Early life and career beginnings in Saint James, a suburb of Trinidad and Tobago's capital city Port of Spain. to parents Carol and Robert Maraj, an accounting clerk/gospel singer and an employee at American Express, respectively. Her parents are of mixed Indian and Afro-Trinidadian ancestry and she lived in Saint James with her grandmother. Minaj is the middle sister to brothers Makiya and Jelani, as mentioned in her song "I'm the Best" on her debut album, Pink Friday. Her mother would occasionally visit, and one day, when Minaj was five, her mother picked her up to move to the Queens borough of New York City. According to Minaj, her father drank heavily, took drugs, and once tried to kill her mother by setting the house on fire.
Minaj attended Elizabeth Blackwell Middle School 210, where she played the clarinet. She then graduated from LaGuardia High School, which specializes in music and the visual and performing arts. Minaj participated in the drama program and initially planned to sing at LaGuardia, but lost her voice on the day of the audition. Minaj had a passion to become an actress, but failed at attempts to pursue her career due to the lack of roles she received. In 2001, she was cast in the Off-Broadway play, "In Case You Forget". After her acting career failed to take off, Minaj worked at Red Lobster in the Bronx at the age of 19 as a waitress and purchased her first vehicle, a BMW. Minaj was fired from Red Lobster because of her discourteousness to customers. She stated she had been fired from "at least fifteen jobs" for similar antics. Other jobs Minaj held were administrative assistant, customer service and a office manager position at an unknown business located on Wall Street.
Minaj breifly signed with Brooklyn group Full Force, in which Minaj rapped in a foursome group called "Hoodstars," which consisted of group members Lou$tar (son of "Bowlegged Lou"), Scaff Beezy (Minaj's current hypeman) , and 7even Up. In 2004 the group recorded the entrance song for WWE wrestler Victoria titled "Don't Mess With," it was featured on the compilation album ThemeAddict: WWE The Music, Vol.6. Minaj left the group, unsatisfied with their lack of success. During this time, Minaj uploaded a few songs on her Myspace profile and sent a few of her songs to people in the music industry she was managed by Debra Antney. Fendi, CEO of the Brooklyn label Dirty Money Entertainment, who also found rapper Gravy, discovered the music and contacted Minaj, signing her to his label. Initially, Minaj adopted the pseudonym "Nicki Maraj", later changing to "Nicki Minaj", stating "My real name is Maraj. Fendi flipped it when he met me because I had such a nasty flow! I eat bitches!" Under Fendi's label, Minaj appeared on the popular street DVD "The Come Up Volume 11" that featured underground rappers from New York.
2007–09: Mixtapes and Young MoneyMinaj released her first mixtape Playtime Is Over in 2007 with Dirty Money Records. Her second mixtape, Sucka Free, was released on July 7, 2008 under the label Be. She won the Female Artist of the Year award at the 2008 Underground Music Awards shortly after. On April 18, 2009, Minaj released her third mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty under the label of Trapaholics Records; it received positive coverage on both BET and MTV. She also appeared in XXL magazine during this time.
In August 2009, Minaj signed a record deal with Young Money Entertainment, with distribution from Universal Motown Records, after fellow American rapper Lil Wayne discovered her on The Come Up DVD. Minaj generated significant attention when she first appeared on Yo Gotti's 5 Star Chick video, which gave her mainstream success with the urban community. At the request of Jay-Z, Minaj was asked to feature on Robin Thicke's single Shakin' It 4 Daddy. Following the guest appearance, Minaj was given a solo rap verse in the single "BedRock". The record garnered huge commercial success, reaching number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. She also appeared on "Roger That," which charted at number 56. The song, particularly Minaj, received positive reviews from critics. In December 2009, both songs were included in Young Money Entertainment's debut collaborative studio album We Are Young Money. The album charted in the top ten on the Billboard 200, reaching number 9 and later receiving a Gold Certification by the RIAA. Minaj was featured on Mariah Carey's "Up Out My Face" and its music video. The collaboration was well received by critics.