Nicki Minaj is known for, among her other colorful quirks, speaking her mind. Just this past year, during the MTV Video Music Awards, Minaj turned her acceptance for Best Hip Hop Video award into a platform to confront host Miley Cyrus. Prior to that, she went on Twitter and took aim at the music industry for snubbing her for the Video of the Year award. And while her social media spats have launched a thousand memes (as well as Etsy products), there’s a lot more to the twerking, doll-eyed rapper. To celebrate the singer’s 33rd birthday next week, here are five things you likely never knew about Nicki Minaj.
1. The Pinkprint singer was born Onika Tanya Maraj. In 2012, The Guardian asked her about the genesis of the name change. “Somebody changed my name,” she said. “One of the first production deals I signed, the guy wanted my name to be Minaj and I fought him tooth and nail. But he convinced me. I’ve always hated it.” Around close family, she added, she prefers not to go by her stage name, however. “My rule is, whatever you were calling me four years ago is what you should be calling me now, because I don’t like it when my family or close friends call me Nicki Minaj. To me I’m not Nicki Minaj when I’m with them.”
2. “Nicki Minaj” isn’t the only persona she’s developed. She explained to New York magazine in 2010 that her different monikers were a result of her difficult upbringing. “To get away from all [my parents’] fighting, I would imagine being a new person,” Minaj said. “Cookie was my first identity—that stayed with me for a while. I went on to Harajuku Barbie, then Nicki Minaj. Fantasy was my reality. I must have been such a fucking annoying little girl.”
But her fiery temperament presented a few hiccups before she became famous, too. Minaj told Billboard in 2010 that she lost many jobs—most notably a waitressing gig in New York City—due to her attitude. “I worked at Red Lobster … and I chased a customer out of the restaurant once so I could stick my middle finger up at her and demand that she give me my pen back,” she said. “I swear to God I was bad.”
4. The singer was initially discovered through her MySpace account. Dirty Money Records CEO Fendi reportedly first heard Minaj’s music on the social network site and signed her to his label. Fendi is also credited with introducing Minaj to Lil Wayne and Young Money. In 2013, Minaj told Teen Vogue: “My journey to who I am today began on MySpace. I love getting real opinions from people.”
5. While you’ve likely seen Minaj pictured in the front row of New York Fashion Week—and there’s certainly no shortage of commentary on her daring sartorial choices—as it turns out, her love of fashion extends to film, too. Last year, Minaj told Us Weekly: “For one month straight, I watched The Devil Wears Prada until I fell asleep every night.” That’s all.