Nicki Minaj Sheds Tears for Kobe Bryant, Cheers for Larry David in Unfiltered Q&A
By Chris Willman
LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Nicki Minaj clearly felt comfortable with the interviewer when she sat for an hour-long Q&A Wednesday as part of the Pollstar Live conference at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Her interrogator was her manager, Irving Azoff, who she’s just as frank with — and about — now that they’re enjoying a professional partnership as she was when she considered him an adversary not so many years ago. Since Azoff has never been known to play it safe conversationally, either, their public interchange was bound to produce sparks, and did.
They didn’t go in-depth into the controversy that erupted on social media earlier Wednesday when Minaj and her ex, Meek Mill, got into a shocking war of Twitter words. She expressed some regret over that exchange in the late-afternoon Q&A, in the midst of vowing to put herself on a tweet diet again. Even without delving overtly into that beef, the superstar rapper and always fascinating “Queen Radio” host had plenty to say, leaning toward positivity and uplift in her characteristically unguarded way.
A few things the conference crowd learned about Minaj:
She plans to drop a new song almost immediately, but doesn’t want to say much about the album it’s previewing. Said Azoff, “I’m sure (Republic Records chairman/CEO) Monte Lipman’s going to have a heart attack when he finds out we’re going to leak the single later tonight or tomorrow. But it’s a setup track. It’s not a single.”
“Yeah,” added Minaj, “let me make that clear… It’s not my single, because the single will be launched with the visual. This is a setup song with no video. Please don’t kill me, y’all. You guys asked me to put it out — don’t forget!” Later, she said, “If we drop a track on Friday, maybe we’ll do a ‘Queen Radio’ (episode on Apple Music) on Friday or Saturday.”
But she was tight-lipped about any stylistic diversions in the album-in-progress. “I feel like albums should be a surprise, sonically, what people can expect. But they can expect to feel like, okay, Nicki’s in a good place. That’s what I’ll say about that.”
She’s not out to revive any personal Grammy controversies — but did express support for ousted chief Deborah Dugan. “You’re asking me of all f—ing people what I think about the Grammys?” said Minaj, who’s previously taken public issue with the show and its producers. “Well… who was that lady that left them and started talking s— about the real deal, about what’s going on over there — what’s her name? Well, shout out to Deb. We need strong women that are willing to say what they have to say, even when they’re getting backlash for it. And every strong woman in here knows exactly what I’m talking about. But you know what? I respect anybody that’s won a Grammy; I feel you ought to be proud of that. That’s a great achievement. But I think the way we judge talent has changed. And that’s all I’ll say about that.”
She cites Judge Judy and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” as influences. Asked about her influences from other realms, Minaj stumbled upon a theme. “Outside the hip-hop world? Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Madonna… Marilyn Monroe. Meryl Streep. Judge Judy. Larry David.” The crowd laughed. “And I’m not lying, you guys. I’m obsessed. I think I like Jewish people, Irv. They’re like black people — like, they say whatever the f— they want to say. I’m like, what is it that makes me love Judge Judy and so much? It must be a Jewish thing.”
“Jeffrey,” yelled Azoff offstage to his son, fellow manager Jeffrey Azoff, “call Larry (David), get her on the show, right now!” “Please do that,” urged Minaj.
She resisted dragging Donald Trump, except on one subject close to her heart. Asked point-blank about her feelings about the president, Minaj said, “No, I’m not going to jump on the Donald Trump (hate) bandwagon. I don’t like that. I get a lot of people don’t like him for obvious reasons. But what stuck with me was the children being taken away from their parents when they came into this country; that really bothered me, because I was one of those immigrant children coming to America to flee poverty. And I couldn’t imagine a little child going through all of that, trying to get to another country because they didn’t have money in their country, or whether you’re fleeing from war … and then being taken away from the one person that makes you feel comfort — that really raised my eyebrows. I was like, something about this doesn’t sit right in my spirit. But, on ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ I think he was funny as hell.”
