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Exit 35 I-278n: Calvary Cemetery, Maspeth and Woodside, Queens
“As you come up on the Calvary Cemetery, which with about 3 million burials, it has the largest number of interments of any cemetery in the United States. So you may naturally ponder mortality, immortality, death and even birth.
“An immigrant to Queens, Onika Tanya Maraj was born on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad on December 8 nineteen eighty two. Her father is of Indian descent. He was a financial executive and part-time gospel singer. Her Mom, also a gospel singer, is of African ancestry. Onika's dad was an alcoholic and had a violent temper. He burned down their house in nineteen eighty seven. As a small child, Onika and a sibling lived with her grandmother in Saint James, Trinidad."
The population of Trinidad is composed of two large ethnic groups of Africans and Indians from India — both of whom were brought in to work the once vast sugar plantations.
Today, Trinidad is famous for celebrating the biggest and most outrageous Carnival in all the Caribbean. It’s probably bigger than New Orleans Mardi Gras. People in Trinidad, who call themselves Trinis, work for months to create the most imaginative and beautiful costumes. Then they party for days. This may have later resonated with little Onika when she finally found her calling.
Seeking opportunity, Onika’s mother moved to New York to attend Monroe College, and later like many immigrants, brought the kids to Queens. No surprise she ran a strict household and her kids had structured times for study every night.
Still living at home, her mom impressed upon her the need for higher education. But to attend college and to work menial jobs was mutually prohibitive. Plus she wanted to keep the dancing dream alive. So what’s a curvaceous lady to do? Onika today suggests she began moonlighting as a pole dancer earning large tips from appreciative men as she slithered and writhed in a stripper bar. During the day, she answered audition calls for song n dance while acting in off-broadway theater.
Meanwhile Onika moonlighted on her moonlighting gig by singing back up vocals in rap videos. Using her actor chops Onika debuted various accents often conversing between several alter egos. But the debut in the R&B community was not just her songs’ characters but also her own — Onika Tanya Maraj became Nicki Minaj.
No surprise, that tough attitude, resourceful work ethic, and frankly her signature backside got Onika noticed by the Hip Hop community. Rapper Lil Wayne saw her rapping in 2009 and was impressed. That November, she premiered with Gucci Mane and Trina on the remix of "5 Star Bitch" by Yo Gotti.
Late in 2009, Nicki dropped her first solo album, Pink Friday. Pink Friday boasted 375,000 sales in week one and quickly became number 1.
Soon she got a third name. Folks in the R&B community crowned Nicki Minaj “Queen of Rap.”
Now hanging with other young stars like her pal Taylor Swift, Nicki also appeared on "BedRock" and "Roger That" on the compilation album, “We Are Young Money”. Largely due to her recent fame, the singles peaked at numbers two and 56, respectively, on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100.
Other solo songs and albums followed. Her cumulative sales exceeded 100 million. To share some perspective, by comparison fellow New Yorker Billy Joel has sold 150 Million albums in his long career.
Nicki Minaj is now celebrated as one of the all time greatest female rappers ever. Her rapping is distinctive for its fast flow and the use of alter egos. Early in her career, Minaj was known for her colorful costumes and wigs. Today, she does not need any shtick,unless she wants to! She has the most Billboard Hot 100 entries for a female artist in the chart's history, while being #9 overall.
That said, she does love her outrageous outfits and the loud lifestyle. She even honors her Trinidad heritage by dressing for Carnival — whether she is shopping on Fifth Avenue or stopping traffic in Beverly Hills.
Returning to the nearby graveyard theme, such accomplishments make Nicki Minaj -- not just a rags to riches immigrant -- but nearly immortal!
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