In the hip-hop world, not all beef is created equal. There are gradations of drama, with bad blood ranging from a nasty tweet to a decade-long turf war between two feuding labels. And when it comes to the art of the diss track, there’s a difference between coming for someone directly and shading the hell out of them (if you don’t know what shade is, take two hours to watch Paris Is Burning then circle back to me). On February 25th, Love and Hip Hop’s Remy Ma took one look at the spectrum of acceptable diss track behavior, said “fuck it,” and released “ShETHER,” a reference to Nas’s 2001 diss track “Ether.” Just how savage is “ShETHER?” For starters, the cover art is a picture of a Nicki Minaj-style, pink-haired Barbie with her limbs wrenched from their sockets and a bloody tear leaking out of her plastic eye. Remarkably enough, Remy’s bars are even more brutal than her graphic designer. As Remy explained in a subsequent Wendy Williams Show appearance—all while wearing a tiny funereal fascinator to mark the supposed death of Nicki’s career—she’s spent her whole life “cataloguing” dirt on her contemporaries just in case. It’s no wonder then that “ShETHER” is basically a rhyming burn book, hitting on just about every aspect of Nicki’s career and personal life. Remy accuses Minaj of stealing lines, relying on ghostwriters like her ex Safaree Samuels, and getting so much plastic surgery that her “ass popped.” She also calls her a “disloyal hoochie,” claiming that she slept with Trey Songz and cheated with radio personality Ebro. Last but certainly not least, Remy really goes there by bringing up the rape charges against Minaj’s brother, who was arrested for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. In the wake of Remy’s ethering, concerned celebrities like Issa Rae cautioned Nicki not to “Meek this up”—AKA start a rap battle you can’t finish. After all, receipts will show that Nicki was baiting Remy with some disrespectful lyrics in the run-up to “ShETHER.” When Nicki took shots at Remy’s low album sales last month, she probably wasn’t expecting the rapper to immediately clap back with a vivid portrait of her explosive ass implants. As Remy astutely notes in “ShETHER”—yes, next to the slut-shaming and past the unnecessary ass digs, there’s some pretty smart stuff in here—Nicki hasn’t exactly been picking on girls her own size. From Miley Cyrus to Taylor Swift, Minaj is essentially on a beef-lite diet, starting feuds she knows she can win with women she easily outranks.
Remy, on the other hand, is an actual threat. She can rap, she has the respect of the hip-hop community, and she didn’t come up on a Disney channel show or the rough streets of Reading, Pennsylvania. In other words, Remy’s diss track challenge is one of the biggest roadblocks Nicki’s faced as the self-proclaimed queen of hip-hop. Fans waited with bated breath and queued up GIFs to see how Nicki would clap back. Would she easily squash insurrection like Drake, or choke like her ex-boyfriend Meek Mill? Would she dig up new dirt on Remy, or consider herself too successful to enter the ring with a reality TV star?
At first, Minaj seemed to favor a “when they go low, we go high” approach. Unfortunately, no one told her that taking the high road also applies to social media. While Minaj may have been trying to send the message that she was above Remy’s below-the-belt attacks, nothing says “I am not above these below the belt attacks” quite like writing and then deleting multiple social media posts. When Trey Songz appeared to be laughing off Remy’s accusations on Twitter, writing, “wake up to new comedy everyday,” Minaj wasted no time attacking her former collaborator. “Lol. Wut u SHOULD b saying is that it’s not true, searing as it’s not,” she insisted in a series of now-deleted tweets, adding, “I done gotchu 6 million plaques.” She also attempted to pull Beyoncé into her mess, sharing and then quickly deleting an Instagram of Bey calling her the rap queen. While we all wish Beyoncé could fight our battles for us, even Bey can’t save you from yourself.
After briefly falling victim to her own worst instincts, Minaj really did start to rise above it, making a number of flashy appearances at Paris Fashion Week and releasing a new app. Of course, Minaj was never going to be able to reclaim her throne with some high fashion pasties and in-app purchase money. Nearly two weeks after the “ShETHER” drop, Nicki finally got around to a real response. To be fair, it was actually three tracks—“No Frauds,” “Regret In Your Tears,” and “Changed It.” For her triumphant return, Minaj teamed up with her Young Money crew of Drake and Lil Wayne, because when three of the biggest names in hip-hop collaborate, fans listen up. “No Frauds” immediately jumped to the No. 1 slot on iTunes, making good on the taunt Minaj included in an Instagram caption: “Here at Young Money, we don’t do diss records, we drop HIT RECORDS & diss u ON them.” In round one of Remy Ma vs. Nicki Minaj, Nicki’s popularity and profits will always give her a leg up. At the end of the day, Minaj is a bigger star than Remy, and when she releases new music, she instantaneously charts. Meanwhile, Remy is cashing VH1 checks.
Of course, Remy knows that Nicki has a bigger following—she’s just questioning if she has the authenticity and the talent to keep her throne. So “No Frauds,” which disses Remy but hardly obliterates her, isn’t the comeback Nicki needed to end this feud once and for all. In fact, by leaning on Drake and Wayne after Remy accused her of riding the two rappers’, um, coattails, Nicki is actually playing into Remy’s narrative. At the same time, Nicki is way too big a star to come for Remy like she came for her; airing out all that dirty laundry would be a bad look—derivative at best, and needlessly cruel at worst. Pressed to defend her reputation but way too famous to be dragging other rappers for complete filth, Minaj is stuck in her petty version of the high road.
Minaj more or less copped to her own limitations in a recent Instagram hyping the new tracks, writing, “The greats took 3 months to respond to diss records. Queens don’t move on peasant time. Queens shut down Paris, then drop hits on #QueenTime…Next week I’ll beat Aretha for the most Hot 100 hits on billboard by ANY woman in the world EVER in the history of music. Stay in your bum ass place. Jealousy gets u nowhere.” Minaj also offered half a million dollars to Remy “if u can book ANY show or interview w/o mentioning the Queen name.” Remy is undoubtedly using her Minaj diss track to rehab her own image, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a real threat. Nicki might have the hits, but Remy has the bars to bury her.