February ended with a bang, as Remy Ma dropped her scathing single “Shether,” a ruthless diss track aimed at Nicki Minaj — and reintroduced the dialogue about feminism, sexism and the woman’s place in hip-hop to mainstream audiences.
Even if you have never heard of Remy Ma (and if you haven’t you totally should) you definitely know Nicki Minaj. Their beef swiftly turned from friendship to competition and now, to full on feud. The internet is whirling with this drama, and there’s of course some entertainment and fire coming out of all this, but there’s also a really significant debate these ladies represent, one that changes the politics and legacy of the diss track.
The water had been boiling between Nicki and Remy for a few years now, as both MCs sought to stake their claim as New York’s hottest female rapper. And competition between rappers of course did not originate between these two — “Shether” is actually a riff off Nas’s “Ether,” a supposed diss at fellow Brooklyn-native Jay-Z from 2001. However, with this showdown between Remy and Nicki, the feud has taken on a new conversation of gender that, although has existed within the hip-hop community for decades, is now being discussed within mainstream circles and wider listenership.
To sum it up simply, Remy’s seven-minute barrage on Nicki attacks her entire image as a black woman in hip-hop. From her body, to her artistic choices, to her profits — Remy goes after it all and totally undermines Nicki as an empowering feminist figure. She calls her out by name and the album artwork is of a bloodied Nicki doll, dismembered and floating amorphously in a background of white roses and pink powder. This is a pretty unorthodox, blatant strategy; most officially released disses take a subtler approach. Not Remy. She’s been too subtle for too long and it’s time to finally call Nicki out in the baddest way possible.
It’s complicated to open the door on the first part of the song, which focuses primarily on Nicki’s body and her appeals to the male gaze through her rumored plastic surgery choices. Body politics and slut shaming is a conversation in and of itself that traps feminists in a vicious circle of letting women do what they want versus playing into male expectations of feminine sexuality. So basically, I don’t really want to focus on that because I have a difficult time seeing that discussion going anywhere productive anytime soon.
What I think is the most profound aspect of Remy’s diss, and serving a larger purpose to gender roles overall, is her critique of Nicki’s praise as a female rapper. “And stop talking numbers, you signed a 360 deal/Through Young Money, through Cash Money, through Republic/Which means your money go through five niggas before you touch it,” she spits, referring to Nicki’s multiple record deals. In this instance, sell-out rhetoric takes on a different layer: it isn’t just “selling out” to the music industry. It’s selling out to a man’s industry. Nicki owes her entire career to male MCs and producers promoting her and, Remy argues, exploiting her. “Shether” is just as much a bash at hypermasculinity in hip-hop as it is a personal bash on Nicki’s role within that condition.
In that regard, it’s a little disheartening that these incredibly important issues are being packaged in the flashy headlines of a jaw-dropping diss track. And feud culture puts Nicki in a position of defense, not one of owning up to the fact that Remy has a super valid point.
This dismissal of the real issue here comes full force in Nicki’s reaction last week. She dropped “No Frauds” after two weeks of silence — featuring Drake and Lil Wayne. If the whole point of Remy Ma’s argument is that Nicki lets men use her and propel her fame, then why would she respond with a track that feeds right into that criticism?
I hope that this major act of publicity will transform into a more constructive reconsideration of female MCs in the 2000s. Lil’ Kim, Foxy Brown and Missy Elliott paved such an influential path for ladies in hip-hop to follow. Let’s not leave the legacy of millennial, feminist rap as a click-baity feud that ends up missing the point.