Hip-hop's Lady Gaga leads a new generation

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The rising stars of rap are consigning bling, booty and drive-bys to the history books. Gillian Orr finds new reason in the rhymes.

Just who is Nicki Minaj? If you take an interest in fashion, you might have seen her going up various style magazines' barometers for her outrageous get-ups. If you're a hip-hop aficionado, you'll already know her music through her acclaimed mixtapes and numerous collaborations with rap's finest. The 25-year-old who is being touted as the saviour of female rap is gearing up to hit the mainstream.

One of her collaborators, as well as close friend, is Drake, already a superstar Stateside, and it is surely only a matter of time before he is over here too. Together they're rap's brightest new stars, the king and queen of hip-hop in waiting.

Click the image right to launch our gallery of up-and-coming hip-hop stars.

Minaj (born Onika Tanya Maraj) was raised in Queens, New York, having spent her first few years living with her grandmother in Trinidad. Hers was a sometimes troubled upbringing, including by a crack-addicted father who used to sell the family's belongings to fund his habit.

After attending LaGuardia performing-arts school, where she studied acting, she decided she wanted to make it as a rapper, and got a job waitressing to fund her music. It was during this time that she would hang out with guys in Queens who all wanted her to sing the hooks alongside their raps. But Minaj wasn't prepared to be the typical female rap collaborator.

"I hated doing anything that made me seem like a girl at that time," she told Vibe magazine earlier this year. "I wanted to be as strong as the boys and as talented as them, and I wanted to show them I could do what they did."

She saved her money for studio time and recorded some tracks which started creating a buzz. It wasn't long before one made its way to Lil Wayne, who signed her to his Young Money Entertainment label, which Drake is also signed to. Kanye West and Jay-Z are both huge fans but despite collaborating with Ludacris, Usher, Mariah Carey, as well as Drake, she has yet to release her first album.

There hasn't been such a buzz around a female rapper since Lil' Kim emerged. What marks Minaj out is that she subverts the standard hip-hop formula that says female rappers have to be either street or sexy. She is a formidable performer, spitting out articulate and amusing lyrics, mixing swagger with her own skewed version of femininity. She's only too aware that she is moving in a man's world, and has said: "When I grew up I saw females doing certain things, and I thought I had to do that exactly. The female rappers of my day spoke about sex a lot and I thought that to have the success they got, I would have to represent the same thing, when in fact I didn't have to represent the same thing."

Her unique style is also getting her a lot of attention. Sometimes referred to as the Lady Gaga of the hip-hop world because of her often cartoon-ish apparel, she too has a number of different personae that she has carefully constructed. She refers to Nicki the Ninja, "the hip-hop lyrical assassin"; Nicki the Harajuku Barbie, the coquettish girl who loves pink; and, finally, Nicki the Boss, who takes her role as an entertainer seriously.

She has said, "I don't mind being called a weirdo. 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."

Drake is also subverting the genre. Unlike many men in rap, 23-year-old Aubrey Drake Graham has no interest in being a gangsta cliché. While he certainly has his share of bravado, he brings emotion and vulnerability to his performances. He respects women, something that can be heard in his lyrics. In a genre as misogynistic as hip-hop, where women are so often merely sex objects, Drake raps and sings about liking his women "book- and street-smart". In interviews he is charming, friendly and humble, devoid of bling and excess.

Speaking with CBS, he recalls meeting his mentor, Lil Wayne, for the first time, in 2008. Wayne (currently serving a one-year jail sentence on a gun-possession offence) told him to not change and reassured Drake that he didn't need to get tattoos or dress differently. "From the day Wayne met me until now", Drake says, "I haven't changed anything. He said: 'Don't stop smiling either, don't try to be mean or aggressive. Just be you and rap about life and women and family and be happy. Be the guy that I could never be.'"

His lyrical aptitude and accomplished rapping have meant that just about every signature player in rap, including Jay-Z and Eminem, is lining up to work with him. He is, though, an obvious target for people claiming that he lacks street cred, too.

Born and raised in Toronto, Drake had an unsettled childhood. Like Minaj, his father was involved with drugs and crime. Raised by his mother, Drake found modest fame as a teenager playing Jimmy Brooks on the Canadian teen drama, Degrassi: The Next Generation. He started releasing mixtapes in 2006, which found their way on to the radio. By 2009 he was the target of an almighty bidding war to sign him, and earlier this year he was nominated for two Grammy awards for the single "Best I Ever Had". When he released his debut album, Thank Me Later, in June, it went straight to number one in the US Billboard charts.

There have been numerous rumours about a romance between Minaj and Drake, but it seems they are just very close friends. Not that they mind teasing their fans about the nature of their relationship. Drake has said of Minaj: "When I was on tour I saw Nicki for the first time and, like, literally fell in love... I've always really, actually, really had a crush on her, always really loved her, and she's always just looked at me as, like, her little brother."

Minaj's strong voice and attitude-filled delivery and Drake's sensitivity may be dividing opinion in the hip-hop world, but the thoroughly refreshing pair have just joined hip-hop's elite. Like them or not, it only proves Minaj's own motto correct: "If you don't have any critics, you probably don't have any success either."

Drake's single "Fancy / Best I Ever Had" and Minaj's album 'Pink Friday' are both released next month

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture