The “Super Freaky Girl” rapper was born Onika Tanya Maraj in Trinidad to her parents Robert and Carol Maraj. When she was 3 years old, her parents moved from the Caribbean island to New York City and Nicki was left living with her grandmother. Two years later, her parents came back to take her and her brother with them to South Jamaica, Queens.
Nicki later admitted that she was aware of her parent’s financial situation growing up and how they were struggling.
“You figure out the value of money when you come from a different country, and then you don’t have what the other kids have,” she said in her cover story for Vogue’s December 2023 issue. “Children know a lot more than you think regarding poverty.”
Early on, she made a goal for herself that she would become rich and famous and buy her mother a house — and even prayed when she was 5 years old that her dream would come true. “God, please make me rich so I can buy my mother another house and take care of my family,” she told Vogue of her childhood prayers.
Now, Nicki is able to deliver on her promises. She remains close to her mother and mended her relationship with her late father, with whom she had ups and downs throughout her life. Following Robert’s death in 2021 from a hit-and-run car accident, the “Super Bass” singer spoke about the “devastating loss” of her father in a letter to fans.
“I find myself wanting to call him all the time. More so now that he’s gone. Life is funny that way,” she wrote.
From their own lives to how they raised their daughter, here’s everything to know about Nicki Minaj’s parents.
Nicki’s parents immigrated to the U.S. when she was 3 years old, leaving her behind with her grandmother in a house bustling with aunts, uncles and cousins, she told Vogue. They brought her to their new home in Queens when she was 5 years old and the rapper grew up there.
When she was little, Nicki said, her classmates would point out when she couldn’t afford to keep up with the latest trends, like one time when she was in fourth grade and everyone had a specific pair of $50 Fila boots.
“A girl I considered a friend of mine — in front of all these people — looks at me and says, ‘You think your mother could afford that?’ ” she told Vogue. “When you hear things like that, you put them somewhere in your subconscious, and you make yourself a promise.”
Nicki got her singing chops from her mother who is a gospel singer herself. She released singles in 2019 like “What Makes You” and joined PeopleTV to discuss her music.
“This song is more pop, not gospel,” she said. “It encourages people to love themselves and encourages them to build their self-esteem. It’s really a feel-good song, it’s different from what I usually do.”
She shared that she’d been singing her whole life, especially around her children, which she thinks could have been part of Nicki’s inspiration to go into music.
“I sang all the time when they were young while I was doing my dishes,” she said. “When they heard me sing, they would just leave whatever they were doing upstairs and run down to the kitchen. They always say they miss singing around the house.”
Carol elaborated that she usually sang Diana Ross so Nicki grew up “hearing the oldies.” She added that she would even “love” to collaborate with her daughter one day on a gospel song.
Carol and Robert were always supportive of Nicki’s goals, whether that included sending her to LaGuardia High School, a famous performing arts high school in N.Y.C., or praying for her in church.
In 2014, Carol shared with The Christian Post that sometimes Nicki would call her with problems she was having in order to receive her mom’s prayers.
“My life as a Christian and believer was opened to Onika. As her career continued to thrive, she developed more concerns about life,” Carol said. “She knew I believed in the power of prayer, therefore, she constantly called me and our pastor, to pray for different concerns she may have.”
Nicki has frequently spoken about her dad’s struggles with substance abuse, explaining that he went from smoking weed to using crack cocaine once the epidemic hit N.Y.C. in the 1980s, per Vogue.
She previously shared that Robert would often only come to the house to sleep or steal their furniture to buy drugs or alcohol, and he could be violent toward her mother.
“It’s weird, because when he was on crack, he was more peaceful, and when he would drink, he became loud and violent,” Nicki recalled to The Guardian in 2012. “Each drug has its own spirit. You could see it on the person and feel it in the room.”
While Nicki added that she wasn’t fearful for her own life, she said she was afraid for her mother. One day, per The Guardian, Carol had a dream that her husband burned the house down, so she sent Nicki and her brother to sleep at her friend’s house. That night, Robert did set fire to their home — while she was in it.
Eventually, Robert went to rehab and worked on getting clean.
“He’s still with my mother. He went to rehab and cleaned himself up,” Nicki told the outlet. “Eventually they started going to church a lot, and he got saved and started changing his life. He’s away from drugs now. He doesn’t instill fear in people anymore.”
After her own experiences with domestic abuse, Carol started a foundation to help other women going through similar things called the Carol Maraj Foundation.
“Me being a survivor of domestic violence, I started to think a lot about other women,” she said on PeopleTV. “I started feeling a burden for them. The next step was I visited some shelters to speak with them and get a feel for what’s going on. After hearing so many different stories that really brought a lot of tears, we sat around the table and there were just tears, I was moved to start the foundation.”
The foundation aims to raise money and provide aid for women in precarious situations seeking help, and Carol’s goal is to one day have a facility to house those in emergency situations, she told The Christian Post.
“The ultimate goal, however, is to be financially independent to meet all of these needs and more,” she told the outlet.
Though Nicki had a difficult time with her father when she was young, the two worked on improving their relationship after he got sober. Now, Nicki has more compassion and understanding for him, recognizing that he was a “victim too.”
“I think about watching my father go back and forth, and I just wish that at the time I understood that he wasn’t doing it because he wanted to,” she told Vogue in November 2023. “I thought that he was making a conscious effort to be addicted to a drug that would have him steal his children’s video games and sell them for money.”
She went on, “Think about that—who would make a conscious effort to do that? Now I realize, those people weren’t making those choices because they wanted to hurt their family. Addiction took over their bodies and their lives. They were victims too.”
In 2015, Nicki even wrote a tribute to her dad for Father’s Day. “Happy Father’s Day daddy!!!!!!!!!!! I loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeee uuuuuuuuuuuuu!” she wrote on Instagram. “And Happy Father’s Day to all of you great dads out there. You are appreciated. *Tupac voice* 😘.”
Robert was killed on Feb. 12, 2021, in a hit-and-run accident in Long Island, New York, a rep for Nicki confirmed to PEOPLE at the time. He was 64 years old.
A month later, Carol filed a $150 million lawsuit against Charles Polevich who was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality and tampering with evidence. Her lawyer, Ben Crump, posted a statement on social media writing that Polevich was “not only irresponsible and negligent, but more concerned about running away and hiding than seeking help.”
“Polevich’s behavior was criminal, cowardly, and immoral,” Crump continued. “We will hold him responsible for his reckless actions that led to Robert Maraj’s death!”
Polevich ultimately pleaded guilty in May 2022 and was sentenced to one year in jail. Carol was not happy with the result of the trial, telling Newsday that she was “very angry” after hearing the outcome.
Though Nicki didn’t immediately address her father’s death publicly, she spoke out three months after the accident in an emotional letter to fans on her website, stating that she wasn’t ready to discuss the “devastating loss” of her dad.
“Tho I can’t really bring myself to discuss the passing of my father as yet; I can say it has been the most devastating loss of my life,” she wrote. “I find myself wanting to call him all the time. More so now that he’s gone. Life is funny that way.”
“May his soul rest in paradise. He was very loved & will be very missed,” she concluded.
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