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Life beyond style

It’s been a strong month for Nicki Minaj. She has a new album in the works, performed what was, in Jay Z’s opinion, a career-highlighting show for Tidal in NYC and graced the cover of Marie Claire‘s November issue. In the past decade, Minaj has gone from strength to strength, and since she burst into the mainstream with her show-stealing “Monster” verse she’s become the highest-selling female rapper and one of the greatest rappers of our time, period.

Nicki Minaj has a diverse body of fans. She appeals to teen girls, members of the LGBT community and diehard hip-hop heads alike, due to her ability to bounce between infectious pop (“Starships,” “Super Bass”), gritty, “don’t forget I came up freestyling on the streets of Queens” rap (“The Pinkprint Freestyle,” “Lookin Ass”) and more EDM-tinged hits (“Truffle Butter,” Buy A Heart”). She’s also branched out into TV, fashion, fragrances and alcohol – as she’s fond of saying, she’s a brand, bitch, she’s a braaand.

Her diverse body of work and undeniable talent aside, Nicki Minaj is also widely adored for her no-holds-barred personality and rapid-fire wit. She peppers her songs, concerts and interviews with razor sharp advice and savvy life insights, and in doing so attracts almost as much admiration as she receives from her music. If you’re not already a solid devotee, stop sleeping – here are six reasons Nicki Minaj should be your role model:

She Gives Solid Relationship Advice

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Nicki Minaj does not want you to end up with a moron who will hold you down, and she’s quite clear about that. During her acceptance speech at the VMAs last year, Minaj exhorted the female members of the audience not to “be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys” and stressed the importance of being financially independent for both men and women (“Where are my dudes at that’s getting they own money? Make some noise! Where are my girls that’s getting they own money?”)

More recently, at this year’s Tidal 10/15 charity concert, Nicki Minaj called on the men in attendance to stop dating brainless women: “‘Cause Barack needed Michelle, bitch,” Minaj spat. “And Bill needed a motherfuckin’ Hillary. You better pray to God you don’t get stuck with a motherfuckin’ Melania. You n*ggas want brainless bitches to stroke your ego?”

Hilarious Trump shade aside, the message is clear: don’t choose your significant other based on how much they earn or how good they’ll look on your arm. Find someone who is truly your equal; who complements you rather than props you up like a crutch.

She Supports Black Lives Matter and Other Social Causes

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Recently, Minaj has become more and more vocal about social issues such as Black Lives Matter. She used her Instagram account to draw attention to the case of Sandra Bland in July last year, and in her Marie Claire interview this month, highlighted the suffering of female family members of police brutality victims:

“We tend to not remember the black women who are mourning these men and who are thinking, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to tell my child now about where his father is?’, and the struggle it is for black women to then move on after they lose their husband or their boyfriend,” she said. “The strong women in these inner cities often go unnoticed… no one really ever puts a hand out to them.”

Minaj also generously supports other causes: last year, she donated $5,000 to Amber Rose’s slut walk. It was Amber who drew this to the attention of the public, not Nicki, so who knows how many other causes she is privately supporting. In an era of vacuous celebrities, Nicki’s focus on issues of wider concern is commendable.

She Sticks Up For Herself

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Anyone who follows Nicki Minaj’s movements will recall her run-in with Miley Cyrus ahead of the VMAs last year. Miley stuck her nose in the brewing conflict between Nicki and Taylor Swift at the time, commenting that “What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj, is not too kind. It’s not very polite.”

That is, Miley basically painted Minaj with the angry black woman stereotype. Few will forget the withering look Minaj shot at Miley at the VMAs before spitting, “Back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press… Miley, what’s good?!” She didn’t need to say anything else, and the schadenfreude flowed thick and fast as Miley cowered and stammered out excuses about “interviews being manipulated.”

That kind of self-preservation is characteristic of Nicki, who – as a woman in the sometimes hypermasculine world of rap – constantly has to defend herself against endless rumors and commentary about her body.

"Feeling Myself" video

Some of the most persistent (and nauseatingly sexist) rumors that follow Minaj around are (a) that she has a surgically-enhanced butt, and (b) that she slept her way to where she is now. She shut both rumors down in the first bars of her single “Only,” saying “I never fucked Wayne, I never fucked Drake” and “Worry ’bout if my butt fake” all within the first verse; reminding us to mind our business and focus on what matters, i.e. her talent.

It’s not the first time Minaj has had to defend her appearance and stress the possibility that women can be sexy and smart at the same time (wild, we know). “Sometimes as women in the industry — if you’re sexy or like doing sexy things — some people subconsciously negate your brain,” she told Billboard. “They think you’re stupid.”

