Status Ain't Hood

Nicki Minaj Will Not Be Defeated, But That Doesn’t Mean She’s Winning

Watch Nicki Minaj right now. She’s doing something special. Right now, before the world, Nicki is putting on a master class in Superstar Beef Management. Nicki should be in a no-win situation right now. A couple of weeks ago, Remy Ma came at her with everything she had, and she had a lot. The blistering seven-minute “Shether” was, in terms of rap diss songs, an absolute fatality. It was so glorious and over-the-top and unnecessary. She attacked Nicki from every angle, and some of the things she said were too true to be dismissed. And even if she hadn’t come at Nicki so furiously, Remy might still have public sympathy on her side. After all, nobody wants to root for someone who’s already a world-beater. That’s why so many of us can’t fucking stand Tom Brady. (Well, that and the Trump thing.) Rap itself is an underdog success story, so of course we want to root for the underdogs. Nicki should’ve been crushed by now. But she hasn’t been crushed. She’s doing fine. It’s really remarkable.

Last week, Nicki came out with three songs. They weren’t all about Remy Ma. Really, only one verse of one of them was about Remy Ma. But in a larger sense, they were all about Remy Ma, even the dancehall breakup song that was clearly about Meek Mill. Nicki is using those three songs to show off her versatility, to show that’s she’s bigger than one local New York beef that’s been gestating since the Smack DVD days. She’s presenting herself as what she is: a global pop star who’s bigger than these petty insular concerns. But she only really comes alive when she’s dealing with these petty internal concerns. The new songs are all fine, but the only one that’s worth discussing — the only song that anybody’s still really listening to a week later — is “No Frauds,” and that’s the one about Remy.

Writing about Remy and “Shether” last week, I wrote that Remy had opened things up with her own “Ether” and that Nicki was going to have to come up with something “Takeover”-esque if she was going to stay in this thing. “No Frauds” isn’t anywhere near the level of “Takeover,” either as a diss or a song. But it’s a song. “Shether” wasn’t a song. It had no replay value, at least beyond the replay value of a particularly nasty slow-motion dunk that gets repeated a few times, from a few different angles, before the game breaks for commercial. “No Frauds” is something that can and will get played on the radio beyond its first few days of release. It has a tense, sneaky beat and a hook that you can repeat in your head after hearing the song. It works as a kinda-feelgood reunion of the original Young Money core. It works as a sort of commercial show of force, since there is basically nobody else in rap who could get Lil Wayne and Drake on the same song like this. It has historical-curiosity value, since Nicki and Drake and Wayne have only shown up on the same song a handful of times. The last time was “Truffle Butter” in 2014, which was a great song. In comparison, Drake and Wayne seem to be on autopilot on “No Frauds,” which says scary things about the way both of them have deteriorated in the last few years. But they’re there, and that says something. The only one of the three who still sounds as good as ever is Nicki, and that says something, too.

Nicki’s “No Frills” verse is, simply put, a great rap diss verse. It’s vicious and righteous and petty and regal. Nicki’s been wounded, but she’s attacking from an elevated position simply because she’s a far bigger star than Remy will ever be. And it’s still better than it has to be. Nicki laughs off all of Remy’s plastic-surgery talk, turning it back on her: “Sheneheh, you a fraud committing perjury / I got before-and-after pictures of ya surgery.” She takes Remy’s long prison sentence, which could be considered evidence that Remy is hard as fuck, and uses it to make Remy look like an asshole: “What type of bum bitch shoot her friend over a rack? / What type of mother leave her one son over a stack?” She draws on Drake and Drake’s history winning the last great rap beef: “Back to back? Me and Drizzy laughed at that.” (That was a feud that Drake won while Nicki was dating the loser, which is enough to leave my head spinning. Rap soap opera is a real thing.) And most viciously, Nicki draws attention to the fact that Nicki is married to punchline-rap punchline Papoose while also maybe referencing the miscarriage that Remy revealed earlier this year: “Heard your pussy on yuck, I guess you needed a Pap.” It’s a command performance.

Meanwhile, Remy has had a bad couple of weeks. She didn’t clear the “Ether” sample on “Shether” before releasing it into the world, which means it’s been deleted from SoundCloud, YouTube, and all the various streaming services. She followed that track up with another one, called “Another One,” that barely left a ripple. And she gave at least one interview suggesting that she never expected, or wanted, “Shether” to go as viral as it did. She seems a little lost on what to do now. Logically, this feud should be completely over. “No Frauds” is out there in the world, gaining steam, while “Shether,” a song that was really only a conversation piece in the first place, has largely disappeared. But here’s the thing: Remy still won, and I don’t think Nicki will ever be able to do anything to change that.

“Shether” was just too nasty. It was too hard and bloodthirsty and true. Remy won the instant she brought up Nicki’s brother and his child-rape charges — an attack that Nicki never addresses on “No Frauds.” She landed too many punches. There’s just no coming back from it. Nicki has done everything right since “Shether,” but “Shether” was too much. Nicki will remain a big star after “Shether,” and one day, maybe people will even stop leaving stray Remy lines in Nicki’s Instagram comments or whatever. Maybe that’s the best revenge. But Nicki will never be able to will “Shether” out of existence. It’ll always be there. The crisis may be over, but there will always be that blemish on Nicki’s otherwise stellar career record.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Young Dolph – “That’s How I Feel” (Feat. Gucci Mane)
A couple of weeks ago, someone shot 100 bullets at Young Dolph’s car in North Carolina. He didn’t just not die; he played a show later that night. And then he released a song making fun of the shooters. And it’s a good song! And Gucci Mane’s on it! That’s superhero shit.

2. Young M.A – “Hot Sauce”
Young M.A’s new song is essentially the same song as “OOOUUU.” That would usually be a bad thing. Here, it’s a good thing. She sounds so drunk and so comfortable and, at the same time, so absolutely ready to just beat your ass. She’s really something.

3. A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie – “Drowning” (Feat. Kodak Black)
A beautiful, mournful, melodic song about owning lots of diamonds and being ready to shoot you in the face. Rap music is just the best.

4. 2 Chainz – “Smartphone”
I love how 2 Chainz tries to make hard-as-fuck street songs and still can’t stop doing goofy balloon-animal flows and dad-joke punchlines. At this point, I don’t think that guy could make a bad song if he tried.

5. Rick Ross – “She On My Dick” (Feat. Gucci Mane)
The world would honestly be a better place if Rick Ross would stop chasing hits and keep making songs like this was still the 2010 Lex Luger era.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO