Early in her career, Minaj was known for her colorful costumes and wigs. Her rapping is distinctive for its fast flow and the use of alter egos and accents, primarily British cockney. Minaj was the first female artist included on MTV's annual Hottest MC List. In 2016, Minaj was included on the annual Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world. As a lead artist, she has earned four top-five entries on the Billboard Hot 100: "Super Bass" in 2011, "Starships" in 2012, and "Bang Bang" and "Anaconda", both in 2014. She has the most Billboard Hot 100 entries among women of all genres in the chart's history.
Onika Tanya Maraj was born on December 8, 1982, in Saint James, Trinidad and Tobago. Her father, Robert Maraj, a financial executive and part-time gospel singer, is of Dougla (Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian) descent. Her mother, Carol Maraj, is also a gospel singer with Afro-Trinidadian ancestry. Carol worked in payroll and accounting departments during Minaj's youth. Minaj's father was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and had a violent temper, burning down their house in December 1987. She has two siblings.
As a small child, Minaj and a sibling lived with her grandmother in Saint James. Her mother, who had moved to The Bronx in New York City to attend Monroe College, brought the family to Queens when Minaj was five. By then, the family had a house on 147th Street. Minaj recalled, "I don't think I had a lot of discipline in my household. My mom motivated me, but it wasn't a strict household. I kind of wanted a strict household." Minaj successfully auditioned for admission to LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, which focuses on visual and performing arts. After graduation, Minaj wanted to become an actress, and she was cast in the Off-Broadway play In Case You Forget in 2001.
At the age of 19, as she struggled with her acting career, she worked as a waitress at a Red Lobster in the Bronx, but was fired for discourtesy to customers. She said she was fired from "at least 15 jobs" for similar reasons.