I have to let you in on a little secret. The Oscars were a distraction. It can’t be a coincidence that less than 48 hours after Remy Ma released a Nicki Minaj dis track which makes “Back to Back” sound like Kidz Bop, we’re all too preoccupied with the #OscarGate kerfuffle to be bothered. Nicki is under some serious pressure right now to produce a response to Remy’s “ShETHER,” and the Oscars may have bought her some more time. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in an attempt to win Nicki back, Meek Mill infiltrated the Academy Awards ceremony to switch the winner cards at the last minute. But the North remembers, and so do I. We need to talk about this beef and what it means.
First let me clarify that rap battles and beef aren’t the same as a beef between say, Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian. It’s not always personal. The history of hip-hop is one of a competitive sport. Crews of b-boys, emcees, DJs, and graffiti artists would show off their skills in rivalrous collectivity. Even today, all it takes in hip-hop to spark a heated match is to claim that you’re the best or that someone else isn’t.
It’s what Nicki Minaj has been doing since she entered the scene. You can get a play-by-play of how this declaration snowballed into current tensions between her and Remy courtesy of Complex. But what matters now is that we finally appear to have a proper rap beef, if Nicki would stop posting on social media and get in the booth to respond. In this stage of the feud, album sales, looks, collaborations (all things that Nicki has tried to drudge up in her defense) aren’t going to crown a winner. All that matters now are punch lines and flow. Thus far, the score is Remy Ma: 1, Nicki Minaj: 0.
If we must get political, Remy gave us a lot to unpack in her dis. A friend and I had a meaningful conversation about the hoe-shaming and policing of women’s bodies present in Remy’s track, and how Minaj’s strategic media manipulation has positioned her to be the pop icon she is today. In the song, Remy goes after Nicki's alleged plastic surgery, sexual history, and support of her brother, who was convicted of child rape. Remy draws on these themes as an exposition of Nicki's character against the persona Minaj sells in the media.
But I want to make clear that this isn’t about two women being pitted against each other. The bigger issue is the systemic divestment of women in hip-hop. The scene only seems to be able to make room for one or two female rappers at any given time, a fact that makes identifying your competition all too obvious. It would be much more in the spirit of hip-hop if both Nicki and Remy had crews of other femcees supporting them. It would provide them both with more ammunition for their rhymes and would be a catalyst for more quality content. When your reputation is at stake, you tend to produce more quality work.
For fans, there are repercussions to the narrative that there is only one seat available at the top, and once your ass is in it there is no more competition. It limits the range of creativity we get from mainstream lady rappers and dilutes the importance of skill as a staple of the genre.
I see this moment as a homecoming for Nicki Minaj. The Queen/King of Rap title isn’t fixed like a monarchy that you hold until the death after you’ve attained it. It’s something that you have to fight for over and over again, not with receipts from your album sales or bank accounts, but with raw talent. Both she and Remy have that, but is Nicki still willing to prove it?