DJ Holiday Reflects On The Mixtape That Made Nicki Minaj
Ten years ago, the inimitable MC leveraged ‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ to superstardom.
“I know that no matter what, in the end, it’s not going to be about my talent,” said a spry Nicki Minaj, reverb tracing her voice during the first minute of her 2009 mixtape Beam Me Up Scotty. “It’s not going to be about my connections. It’s not going to be about my looks. It’s going to be about who wants it the most—and I want it the most.”
Ten years later, the words still ring true for DJ Holiday who, along with The Trapaholics, hosted what became her breakthrough mixtape and laid the foundation for the superstar she would soon become. “She told me every day, ‘I'm trying to body everybody,’” recalls Holiday, whose booming voice serves as scaffolding on the project. “She wasn't for the bullshit and trying to talk about money. She was like, ‘I'm going hard, I'm signing with Wayne, I'm taking this shit to a whole other level, and I'm going to take this mixtape everywhere.’ She knew something we didn't know. I believed in her of course, but she was right.”
For Nicki Minaj, then a buzzing upstart from Queens, New York who first got Lil Wayne’s attention after he spotted her on The Come Up DVD, a lot was riding on Beam Me Up Scotty. Up until that point, she was focused more on her image than her music, releasing two mixtapes Playtime Is Over and Sucka Free in 2007 and 2008, respectively. But something clicked when it came time to begin recording Beam Me Up Scotty, when she went into beast mode. Holiday, who had become a mixtape titan hosting releases for Gucci Mane, connected with Minaj through Mizay Entertainment, who managed Gucci. Along with her ex-boyfriend Safaree, they set to work on a project that revealed how far Minaj’s talents stretched, from the cartwheeling cadence of “Itty Bitty Piggy” to the full-bodied singing on her remix of Drake’s “Best I Ever Had.” As Beam Me Up Scotty hits its decade anniversary on April 18, Holiday reflects on how hungry Minaj was to take her artistry to the next level, how it preceded her signing with Lil Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment and why the Barbz shouldn’t count out a sequel to Beam Me Up Scotty in the future.
Can you believe it's been 10 years since this mixtape came out?
DJ Holiday: “Nah, I always get tweets about it. Her fans never let me forget that it's been 10 years. They're still excited and support her just like they did when the tape first came out and gained popularity.”
Take me back to that time. You're from Atlanta and she was with Mizay and you were working with them in some capacity because you were working with Gucci Mane a lot. How did you link up with her for this tape?
DJ Holiday: “For the most part, Nicki was to herself. She was determined to prove a point of wanting to be in the crew of myself and Waka [Flocka Flame] and Gucci and everybody who was around. She kept to herself, she wrote a lot and always in her headphones listening to beats and stuff like that, producers she rocked with. Mizay had come to me and said, ‘Nicki Minaj is so dope.’ I always tried to help everybody in the crew, and Nicki, I knew she was going to be special and the first time I got with her in the studio, she was so focused and just an all-around person that struck me that something about her is special. I can't explain how I know, but I know they're going to do something amazing. She knocked out a whole bunch of records and basically just won me over. I agreed to do a mixtape with her with Mizay's blessing, of course. Nicki and Safaree said they wanted to do it, too.”
What impression did you have of her as an MC and a personality as well? Because this tape showcased the side of her that people may not have seen before.
DJ Holiday: “She's just a humble chick, man. Some people get the wrong impression if you don't know her, but she cuts through all the bullshit. She always motivated me to work harder and take my brand to the next level too as well. She had so many things going on at the time on top of figuring out who she was going to sign with. She always was leaning towards Lil Wayne and all of them and talked about it briefly sometimes in the studio. As a person, she's just slim to none. You could tell that her main focus was never talking about the newest clothes that came out or shit like that. She was always dreaming big. Like, ‘I'm going to get this far. When I make it, I want to live here, have a house there.’ She opened my mind up to different things, showing me this is the way you could do this or that.”
What do you recollect about conceptualizing the record and making sure it ended up in the final form?
DJ Holiday: “We worked really hard on that mixtape. Stuff that she liked. Stuff we didn't necessarily agree on, she went back and did it over and perfected it. ‘Itty Bitty Piggy,’ I thought that was amazing and going to be huge. We had a conversation like, this is a dope ass beat, it'll go crazy in the clubs, the Soulja Boy record [‘Donk’]. Knowing she would take lead like that and follow the direction when we added little things to the tape... I actually can't listen to it anymore because I'm so funny about how my tapes come out that I didn't think it sounded good, because at the time, I didn't have the proper equipment to mix it.
