Orlando Davis was loading his whites into the washing machine when he heard something coming from the cable music channel.
It sounded like Annie Lennox's No More I Love You's, he thought. Why would that be on the hip-hop channel? And then …
Is that Nicki Minaj?
He ran out of the laundry room.
As program director and morning show host at Wild 94.1 FM, it's Davis' job to listen for gems, to unearth morsels that could blow up into big hits.
He had a feeling.
He tracked down the laundry song on one of Minaj's old mixtapes in January. He and friends polished the track in the studio, he said, and started playing it on air. It didn't have a name, so they dubbed it Your Love.
For months, the requests came.
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Minaj is part outer space super hero, part twisted comic, part spitfire rapper.
She invaded hip-hop this year in a way no female has since 1997, when Missy Elliot trounced around in a black Hefty bag asking, "Beep beep, who got the keys to the Jeep? Vroom."
The 25-year-old from Queens will play the Last Damn Show 12 on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum. It's huge for Wild's annual hip‑hop showcase to snag Minaj, whom Kanye West said could be the second greatest rapper of all time, right behind Eminem.
With African, Trinidadian and Indo-Asian heritage, Minaj looks like an imported porcelain doll dressed in Bratz rejects. She swirls Elliot's oddness, Lady Gaga's theatrics and Foxy Brown's voluminous sex appeal. Her bad girl femininity, according to the New York Times, makes "Mariah Carey look like Miranda from Sex and the City."
After recording a few mixtapes, Minaj got scooped up by Lil Wayne's record label, Young Money Entertainment. She rapped alongside Ludacris, Usher, Christina Aguilera and Sean Kingston. Her cartoonish phrasing ("Yabba Dabba Doo") and outlandish outfits (thigh-high Wonder Woman boots and orange wigs) fueled fans to call her "Harajuku Barbie" and detractors "Nicki Mirage."
Meanwhile, pop burgeoned with the carefully honed post-feminist artifice of Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and Katy Perry. There was a pretty clear cultural job vacancy as far as rap was concerned.
Minaj was the answer.
"You can't really just be a bombshell anymore," Davis said. "You have to have some different approach to it. Lady Gaga has done a good job being that weird kid, but you haven't seen it in hip-hop realms."
She enjoyed elite company at Young Money Entertainment, a label that some industry types expected to flounder at a boutique level, not bear mega-stars like Drake. Minaj blogged on MySpace and tweeted, collecting more than a million followers.
Her first full album doesn't even come out until November.
"It was perfect timing," said Devlyn Garrison, a Tampa hip-hop writer known as Miss Mouth. "She had no competition. There were no females in hip-hop at that time. She's beautiful, and she has personality and some talent. Is she the best rapper? No. But is she the best candidate? Yes."
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Minaj didn't really like Your Love, Davis said. Not the original version, at least.
It was soft for her taste. She wanted to be a serious rapper, not a sample girl. But Your Love got so popular that she re-recorded the track and filmed a music video rife with China doll makeup and sexy samurai gear.
She and Davis met at a Tampa Club Underground show in May, he said. She had just redone Your Love and didn't perform it that night, but the DJ blared it anyway.
"She just turned around and looked at the crowd," Davis said. "Everyone's singing word for word and jumping around."
Davis didn't ask Minaj for any money, he said — just for her to think about playing the Last Damn Show 12. She agreed. The radio station is paying her a "friends and family" rate to come, he said.
"It's enormous for a couple reasons," Davis said. "We don't really have a lot of women who have graced the stage of the Last Damn Show. So she'll draw the females on Saturday, but also give the guys that sex appeal."
Davis asked Minaj for one more thing.
"I want to be her date for the Grammys," he said. "We'll see."