Minaj never went in for partying, and because of her father’s difficulties, as a very young woman she was apt to wag a finger at her girlfriends for smoking marijuana. They used to tease her in turn at nightclubs for nursing a single cocktail and swearing she was drunk. But she takes care to say that she does not place herself above her old friends. “I feel like I will always consider myself to be just like my father,” she says. Years ago, while briefly living in Atlanta to advance her music career, she was prescribed Percocet for painful menstrual cramping. It was enormously helpful, until she found that she was taking the medication even when she wasn’t in pain. “No one told me that this was a narcotic and this was addictive. Luckily I was able to ground myself. But—once an addict, always an addict. I feel like if you’ve ever experienced addiction to anything, which I have, you always have to think twice and three times about the choices that you make.” She believes that the risk of substance abuse is especially high among those who live under a microscope. “Look at some of our biggest celebrities. They eventually either get laughed out of wanting to go outside anymore, like Michael Jackson, or criticized, like Whitney Houston, or they fight silent battles, like Prince. These are some of the greatest of all time. And one day they decided, ‘You know what? I’d rather self-medicate and be in my own world.’ ” Minaj seems to be accounting for the scar tissue amassed around her relationship with the press. “Should you keep on doing interviews and pouring out your heart so people can laugh? No.”
Minaj was taken with The Last Dance, the 2020 Michael Jordan documentary, in which the basketball great spoke candidly for the first time about some of his teammates and rivals—taking full advantage, it seemed to her, of the impunity that attends retirement. “I realized that Jordan made the right decision by biting his tongue earlier, when he was in the game,” she says. “If I could go back and maybe save some of those things I said for later, like Jordan did, yes. Maybe I would have. Maybe I should have. I don’t know.” She pauses and rolls her head back. “Most people don’t want to hear you talking all day anyway. People want the art you offer. Somehow now I look back, and I think about the things that I used to care about, the things that used to ruin my day, and I can’t believe I let those miscellaneous things stop me from focusing. For sure that’s progress, right?”
A month later, Minaj has just returned to Los Angeles from New York, where she hosted the MTV Video Music Awards, and is stealing a few hours at home before heading back to the studio. The newly built house, modern and vast, which she bought last year, sits in a gated enclave in Hidden Hills. Papa Bear seems thrilled to be back; he is bouncing on the white sofa in the home theater or crawling through the hallway, and Minaj crawls after him, both of them laughing the whole way. She has little time at home these days, but a mini recording studio in the guesthouse helps. Minaj has become a better cook than she ever thought she would be, and she finds a kind of solace in making dinner for her family (Trinidadian stewed king fish or spicy sausage pasta for the grown-ups, yellow rice for her son, who is, for now, repulsed by his mother’s more highly seasoned dishes). “Cooking actually makes me more calm,” she says. Minaj is happier than she has been in the past, and she credits no magic pill or self-help book or guru but simply a shift in perspective.
“When you look around and try to keep yourself in a grateful frame of mind,” she explains, “the things that you can be thankful for seem to start adding up, and you realize that in the big scheme of things, most of the stuff you would have complained about is so trivial. It’s been a constant race. But then you stop and realize, there’s nothing to run around for. That’s the thing that’s changed in me. It’s not that I’ve taken these amazing steps. It’s just about finally being happy with who you are as opposed to where you are.”
Minaj has been thinking about how she might make the best use of a massive platform that has been a place for connecting with her fans and at times for engaging in public tussles. She has 28 million followers on X (formerly Twitter) and nearly 10 times that many on Instagram, and yet she has always insisted that social media is something she would swear off in a heartbeat if it weren’t a necessary feature of the business of being Nicki Minaj. She has consistently urged her fans to stay in school and is a huge believer in higher education. She has been an exponent of body positivity since the beginning of her career, vaunting her own curves and urging women of color, especially, to feel proud of theirs. She does not pretend that this has always been easy for her personally, by the way. “I just looked at a video that I posted on Instagram when I was 25, and I would fucking pay to look like that right now,” she says. “But today I can say that I’m at peace with who I am and how I look. I have to say this as a Black woman, though. I’ve made certain choices for my son, to not give him sweets and candy and juices, because of illnesses like diabetes that run in our community. I’m not in favor of body positivity if it means unhealthy bodies. That’s bull. It’s not believable, so let’s stop pretending. Recently I had to get a breast reduction, and actually I love it. I used to want a bigger butt, and now I look back and realize how silly that was. So—love your curves, and love your non-curves. There’s nothing wrong with any of it.”
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