The feud between the two rappers is well-executed PR — winning the title is just a bonus.
In 2017, if you’re trying to maintain a career in hip-hop substantial money isn’t in the music: it’s in metrics. This means follow counts, Soundcloud plays, Spotify listens — basically, the numbers. The corporatization of Black music and culture means we play the game differently. In terms of reach, hip-hop is as close to Hollywood than ever before and when you’re playing on that level, PR — the tactical pursuit of metrics — can make even more things happen than not.
Over the better part of the past decade during a time when hip-hop settled firmly into the mainstream, Nicki Minaj built a career without major competition. Onika experienced an enviable, meteoric rise, but she’s taken many forms to get there. And we’re not just talking about her physical transformations or alter egos. Beyond three studio albums and a steady stream of singles and remixes, everything that could be branded by Nicki Minaj is — from clothes to perfumes to beverages. A consumer buy-in and trademark that’s usually only afforded to the Taylor Swifts and Kardashians of the world, was extended to a Black woman from Baisley with a fanbase vast enough to ensure that even gargoyle radio personalities couldn’t keep her music out of rotation.
While Minaj was ascending to rap supremacy, another New York artist, Remy Ma, had stalled her own career well before its peak. There’s no way of knowing what Reminisce may have pulled off had she not spent 2008 to 2014 in prison at Rikers Island but very quickly upon her release one thing was clear: she was ready to reclaim success. Now, there is actual money to be made and Remy, privy like the rest of us to Nicki’s trajectory, was hip to game. Almost immediately joining the cast of Love & Hip Hop New York post-prison with her husband Papoose was nothing short of a coup: she quickly took over Yandy’s top love story plot. The couple also became a pillar of #BlackLoveGoals memes, giving Remy a taste of pop culture relevance and accessibility that wasn’t even remotely available when she went away.
“And unlike the entire history of rap beefs, Remy isn’t just trying to be crowned winner; the title only polishes her image. It’s not the goal.”
And “Shether,” Remy Ma’s diss track directed at Nicki, is perfect PR: a classic beat that immediately recalls one of hip-hop’s greatest beefsplaying under a seven-minute rant that positions Remy as “more street” than Nicki, and more grounded with the common fan. Listening to the track, you’d think that Remy would rather a Funk Flex shout out than a corporate contract. Its genius is in Remy playing to her demographic: older rap fans that remember her run and who still buy albums. And in the press that has followed the “Shether” drop, specifically her interview on The Wendy Williams Show, Remy revealed that she only recorded the song because Nicki was trying to freeze her out of red carpets and events — a move that’s more Hollywood than rap. Many questioned why she even did the interview, but she’s not underestimating her opponent. The two aren’t just playing in the field of lyricism. They’re playing for cash.
And unlike the entire history of rap beefs, Remy isn’t just trying to be crowned winner; the title only polishes her image. It’s not the goal. Which is why Nicki’s response, “No Frauds,” works so well. She reminds us of how established she is within rap, the unlimited resources she has to expound against Remy, and how much ground Remy has to lose with even one misstep. The glorious queen is basically saying, You rapped for seven minutes and I rapped for two but only one of us is on the radio. Lyricism is great if Remy’s just trying to add to her Wikipedia page, but she said it herself: she’s coming for her bag. A diss track that makes no money is surely a sore point for someone trying to make all the money she can. Remy isn’t chasing hollow opportunities and is instead building a brand, following the familiar steps of a well-oiled image machine: TV appearances, podcast interviews, women’s magazine features.