In the same vein, in the wake of backlash against her “Anaconda” video, she fired back at people who criticized its raunchiness, saying, “Women should be allowed to be as hardcore and sexual as we want, because men do it all the time.” That is, Minaj refuses to be minimized into a two-dimensional caricature of a stupid, sexy woman and demands to be on the same playing field as men.

She Fights the Double Standard

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As that last quote demonstrates, Nicki is loathe to let a double standard lie unexamined. In a now iconic speech captured on video and dubbed the “pickle juice speech” (watch it; you’ll see why), she discusses the treatment she faces in the industry because she’s female.

“When I am assertive, I’m a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss,” she told the interviewer. “He bossed up! No negative connotation behind ‘bossed up.’ But lots of negative connotation behind being a bitch.”

“When you’re a girl, you have to be like…everything,” she explains. “You have to be dope at what you do, but you have to be super sweet and you have to be sexy and you have to be this and you have to be that and you have to be nice and you have to… It’s like, I can’t be all those things at once. I’m a human beeeeeeing!” she quips, with characteristically absurd and outsized humor.

It’s not just the gender double standard in her crosshairs, either. Earlier this year, she also called out the racial double standard when it comes to women of color being nude, versus white women.

“When Kim Kardashian’s naked picture came out, [Sharon Osbourne] praised it, and my fans attacked her for being such a hypocrite,” Minaj said. “So it wasn’t trashy and raunchy when a white woman did it, but it was when a black woman did it? It’s quite pathetic and sad, but that is my reality, and I’ve gotten accustomed to just shutting it down.”

Wherever there’s a dumb set of standards that apply to women but not men – or black women but not white women – you can be sure Minaj will be there to call bullshit.

She Has the Mindset of a Boss

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Nicki’s entire career has been predicated on the belief that anything a man in the industry can do, she can do. She often dubs herself “the female Jay,” and has been open about his influence on her:

“He did such a great job being an authentic street guy and a businessman,” she explains to Marie Claire. “I was like, ‘Why aren’t there women doing that, taking the success from rap and channeling it into their empire?’ I felt like anything he could do, I could do.”

Minaj has also spoken at length about her strong work ethic and perfectionist tendencies. “I put quality in what I do,” she says. “I spend time and I spend energy and I spend effort and I spend everything I have, every fiber of my being to give people quality.”

Terry Richardson

For Minaj, that means insisting on a certain level of control, including writing all of her own rhymes. At the 2014 BET Awards, Nicki stressed that every verse you hear of hers she wrote (“When you hear Nicki Minaj spit…Nicki Minaj wrote it”), in what was widely perceived as shade towards Iggy Azalea, who was rumored to be using T.I. as a ghostwriter.

However, she later clarified that she was making a bigger-picture point: “I will always take a stance on women writing because I believe in us!” she tweeted. “I believe we’re smart enough to write down our own thoughts and perspective, just like the men do. I’ve been saying this for FIVE YEARS!”

In light of that clarification, we can see that Minaj was really just insisting on the abilities of women in the game, and stressing that they don’t need to rely on input from others.

She Wants to See Other Women Win

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That brings us to the final reason Nicki Minaj is such a boss: she wants to see other women win.

Sure, Nicki loves to taunt her female competition with “all of these bitches is my sons” type disses, but for anyone familiar with Nicki’s entire oeuvre, it’s clear that this is an attempt to raise the bar for all women.

Minaj has been consciously paving the way for other women since her mixtape days (“Anyway, real bitches listen when I’m speakin’ / ‘Cause if Nicki win all of y’all gettin’ meetings”) and her latest album is called The Pinkprint for that exact reason: she wants to provide a model to help women succeed, in the same way Jay Z’s iconic album The Blueprint inspired (mostly male) rappers to set their sights as high as possible.

Ben Hassett for TIME

Minaj knows the effect she has on the hopes of women and girls everywhere. “Every time Bey and I do something together, I see how women are inspired, and it has nothing to do with how we look,” she told Marie Claire. “It has to do with how we are owning who we are and telling other women you should be the boss of your own career and the brains behind your life or your decisions or your art. I just love that feeling.”

It’s evident that Nicki wants to see young women succeed in particular, but female or not, everyone can take her messages to heart. She’s strong, she’s a boss, she writes her own rhymes and she spends her own money. She’s a mogul and a tireless creative. She does nothing by halves, and that’s an ethos for all of us to live by.

In other Nicki news, watch the queen of rap break down when she meets Lauryn Hill.

Words by Maddie Holden
Contributor
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