The mere mention of Kobe Bryant’s name makes her weep. When Azoff asked her thoughts on the late legend, Minaj went silent for the better part of a minute, and the manager apologized for bringing the subject up, before she took a tissue that was offered from the wings and spoke. “See, even right now, I can’t imagine what his wife is feeling, to lose your husband at such a young age, but your child too. We love you, Kobe, and to your wife and to your family and your friends, we are praying for you guys. …. I’m such an easy crier. I’m a crybaby. I’m sorry, y’all.”
She’s embarrassed about certain songs in her catalog. Asked if there were any songs she wished she’d never recorded, because she gets tired of performing them or otherwise, Minaj had plenty of examples. “Oh my God. So much of my discography,” she said. “I wish I had never recorded ‘Anaconda.’ I like the video, but uhhh.… My first ever solo song on Billboard was ‘Your Love.’ To this day, I hate that. I like the video, but I hate the song. I can go on and on. I hate ‘Starships.’ I mean, like, ewww — ‘starships were meant to fly’? I was like, why did I do that?”
She’s proud of a recent Spanish-language song she’s featured on with Karol G that’s taking off, “Tusa.” “We went to the club in Miami and I would’ve never known there was that many Spanish-speaking people in this club until ‘Tusa’ came on and they knew it word for word. I’m just sitting there and I’m like: Oh my God, we in a regular hood club in Miami and they are screaming out the words to ‘Tusa.’ Shout out to Karol G. — it’s No. 4 on global Spotify today. It is a monster song, and it hasn’t been sent to radio in this country yet.”
She regrets Wednesday morning’s tweet war with Meek Mill… and a lot of her legendarily outspoken social media, historically. When the subject of advice to developing artists came up, Minaj said, “Keep your eye on the bigger picture is what I would say. If I had to, I would have redone the whole thing and just kept my mouth shut. Put my music out and shut the hell up.” Which caused Azoff to respond, wryly, “You’re sitting here saying, ‘Keep it quiet. Keep it down.’ You done any tweeting today?”
There was considerable knowing laughter from the audience. “I was hacked. I got hacked this morning, you guys! Don’t believe anything you saw. The good old hack excuse.” She was kidding, and owned up to her social media rage earlier in the day. “Listen, it never fails. Every time I do it, five minutes later, I’m like, why the f— did I…? Every single time. But it’s a good lesson in knowing how to master your anger and emotions. So every time I do that, I like give myself a talking to in my head, like, okay, you played yourself, you shouldn’t have did that. You learned your lesson again. How many times did I learn that lesson? So I gave myself that talk today, sir.” She’s not a deleter, though; the shocking tweets in question were still standing after the Q&A.
Azoff recounted how he came to manage her, against all odds, after she’d given him a particularly profane mock-award on her “Queen Radio” show. “We have not discussed this,” he said. “You gave me an award. I never really understood why. Can we go to that? What is that award?”
“It was called C—s—er of the Day Award.” She laughed with delight. “Imagine how many people have wanted to say that to in his face for years.”
“Let me tell you something. I love it when artists care,” Azoff responded, recalling the origins of the feud that became a business love affair. “She was in a battle with Travis Scott for No. 1. There are those that believe that perhaps Travis’ advisors and management team” — meaning Azoff and his team, themselves — “had created some new ways of bundling everything from Coca-Cola cans to merch to posters to backstage passes (with albums). We didn’t write the rules … but he really cared about No. 1, and she really cared about No. 1. And I think she ended up 2 (the week both albums came out). So I got this great award. And then I got really fascinated and started listening to the radio show and s—. And then I heard one day that she and her management had parted company, and we’d never met. So I just called the b—- up … and here we are.”
She regrets tweeting that she was retiring last September. Said Azoff, “Another thing. You announced your f—ing retirement! What the f— was that?” To his son, he called out: “Jeffrey, was that you? Because it certainly wasn’t me. Who told you to announce your retirement?”
