The course’s professor, Dr. Peace and Love, who has since made her Twitter account private, shared that the class will focus on Minaj’s career within the greater context of hip-hop and feminism. “This class is interested in thinking critically about you and your productions [within] the context of broader historical-social structures [and] hip hop feminisms. So having [your] personal insights would be AMAZING! I’m finalizing things this fall [and] would love to talk more details [with you] via DM,” she tweeted to the rapper. It is unclear if Minaj saw the professor’s tweet. However, she did respond to the fan who tagged her in the post about the upcoming course, saying: “I’d love to stop by.”
The course, which is officially titled “Nicki Minaj: The Black Barbie Femmecee & Hip Hop Feminisms,” will be offered through the African American Studies department and feature 90-minute lectures on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
UC Berkeley is not the only school teaching a course on mainstream pop stars and other genre musicians. Last month, San Diego State University (SDSU) announced its new class on Bad Bunny coming in 2023. According to NowThisNews, Nathian Shae Rodriguez, the associate director of journalism and media studies at SDSU, said that the artist has changed the reggaetón music industry by challenging traditional modes of Latine masculinity. “Bad Bunny has transformed reggaetón like no other artist has. When you think about reggaetón, it’s hypermasculine; machista is embedded in its core. And Bad Bunny has come and flipped it upside down,” he said. “Bad Bunny gives us another side to masculinity and how masculinity can be [and] how it should be. How it can be authentic, how it can be endearing, how it can be loving.”
According to her Wiki entry, Minaj was born Onika Tanya Maraj on December 8, 1982, in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago, and moved with her family to Queens, New York, when she was 5 years old. Minaj’s father was a severe drug addict with a long history of violence. At one point, he set fire to the family’s home in a failed attempt to kill Minaj’s mother. Those early struggles, Minaj has said, helped fuel her drive to rise above the life her parents knew. “I’ve always had this female-empowerment thing in the back of my mind,” she told Details magazine, “because I wanted my mother to be stronger, and she couldn’t be. I thought, ‘If I’m successful, I can change her life.'”
To reach that point, the young Minaj developed personas for herself that would allow her to reinvent herself. An early incarnation was “Cookie,” then came “Harajuku Barbie” before finally settling on Nicki Minaj. “Fantasy was my reality,” she has said. Minaj clearly had a knack for performance. At the age of 12, she authored her first rap, then went on to delve into acting at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, the school that inspired the movie Fame. But her acting career didn’t take off, and she took up a range of steady jobs, including waitressing at Red Lobster, where she was fired for being rude to customers.
Determined to make it in the music business, Minaj took on backup singing roles for local New York City rappers, including Full Force. Soon, she began writing her own material. She was eventually discovered by the Dirty Money CEO Fendi, who came across Minaj’s MySpace page, loved what he heard, and signed her to his label.
That connection led Minaj to Lil Wayne, who collaborated with her on a series of mixtapes, the first of which, Playtime Is Over, was released in April 2007. This and subsequent
mixtapes, including Sucka Free (2008) and Beam Me Up Scotty (2009), showcased Minaj’s female swagger and out-front style. She signed to Lil Wayne’s Young Money label in August, 2009, becoming its first ever female artist. She solidified her growing rep with appearances on the We Are Young Money compilation album (2009), also collaborating with Mariah Carey and Robin Thicke.