It took just two months for 2017 to give us the real eyebrow-raising, popcorn-clutching rap battle of the year. That is, if you don’t consider Remy Ma’s “ShETHER”—the diss track she dropped yesterday that defecates on Nicki Minaj’s entire existence—an instant TKO. The audio assault nods to Nas’ devastating 2001 song “Ether,” flipping the scathing Jay Z diss’ title while sharing the song’s lyrical ferocity and Ron Browz beat. And just a day later, the consensus around the seven-minute takedown seems to be that Black Barbie has been decapitated.
This beef has been simmering for nearly 10 years, and finally came to a head only recently, following Remy’s baiting via 2016 freestyles and Nicki’s recent subliminals on Jason Derulo’s “Swalla” and Gucci Mane’s “Make Love.” On “ShETHER,” Remy names names and lands direct shots. We’re in the era of hot takes, where diss tracks are often considered either career-ending or harmless as two-hand touch football. But the social media turmoil this has created isn’t just another case of stans overreacting. The Bronx rapper is a character assassin on “ShETHER,” portraying Nicki as both an opportunistic clique bopper who’s slept with Trey Songz and Hot 97’s Ebro Darden—both have denied the claims—and a bedroom prude whose rumored butt implants interfered with her sex life with ex-boyfriend Meek Mill. Rem also accuses Minaj of spitting ghostwritten rhymes and claims to have footage of powdering her nose without MAC or Sephora.
But Remy reaches Super Saiyan savage when she addresses Nicki’s older brother Jelani Maraj, who is facing life in prison after being charged with raping a 12-year-old girl. (He’s currently awaiting trial.) Her lines slice deeper than any cosmetic surgeon’s knife:
And I got a few words for the moms of the young Barbz
Guess who supports a child molester? Nicki Minaj
You paid for your brother’s wedding? That’s hella foul
How you spending money to support a pedophile?
He a walking dead man, sending threats to him
I guess that’s why they call you Barbie, you was next to Ken
Talkin’ ‘bout your money long and your foreign sick
Why you ain’t help your bro hide his come from forensics
As to be expected, the response on social media has only amplified the impact (shoutout to the brains behind this fake First 48 episode, with Minaj as the victim). But while “ShETHER” is vicious, it’s not quite rap’s meanest, most disrespectful diss. Just look back at Ice Cube’s 1991 classic “No Vaseline,” a vicious metaphor comparing the manner in which his former group N.W.A. was conned out of money to rough, non-lubricated sex. Despite its unconscionable homophobia and anti-Semitism, the track would’ve spawned endless memes had Twitter existed in the pre-Clinton years. Imagine how lit Instagram would’ve been the day Tupac Shakur told the entire world that he had sex with Biggie Smalls’ singer wife Faith Evans on “Hit ’Em Up” in ’96 (the music video’s phony B.I.G. would’ve been screen-grabbed and shared infinitely). Jay Z’s “Takeover” and Nas’ aforementioned “Ether” might’ve had their own Snapchat filters, taking the barbershop and rap forum convos into pop culture and making the iconic battle seem even more brutal that it was.
Remy Ma, on “ShETHER,” doesn’t go as far with the disrespect as others have. She never insults the dead, like Troy Ave. did last year on “Badass” when he mocked Capital STEEZ’s suicide to spite Joey Bada$$. Cam’ron brought up Harlem rapper Stan Spit’s deceased mother on 2000’s “Dear Stan” and made a sexual reference to Nas’ then-8-year-old daughter on 2002’s “Hate Me Now (Freestyle).” Gucci Mane got a little too real in his longstanding battle with Jeezy, a beef that led to the shooting death of CTE rapper Henry “Pookie Loc” Clark III in 2005. Guwop evaded murder charges by claiming self-defense, yet he brings up Jeezy’s friend and affiliate on 2012’s “Truth”: “Go dig your partner up, nigga, bet he can’t say shit/And if you looking for the kid, I’ll be in Zone 6.” These personal lyrical offenses are worthy of a fade on sight—Remy comparing Nicki’s teenage figure to SpongeBob SquarePants, not so much.
Still, “ShETHER” offers a barrage of scathing insults—it’s like a methodical PowerPoint presentation of failure. And while Remy can get cruel, she steers clear of some of Nicki’s self-disclosed personal trauma, incidents like her teenage abortion and witnessing the effects of her father’s drug abuse as a child, both of which Nick rapped about on 2008’s “Autobiography.” A less savvy rapper would root around in every crevice of their opponent’s biography—Remy seems to have a practiced sense of how far is too far, and it makes the song truly powerful and terrifying.
But with no musical response from Nicki Minaj yet, there’s no guarantee that this beef won’t get nastier.