’t go out there and make that club money and stuff, they was going crazy because y’all spend every dime as soon as y’all get it! So that’s what I want our Black young people to know. Stop trying to impress people on Instagram because the people that really got it don’t do that. 

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PINKETT SMITH: That’s the part right there, Nicki! That’s a good piece of wisdom. And I also think when we are first generations and we come into money like that, we feel obligated to bring everybody with us. I think that’s real specific to our culture, and it’s almost expected, girl.


PINKETT SMITH: It can be a lot of pressure, and we can really get lost in that. It took me years to really figure that out, how to help people.

MINAJ: Really?


MINAJ: Oh my god!

PINKETT SMITH: Because for us as Black people, it’s kind of expected. It’s like, “Oh, if one makes it, that means we all get to jump on that bandwagon and come with you.” And I just had to learn how to assist people in assisting themselves

MINAJ: That’s right.

PINKETT SMITH: You take care of the parents, you take care of the grandparents, but the cousins and all that? It’s like, “Hold up.”

MINAJ: Right. It was like with my girlfriends, I did this one thing and lost a couple of friends immediately. I did this experiment with them. I told them, “I’m not giving out any more money” after I had just given them money for ten years. Two people really showed me their true colors and it broke my heart into pieces. I could not believe people that I had known since I was a kid was mad at me, not knowing what I was going through financially, after I had taken care of them and their families for ten years. When I saw that, I said, “Oh my god, Onika, don’t you see? Some people are around you for the wrong reasons.”

PINKETT SMITH: Exactly. And let me tell you something. I know all abo ut that devastation. We all suffer.


PINKETT SMITH: It’s just part of the growing pains. People don’t understand that either.

MINAJ: They don’t. Nope.

PINKETT SMITH: They forget how to just love you as you are.

MINAJ: But then when you harden up, sometimes other people get the brunt of everybody that betrayed you. I’m so guarded now because I’m like, “Oh my god, this one betrayed me, and that one betrayed me, and you’re probably about to betray me too.” I hate it! But it’s devastating to keep on learning that lesson, so I don’t have any choice.

PINKETT SMITH: It’s just part of the process. I have learned over the years how to create loving boundaries and be lovingly guarded, but that’s a practice. But, Nicki, is there anything else you want to say?

MINAJ: Well, I would just like to say, and this could be on or off the record—I would prefer it to be on the record—that dreams come true. I told you when I was in high school, all my friends stopped in the middle of the street and laughed at me for saying that I was going to give your husband my number for you to call me, and I said I know if Jada saw me, she was going to put me in one of her movies. [Laughs]

PINKETT SMITH: [Laughs] We’ve still got time for that, Nicki! That dream is not over yet!

MINAJ: I want to tell people out there, no matter how long you might have had a particular dream, look at what happened to me right now. Please have faith in yourself. Believe that anything is possible. Just be optimistic and have gratitude in life. And so many things can come from it because this is a dream come true for me. I love you dearly. I can’t wait to see you. I’m definitely going to come to the “Red Table [Talk],” because we’ve got to get into some things.

PINKETT SMITH: Whenever, Nicki. I’m always here for you. We’ve crossed paths many times, and I’ve been wanting to chat with you and I’ve got so much love for you.

MINAJ: You did such a great job at this, Jada. I never enjoy interviews anymore. And so I want to thank Interview for doing this because I didn’t think you would say yes. And so I told my publicist, I said, “She’s not going to do it. I don’t think they should ask her.” But thank god they did, and yes, this was a great conversation because it felt like I was talking to a big sister, which I always wanted—somebody that understands, that lived this stuff and is living it now, that could help me. And so I thank you. And yes I am here. Please give your kids my love, too. They’re so talented.

PINKETT SMITH: I will! I will tell Willow.

MINAJ: I’ll see you guys soon and that’s it. I don’t have anything else to say, Jada.

PINKETT SMITH: Alright, good. Well, do you know what? Love to you and your family. How about that? Give your little boy a hug from his auntie.

MINAJ: I will. I will. Thank you, mama. Okay. So we’ll talk soon. Alright. Bye.



Hair: Dionte Gray using Obviously Arrogant

Makeup: Jamal Scott using Dior

Production: Brande Bytheway and Sarah El Khawand

Set Design: Liam Moore 

Lighting Assistants: Bennet Perez, Austin Durant, and Lonnie Vincent

Fashion Assistants: Juan Zenon and Isabelle Fields

Manicure: Yvett G

Production Assistants: Dylan Palley, Juan Cruz, Ralph Parker, and Graeme Flegenheimer

Hair Assistant: Tuson Jewell 

Set Assistant: Savana Ogburn 

Digital Technician: Rich Coughran

Tailor: Niki Dimitras at Carol Ai Studio

Post-Production: Helen Studios