Minaj laughed and ate some humble pie on that take-back. “Once again, another time where I shouldn’t have had had social media on my phone,” she said. “And that’s why, for the last few months, I haven’t had social media on my phone. I’ve just recently put it back in my phone; I’m about to take it back off. … Have you noticed when you take social media off your phone, you as a person feel happier or more at peace? You guys really should try it. I promise you. Because it’s too much of just nonsense and nothingness and looking at what everybody else is doing and comparing yourself to people. When you’re having a great freaking life. We wake up in the morning (and) we’re good. And then we go on social media and make ourselves depressed.”
Added Azoff, “I think that fans have figured out when it’s fake and when it’s really real. And I’ll call it. I love Taylor Swift, but her stuff looks planned. I promise you, Nicki’s s— ain’t planned, okay? And I think that’s how you get to 110 million Instagram followers, because it’s authentic and it’s real, and she’s the real deal.”
Minaj insisted she doesn’t try to be provocative. Asked by an audience member how she stays relevant, she said, “The thing is, the people make you relevant. I don’t think that any artist knows how to keep themselves relevant. Every now and then, the people find a star that they feel an attachment to, and they for some reason care about that person’s life, whether you have music or out or not. You know, I could stub my toe and be on the blogs. It’s odd, but that’s just what it is. And then you have to use that promotion that these people give you, whether it’s love or hate, and use it to sell your music. But I don’t ever think to myself, ‘What’s going to keep me relevant?’ When I posted the retirement tweet, I did think to myself for a while, ‘Let me just retire.’ Like, I really felt that that was a good idea at that time. But now I don’t.
“Social media is a tool,” she continued. “It can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. And if you don’t have that mental strength to navigate through it, it can cost you everything. It can cost you everything. So you gotta be so careful with it. It’s only for the tough ones, really. It’s not for the faint of heart. But, has it helped me a great deal? Absolutely.”
She wants to start a line of workout gear. “I had started something with makeup, and it wasn’t making sense on the bottom line, so I’m glad I didn’t go there. But (she wants to have lines of) hair and makeup and also athletic gear. Because I have been going to the gym. I’m proud to say I’ve lost 13 pounds. I didn’t realize that I was gaining that much weight until I looked at the pictures … One day you just look at yourself like, ‘Who’s this b—-? When did this s— happen? What the f—?’ And so I swear I’m this gym person now… (and) I want to have sneakers and athletic wear.”
Children are in her future. Asked what she sees for herself in 10 years, Minaj responded, “A lot of babies. And everybody’s always on pregnant belly alert with me. That’s another reason why I have to lose that damn weight. Because I’m like, wait a minute, I want to really enjoy when the pregnant belly is there. I don’t want y’all to be thinking I’m pregnant all the damn time.
“But you know what?” she continued. “When I see in 10 years, since before I had a dime, I always said I tried to watch what Jay Z did and how he handled hip-hop and entrepreneurship. And I always look at him and I take my notes from him. So where you see Jay is right now, that’s what I want to be, in the way. I want to still be a staple in rap, but opening doors for new people to not only rap, but to do things in the tech space and stuff like that.”
She’s ebullient about her marriage to Kenneth Petty, whom she wed in October. (Her Twitter handle has been proudly changed to “Mrs. Petty.”) Asked by an audience member how she maintains her confidence, Minaj said, “The truth of the matter is, I’m not as confident as people think… I’m such the opposite. I really am. But lately I think the thing that has changed in my life the most… when you marry someone that lifts you up, whenever I’m down, I feel like I can have one conversation with my husband and it’ll just get me back to where I need to be mentally. He’s been a really great force in my life. I’ve known him since I was 17 and I think I feel a level of comfort with him that I hadn’t felt before to just be myself and to share who I am. He’s seen my lows and I don’t have to walk around with makeup in the house. I can just be me.”
Minaj added, “So I think that comfort at home, it translates to social media, and then when people see you in person, too, because you feel like ‘I’m sure of myself again, I know who I am.’” She realized how un-independent that could come off, and added a qualifier. “It’s not about needing a man to do that. You do not need a man to do that. It has to be within you. I’m just saying that when you have a partner that lifts you up, there’s no greater feeling in the world.”