Nicki Minaj vs. Remy Ma: Why Hip-Hop’s Hottest Beef Is a Win for Rap Fans Everywhere

Rap fans have a tendency to write off femcee feuds as “catty.” And that is absurd.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

“You was screaming ‘Free Remy’ when I was upstate doomed / But now that they freed Remy, you don’t sing the same tune…”

The resurrection of Remy Ma has been interesting to watch.

The brash Bronx emcee first emerged in the mid-2000s, as the obligatory “First Lady” of a high-profile rap crew, the Terror Squad. With TS leader Fat Joe’s co-sign and the rhyming skills to put her in the elite “leaders of the new school,” Remy seemed poised to make a quantum leap to the forefront of new millennium rap’s mainstream. There’s Something About Remy wasn’t huge, but hit single “Conceited” made her one of the most buzzed-about women in hip-hop—as did her high-profile appearance on the megahit “Lean Back.” As artists like Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and Eve saw their runs hit various speed bumps, all signs pointed to this being Remy Ma’s time.

That all came crashing down in July 2007, when Remy (born Reminisce Smith) was arrested and charged with attempted murder after a violent altercation with Makeda Barnes-Joseph outside a party in Manhattan. In spring 2008, Remy was found guilty on two charges of assault and sentenced to eight years at Rikers Island. She would remain behind bars until 2014, when she walked free that August. By Remy’s side through the entire ordeal was her husband Papoose, and the couple even became something of a symbol of solidarity; that sentiment was only amplified after Pap and Remy joined the cast of Love and Hip-Hop in 2015.

For her career to grind to such an unexpected halt when it was just beginning to gain steam should have been the end for Remy Ma. Lil Kim and Da Brat never quite bounced back from much shorter stays in prison, nor had the legendary Slick Rick or one-time Bad Boy upstart Shyne.

Hip-hop comebacks are rare—and the game can be notoriously unwelcoming to women.

There’s a long list of legendary female emcees throughout hip-hop history, but even the biggest names in the game were mostly dismissed when they attempted to make comebacks after a hiatus—even relatively brief ones. After her gold-selling album Black Reign was released in late 1993, Queen Latifah put her hip-hop career on hold for less than four years. When she returned to rapping in 1997, her Order in the Court LP was virtually ignored by newer hip-hop fans under the spell of Lil Kim and Foxy Brown. Both Kim and Foxy would stop recording for extended periods: Foxy Brown hasn’t released an official studio album since 2001’s Broken Silence; Kim hasn’t dropped one since 2005’s The Naked Truth.

When Eve made her return to recording after an 11-year hiatus, her comeback album Lip Lock barely made a ripple. Missy Elliott hasn’t released an album since 2005’s The Cookbook, and despite buzz-generating singles—and a Super Bowl halftime performance—it remains to be seen if she can truly recapture the public with an album or high-profile mixtape.

But Remy has managed, via reality TV and her own savvy, to put herself right back into the mix. She’s arguably more famous now than she’s ever been and, after reconciling with Fat Joe, the two delivered “All the Way Up”—one of the biggest rap hits of 2016.

Plata o Plomo, the new album from Fat Joe and Remy Ma, features two hip-hop veterans who are clearly reinvigorated and rejuvenated. The old friends sound inspired here, with Fat Joe finally reconnecting with the swagger and confidence of his heyday, and Remy Ma reasserting herself as one of the most skilled rappers in the game and a formidable presence—regardless of who she happens to be standing next to at any given moment.

And all that puts her current beef with Nicki Minaj in an interesting light.

Though they’d been friendly in the past despite long-simmering rumors, things took a turn between Remy and Nicki after Gucci Mane dropped “Make Love” with Nicki, and Nicki seemed to take some thinly veiled shots at Remy (“To be the queen of rap, you gotta sell records / You gotta get plaques.”) Remy took the ball and ran with it from there—dropping the white-hot “SHE-ther,” a remix of the classic Nas diss track “Ether.”

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“To be the queen of rap, you can’t have a ghostwriter / and that’s why this is my house, flow writer / Niggas done seen Drake pennin,’ Wayne pennin,’ and since your first boyfriend left, bitch—you ain’t winnin.’”

There’s an overzealousness to always frame beefs between female rappers as somehow uniquely “catty,” or to overstate the belief that “there can be only one.” Rap beefs are everywhere and have been around since the art form’s earliest days. This is how it’s done. We shouldn’t rush to stereotype women who happen to be lyrically sparring. If it wasn’t “catty” for KRS-One to diss MC Shan or for T.I. to diss Lil Flip, then it isn’t “catty” when it’s Azealia Banks vs. Angel Haze.

Nicki vs. Remy could be one of the most engaging rap beefs in years because of Nicki’s fame and Remy’s notoriety, coupled with the easy “plastic pop star” vs. “gritty street siren” narrative. After Remy’s scathing “SHE-ther” hit social media, the battle lines were drawn and seemingly everyone was talking about Nicki and Remy. They were discussing the track in barber shops and bars. Rap beefs can often be calculated and gimmicky to the point of annoyance—and social media has only exposed how truly superficial and eye-roll-worthy most of these feuds are. But this is exciting. And the fact that it’s two talented women at the center is a win for hip-hop, all around.

Remy Ma has endured so much in the public eye, and she’s emerged wiser, stronger and better than ever. She may not have Nicki’s commercial cred, but it won’t matter in the court of the public opinion. Remy Ma is the people’s champ and it’s beautiful to see. She’s faced tougher obstacles than Nicki—prison, poverty, a high-profile miscarriage—and overcome them all. Her second act has been something special. She’s actually winning.

And that feels like a win for everybody.