“‘Piggy’ sounded like how [Gucci Mane’s] Writing on the Wall [mixtape] sounded, we'd be in the studio until 5 a.m. I didn't like the way my voice sounded. For the most part, though, she was really focused and she knew this tape had to showcase her talent. One good tape from an artist can always put you on the next level. I told her that having two or three joints that was going to stand out on the tape that was amazing. She knew that. When we were putting together a mixtape, we were putting together a damn album. Without the label and any of that stuff involved, we wanted it to sound amazing. We knew she had good people on her team that was going to do everything in their power to get it out there. People always ask questions like, ‘Did you know it was going to be her breakout tape?’ I didn't at the time, but I knew all the key things of putting something together that special, we put a lot of hard work into that mixtape. I knew something good was going to come out of it.”
Do you think that she knew it would be her big breakout?
DJ Holiday: “I think she knew something was going to be different because like I said, at the same time we were putting together the tape, she was trying to decide who she was going to sign with. I heard names floating around in the studio, but then we had a real conversation about Wayne and I told her from my DJ perspective and as a friend, ‘Wayne is the shit. Why would you not sign with him?’ I didn't know nothing about the Young Money stuff and he had Drake and it was going to be crazy, all these new kids coming together to be Young Money and Baby was behind it. I think they was working on the ‘Bedrock.’”
What are some things you recall about disagreeing on that she went back and redid?
DJ Holiday: “Just verses, man. We would often play the shit for people and we was like, ‘That shit is horrible.’ She liked to get the reaction that she bodied that shit. She'd come back in the next three days and do something totally different but went even fucking harder and murdered it. I couldn't particularly say which records. I remember having a conversation about her singing, and at that time, singing and rapping on the same record wasn't really realistic until Drake came out and did it. But she did it. She said, ‘I'm going to showcase both of my talents on one record’ and she did that shit, you know?”
The tape got an incredible response. What was your reaction to the reaction?
DJ Holiday: “It was just on fire, man. The fucking response was crazy because I remember, it was happening so fast for her that we put out this tape and she was telling me she was booked to do walk-throughs and things like that. I followed her as much as I could with my schedule and was like, ‘Damn, she's really moving around.’ I always encourage the artist to say, ‘I have my platform and here's a tape I did because I can’ and dropping on DatPiff or whatever, whoever I was rocking with at that time. But she was doing that shit in Atlanta then she did it in L.A. and doing them everywhere, and I was like, ‘She's out here doing it, going crazy.’ Then the Lil Wayne stuff came out and after that, it was over again. ‘Five Star Chick,’ it was out of here. I called her and was like, ‘I'm so happy for you. You really took that mixtape and turned it into something else.’”
The mixtape was important because up until that point, she seemed very image-driven—she even talked about that at the time—and it felt like with this record, it was focusing more on the music. Did you have any conversations about switching that focus a bit?
DJ Holiday: “No, no. The Nicki Minaj image is like a light switch. She's calm, cool, collected in the studio, and then when it's showtime, it's like a fuckin' force of nature is unleashed. That's when she's at her best, on stage. That's where ‘Roman's Revenge’ comes from, because it's bottled up energy that needs to get out that the world needs to hear. That's why she's so aggressive on her records and how she raps. It was never focused on the image part. That took care of itself, because there are two different people in the studio and on stage.”
Taking a look at the broader picture, mixtape culture really hit its peak at that time. How does Beam Me Up Scotty fit among those top-tier mixtapes that are highly regarded?
DJ Holiday: “It definitely does. You can't draw that shit up. Nobody knows why Jay-Z became Jay-Z. I think Beam Me Up was a classic expression of what she was trying to get across, and she just caught a wave and took it to a whole other level. That's what makes it so special. She toured and then signed with Wayne and she was really eating off the mixtape stuff. Beam Me Up was definitely up there with the classics.”
What do you think it says that her fans still mention it to you and are so loyal over such a long period of time?
DJ Holiday: “It's what it is. She's the queen, bro. She stands the test of time, she been here. That's really what it's all about, being consistent and putting out that quality music. I just happened to be part of a situation where somebody became a mega superstar and still is. I supported her and I think she appreciates me for that. Every time I see her, it's always love. The bond that we have. And I love her fans. They support me on anything I got going on and when I put out records, stuff like that. They really want us to do something, Beam Me Up 2. Whenever we're together, they love it. But it holds a special place in my heart to know that I was part of something with her. It's one of the top mixtapes I ever dropped.”
Would you do a Beam Me Up 2 if you had the chance?
DJ Holiday: “Come on, man. Mixtapes aren't what they used to be. If we did, it'd be an album or something like that. But we've been flirting with music and stuff like that, sending each other beats back and forth and I know for a fact we talked about doing something when she does the U.S. leg of the tour she's doing right now. She started this Instagram thing about, ‘Should DJ Holiday bring me out for my old mixtape stuff?’ That shit went fucking bananas. She called me later that day and was like, ‘You want to do it?’ I was like, ‘Yeah! That'd be cool.’”