Nicki Minaj, Remy Ma and the Misguided Critique of Women Beefing
Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj have been the subjects of quite a bit of scrutiny over the past week and a half. The two rappers have been embroiled in a beef, and Remy's scathing Nicki diss "shETHER" had all of social media buzzing. But not everyone has been enjoying the (currently very one-sided) feud between the two. While posting about divisions and negativity, Queen Sugar actor Kofi Siriboe made it clear that he wasn't at all into the feuding between Remy and Nicki. He posed a rhetorical question addressing what he saw as negativity unfolding on social media--and included the chatter surrounding this particular rap beef.
"First we support two women beefing," the 23-year old tweeted. "Now we shaming Lauren [London]'s baby weight.. & next black lives matter right? I'm asking for a friend."
There's a frustrating tendency to treat any public disagreement between highly-visible Black people as an indicator of deeply-rooted division and disunity in the Black community. But the idea that Black people can't disagree--or even be hostile towards each other--is rooted in the notion that Black people must always hold themselves to some unspecified standard of behavior for the sake of countering racism. Sorry, Kofi, Black lives do matter--it doesn't mean I have to like every person I deal with or that I shouldn't publicly voice my disdain for a person who happens to be Black.
As has been stated and re-stated several times, hip-hop beefs are a part of hip-hop; it's the dozens on wax, a game of wit and antagonism. While the belief that losing a beef can "end your career" is somewhat overstated, there is an element of credibility that is at stake when you engage in verbal sparring with another prominent rapper. It isn't any more detrimental than a couple of aggressive basketball players trash talking on the court--it's a part of the game. Sometimes it goes too far; most of the time, it stays as it is.
As for women in hip-hop, beefing isn't at all new. Roxanne Shante came to the fore via beef. Her first single "Roxanne's Revenge" was a response track to U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne, Roxanne" on which she dissed the members of the group. MC Lyte made her name as a teenaged battle rapper, and one of her early salvos was the classic "10% Dis," aimed at rival Antoinette.
But an uncomfortable facet of contemporary hip-hop beefs is knowing that this isn't sparring "for the culture" anymore--it's feuding for spectacle in an industry that generates millions. Rap beefs used to be mostly word-of-mouth affairs, discussed amongst hip-hop fans predominantly and rarely treated like anything close to national news. That all changed in the wake of the mid-90s feuding between Death Row Records and Bad Boy Entertainment--and the subsequent murders of Tupac Shakur and Christopher "Notorious B.I.G." Wallace--which drew an unprecedented level of mainstream attention due to both artists' fame and the toxic element of violence that seemed to lurk over both camps for two years.
The beef between 2Pac and Biggie not only caught mainstream media's full attention; it also connected hip-hop beefs to violence in a way that had only been implied before. This was further emphasized in the early 2000s, when feuding between former G-Unit compadres 50 Cent and Game led to gunplay at the Hot 97 offices in 2005; a shooting at a Busta Rhymes video set that left his security man Israel Ramirez dead and an altercation between G-Unit's Tony Yayo and the 14-year old son of Jimmy "Henchman" Rosemond in 2007. Henchman's Czar Entertainment repped Game at the time. The reputation for violence hovers over rap beefs, but rap beefs don't have to become violent. Most don't--it's just a question of respect.
“I had only met Antoinette once, and never seen her again except at the World, but nonetheless it [’10 % Dis’] was done in the spirit of hip-hop,” MC Lyte told Billboard in 2014. “I was the baddest MC. If you don’t think you’re the baddest MC then you might as well just sit down cause that’s what hip-hop is all about. It’s braggadocio. You can come up and win a different type of way, but you stand the chance of your ground being shaken. You have to put your stakes in and say, ‘I have to come at you some point.’"
Lyte also discussed the then newly-squashed beef between Jeezy and Rick Ross. The disagreement had led to some high-profile instances between the two rappers, including an altercation at the BET Hip-Hop Awards.
“That was then. Now there are MCs who can go at one another lyrically, and it’s respected as just that. But then when it comes out of the record, it’s when it becomes an issue. Even then, it feels as though, that with a little time, they’re able to work things out. I just saw most recently Rick Ross and Young Jeezy have worked out their differences, which is a big deal. I’m sure there were other guys around who pushed and promoted that to happen. I hope the same for the ladies, if given a space where there’s an altercation that’s able to be worked out.”
The aspect of lingering violence coupled with the ogling by mainstream eyes who just enjoy the visceral thrill of rap drama means that beefing in 2017 can come with a lot of questionable motivations and regrettable consequences. But in the case of Remy vs. Nicki; there hasn't been any indication that things would ever turn to violence. Like so many other rap beefs, this appears to just be a war of words. And the scrutiny from mainstream eyes is worrisome, but at the same time, hip-hop shouldn't fall into the respectability trap of constantly monitoring behaviors solely because of "outsiders" watching and dissecting the art they create.
That this particularly high-profile beef features two women at its center shouldn't be ignored. The handwringing that accompanied Nicki vs. Remy was noticeably less prevalent when Drake and Meek Mill engaged in their feud throughout 2015. Similarly to how the public can over-dramatize public conflicts because of a belief in Black respectability, Black women can be uniquely singled out for any drama between them. Conflict between Black women gets stereotyped as evidence of dysfunctional "cattiness" and fortifies misogynist ideas about women stabbing each other in the back instead of pulling each other up. But none of that is unique to women--conflicts and drama are everywhere and in anything where multiple individuals are expected to occupy the same space. We dehumanize Black women by suggesting that they pretend to be "sisters" for the sake of promoting an image of Black unity. And in a genre were sparring is a part of the culture, we definitely shouldn't silence Black women who may want to air their grievances on wax. This isn't inherently different from KRS-One vs MC Shan.
Where there is an overabundance of men antagonizing each other in hip-hop, women rappers beefing is less prevalent and oftentimes, less celebrated. When discussing hip-hop's most famous beefs, you'll almost always hear Ice Cube vs N.W.A. or 50 Cent vs Ja Rule or Jay Z vs Nas before you hear about Foxy Brown vs Queen Latifah or Trina vs Khia or Roxanne Shante vs everybody. It's already believed to be "unladylike" for women to be as brazen as men, whether in regards to sexuality or general assertiveness, so women insulting each other in songs elicits a certain pearl-clutching from those who believe that women should never fight--even in the most figurative sense.
And despite decades of mainstreaming, hip-hop is still viewed as classless and "ghetto" by detractors. Remy Ma is on Love and Hip-Hop; but would her feuding be less worrisome if it was with one of her co-stars? While there is often moralist hand-wringing aimed at reality TV, there is generally no assumption of violence during most reality show feuding--even if there is a long-standing history of hostility between those who are feuding. It's the stigma of hip-hop and rappers that leads to belief that somehow Remy vs. Nicki is inherently baiting hatred and violence.
Hip-hop beefs will probably always be controversial--you're essentially insulting someone over a beat, and the insults are often scathingly below-the-belt. The gloves come off, and many of our most celebrated diss tracks are rife with hate, homophobia and misogyny. Is there a way to make diss tracks without those things? Probably. But it's misguided to present diss tracks themselves as fundamentally detrimental. The beef itself doesn't have to wallow in any of those things and can still be a beef. At it's core, it's a conflict playing out verbally between two wordsmiths--and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. However Nicki vs Remy plays out (Foxy Brown even added her two cents last week), we should think twice before presenting this feud as "evidence" of anything beyond bad blood between two rappers. And that bad blood is being expressed creatively--the same as a bitter breakup song or an angry anthem--which is what artists do. That's not division or hate.
That's just art.