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Nicki Minaj

With her picture on magazine covers and collaborations with Usher, Mariah Carey, and Ludacris, Nicki Minaj was a star in the music world before she’d even released an official album. Though a protege of Lil Wayne, Minaj isn’t a New Orleans rapper; she hails from Queens (by way of Trinidad and Tobago) and got her start on the Rotten Apple mixtape circuit. It was here Lil Wayne discovered her and brought her into his growing Young Money collective. Her hypersexual, bi-curious persona, fantastic rhyme schemes and outlandish “Barbie world” costumes quickly set Minaj apart from the crowd. The 2009 group album We Are Young Money, as well as spotlight-stealing guest verses for Ludacris (“My Chick Bad”) and Usher (“Lil Freak”) brought her national exposure. With hype and controversy at a fever pitch (including a “beef” with gangster mistress Lil’ Kim), Minaj released her first single, “Your Love.” With such a running head start, it’s no wonder her 2010 debut album Pink Friday quickly went platinum and launched the hits “Right Thru Me” and “Moment 4 Life.”