If you let male emcees tell it, the physical embodiment of hip-hop has always been a woman. But with each day Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj‘s ongoing beef dominates social media’s trending topics, it becomes clearer that ladies are the only heads left willing to fight for her heart.
After decades of being used as trophies, chess pieces and metaphors in the wars of aspiring kings, it seems natural that this once-in-a-generation battle matches two queens who brag, ball and bang harder than the majority of their male peers. But don’t blame Young Jeffery‘s dress or Lil Uzi‘s dye-job for the surge of estrogen that’s overtaken the rap game and made Remy and Nick’s back and forth the most important battle since Jay Z and Nas.
As Future drowns his personal sorrows in codeine and Drake gently pens hand-written love letters to his next romantic victim, our most powerful male emcees have proven to be too preoccupied with themselves to focus on running the game. In 2015, Drake trumped Meek Mill‘s checkers jump with clever chess moves and social media warfare. But by the time all the Twitter fingers stopped firing and the meme bombs had fallen off our timelines, both exposed themselves as unworthy of the throne.
Meanwhile, Minaj has been the only rapper in the post-2010 class to stay completely true to the rapper-turned-CEO blueprint that drove Jay Z’s campaign for king almost 20 years ago. Just the same, Remy’s stayed nastier than Nas and truer to the streets than pretty much anyone from her generation, male or female.
Purists can complain about the ladies’ lack of lyricism, speculate about ghostwriting or argue that a woman’s place in hip-hop is half-naked on the ‘hood of a Bentley. But there’s a reason Karen Civil is the biggest name in rap journalism and Cardi B is the only New York MC worth a multi-million-dollar recording deal and it’s not because of Title IX, Moonlight or a liberal elite agenda that aims to feminize hip-hop. Women are just harder than most men these days, especially in America.
We’ve already seen the proof in business, politics and every other sector of American society. Imagine Hillary Clinton being butt-hurt enough to tweet personal attacks at rivals and blackmail mainstream press outlets within her first two months in office. Yet the strong, allegedly business-savvy, “emotionally stable” man America chose over her is prancing carelessly from private resorts to golf courses with American’s tax dollars and national security teetering loosely in his tiny hands.
After Lewinsky-gate, Mrs. Clinton proved that she could stand up and answer to any drama, and she’s continued to; through 9/11, Iraq, Benghazi, mass incarceration and, of course, the emails, she’s barely flinched. Meanwhile, most of her male counter-parts crack at the first signs of criticism, conspiracy, or an attractive intern. Nicki’s rise to the top of rap has required similar poise. And just as Remy’s rap sheet and recent prison bid gives her more juice in the streets than the sum of all the D-boys, shooters and scammers currently incriminating themselves for SoundCloud likes online, Nicki is the only full-time rapper in this generation with the hustle to build a global brand that consistently reaches both hip-hop and pop audiences of all backgrounds.
Those who witnessed the Jay Z and Nas battle of the millennium era can see the clear parallels in how that epic war of words played out and how Remy and Nicki’s current feud is unfolding. But this isn’t the tragic feminization that Hoteps have been warning you about. This is the sign of an evolutionary point for hip-hop and American popular culture.
With all due respect to Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Missy Elliott, Da Brat, Lil Kim, Foxy Brown and the countless female emcees who helped define the culture to this point, none were in the conversation of being the hardest or most successful of their times in the way Remy and Nicki currently are. Don’t get it twisted, the lady rhymers of past eras weren’t shy about clashing on the mic. But “Roxanne’s Revenge” and “Light As A Rock” never carried the financial or cultural stakes that put Remy and Nick’s beef in the same conversation as iconic duels like KRS-One vs. MC Shan, Common vs. Ice Cube and Jay Z vs. Nas.
Like Nicki today, 2001 Jay was at the top of the commercial rap game but lacked the artistic credibility Nas maintained through his less capitalistic career. Like Remy, Nas leveraged his underdog position to pull a shocking upset and respark a recording career that Jay famously summed up as “garbage” on “Takeover.” Remy used the same strategy to pull a surprise knock-out with last week’s “ShEther,” which ruthlessly ran through both facts and rumors that exposed clear cracks in Minaj’s perfect plastic veneer. Fact or fiction, Remy made Nicki’s soul burn slow with the same fire that made Nas’ original diss iconic. It was a reminder to everyone that this was the same Bronx chick who walked around the metal detectors and got felatio from dudes as she whipped around the city.
After Nicki mimicked Jay’s “too busy to be bothered” approach for long enough to throw some half-hearted jabs onto a radio-ready record she already had stashed for her next project, she showed that she is even more like Hov than her YMCMB bros Drizzy or Wayne could ever be.
The Queens empress cooly calculated the many ways her global empire could be compromised by an unnecessary L and acted accordingly. The stunt already worked on her diehard followers who will stream, download and retweet anything the Queen Barbie commands. Their support will give her the advantage in mainstream media discussions where Remy’s only point of credibility will be her decade-old verse on “Lean Back.” But Hip Hop’s history books won’t be forgiving if Nicki continues to hide behind the Billboard charts and her famous friendships.
True heads know that Nicki’s Pop status was and always will be based on her Hip Hop roots. And while she earned her spot fair and square, if she continues to ignore Remy’s valid challenges and focuses only on her numbers, she is betraying the true emcess and fans who made her journey to the top of the charts possible in the first place.
Conflict exposes the truth in all of us, and so far we’ve learned that Nicki still has no qualms biting Lil Kim and Remy still has trouble crafting and carrying an enjoyable hook-driven song that isn’t strictly about #bars (“Another One” was just another example).
But both ladies have so much more to prove by continuing to fight until this knock-down, drag-out brawl leaves both their weaves in the dirt. Some might say they have more to gain by being bigger women and cashing their respective reality and royalty checks without continuing to tear each other down. And that may be true in politics — But this is Hip Hop. And as long as things stay civil and non-violent, a war of words will always be a fairer way to crown a royal emcee than counting record sales and corporate backers.
However this plays out, both ladies will go down in history for proving that the core essence of Hip Hop truly is feminine and that she’s somehow survived all the molly, lean and xanax bars her countless boy toys have been neglecting her for.
Through it all, she’s still alive. And her reign is far from over. May the best woman win.
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