Trinidadian by way of Queens, Onika Tanya Maraj a.k.a. Nicki Minaj is as eclectic as her background suggests. Hip-hop’s most colorful diva has embraced an unorthodox approach to style and swag and has given fashion enthusiast plenty of fodder over the last few years. Recent endorsement deals with Pepsi, MAC, and adidas have allowed Minaj to spread her fashionable wings even further — and to a much wider audience. Minaj’s fun, sexy style makes her the perfect subject for SoulTrain.com’s latest installment of Fashion Transformation.
The Birth of Barbie
Minaj may have dabbled in rapping and acting earlier in the 2000s, but it wasn’t until 2009 that she really burst onto the scene. Appearing in Yo Gotti’s “5 Star Chick” video, Minaj gave fans an early taste of her now trademark style. Though still a few videos away from debuting her multicolor, asymmetrical coif, Minaj gave fans a hint of things to come with two hot pink extensions tucked beneath her straight-bangs and jet-black, wavy tresses. Never one to hide her best — and biggest — assets, Minaj can be seen donning form-fitting black pants, two different pink bras and an oversized ‘Barbie’ nameplate. Where Minaj shines most is in her make-up choices, where she embraces a dark eyeliner but highlights her almond-shaped peepers with a silvery shadow. She carried a similarly black and pink motif over to her breakout appearance in Young Money’s ”BedRock.” Though her red carpet-worthy moments were few and far between, fans were treated to a taste of Minaj’s penchant for chic sex appeal in her appearance on Mariah Carey’s “Up Out My Face.” The R&B songstress and the hip-hop up-and-comer had their fun with some sexy naughty nurse outfits, and their matching red evening dresses and fur shrugs definitely helped to expand Minaj’s fashion wheelhouse.
By the November 2009 release of her debut album Pink Friday, Minaj had established herself as the next big thing in the rap game, though her style still had plenty of strides to make. While her wild, wacky persona was still in the works, Minaj strayed from her typical black and pink palette in her video for the first single off Pink Friday, “Your Love.” Minaj is considerably more polished, and clearly more willing to take chances with her wardrobe. Her standout look: A floor-length red and blue belted kimono with multicolored embroidery. But Minaj’s style advances weren’t just on the music video front. She was featured in the October/November issue of Complex in a stunning black and white spread and with increased success, became a frequent party and red carpet fixture, hobnobbing with established fashion icons like P. Diddy, Drake and others. One of her most well-known looks came at the 2010 VMAs, when she fully embraced her love of magenta locks and donned her trademark asymmetrical pink wig while wearing a blush pink jump suit and metallic blue platforms. Though her look on the red carpet erred on the side of tame, her futuristic performance ensemble was far from subdued.
A New Era
Into 2011 and 2012, Minaj’s style continued to evolve as she carefully straddled the line because cartoonish, colorful fun and hip-hop sexy. At the 2011 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Minaj rocked an orange corseted dress with a multicolor bubble skirt. That same month she would appear in the December issue of Cosmopolitan in a more monochromatic look in a gold metallic dress and matching jewelry, once again proving Minaj’s unmatched ability to embrace a wide range of looks. Sure, Minaj may not rely on conventional expectations of beauty and red carpet chic, but her ability to treat fashion more like moving art is one that will continue to make her one of hip-hop’s foremost style icons.
Amanda Younger is a freelance writer and web producer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Time Out New York, SI.com, YourTango and FHM.com. Follow her on Twitter @ayounger45.