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Nicki Minaj’s New Tracks Are More Than Just a Response to Remy Ma

Nicki Minaj. Photo: Jeff Kravitz/AMA2016/FilmMagic/Getty Images

No two rap beefs play out the same way. Some spill out over five years of shots and responses, while others die out after an Instagram post and a phone call. The rivalry between sometime crosstown New York buddies Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma recently went nuclear after Remy decided that two snarky Nikki guest verses on Gucci Mane and Jason DeRulo singles were, in fact, the opening shots in a war that’s been hinted at for years. Remy’s “shETHER” is a scathing seven-minute barrage of insults, but her follow-through — an ineffectual second track called “Another One,” a deleted Instagram post, and an interview in which she expressed some regret for all of it — felt rushed and unconfident. One wonders how much the timing of the attack had to do with Remy and longtime collaborator Fat Joe’s new album Plata O Plomo’s struggle on the charts.

Nicki Minaj responded last night with a three-pack of new cuts featuring her Young Money labelmates Drake and Lil Wayne. “No Frauds” addresses some of the bullet points of “shETHER” specifically, while making light of Remy’s own career. In just a few bars, Nicki sends jabs at Remy’s financial, legal, and familial struggles, knowing the Bronx rapper is working to regain her footing after eight years in prison for an incident in which a friend was shot over a missing thousand dollars. The sly cruelty of some of the lines here — “Heard your pussy on yuck, I guess you needed a Pap” is a dart at the mixtape rapper Papoose, whom Remy married in prison, and, just maybe, an episode of Love and Hip-Hop: New York in which Remy suffered a miscarriage — is amplified by the fact that this is an event record.

The last three singles to feature all three Young Money closers — 2009’s “BedRock,” 2014’s “Only,” and 2015’s “Truffle Butter” — have gone Top 40 with a bullet. “No Frauds” feels destined for the same. A certain stripe of rap fan will argue that “shETHER” is the meaner gesture, and it’s certainly longer, ruder, and more personal. But one of these songs is headed for summer radio ubiquity, and the other gets a radio ban and, as a consolation prize, the hushed reverence of a fan base that, three weeks ago, didn’t care enough to shell out ten bucks for an album. Rap fandom runs as unpredictably hot and cold as rap beef, but one thing is certain: Dudes’ ears prick up most for women’s contributions to the form when there is strife, when allegations of ghostwriting, plastic surgery, and sex-for-access are flying. This is how a show like Love and Hip-Hop can sprawl out into multiple spinoffs, each one offering ten seconds of the cast’s music for every ten minutes of their fights, most of which are brawls over unfaithful, unreliable men.

Remy Ma came out of prison intent upon flipping a male-dominated industry on its head. She reconnected with old rap friends. She and Papoose gave Love and Hip-Hop: New York its first dysfunction-free couple. She ducked baseless insinuations that she wanted to scrap with Nicki and also Iggy Azalea. It all seemed to work when “All the Way Up” crept up the charts as the summer unfolded … but then everyone checked out. Google Trends and Billboard charts tell a story rap fans won’t today. The calendar year since “All the Way Up” impacted charts last March was disconcertingly arid for “Remy Ma” searches throughout the United States and worldwide. Plata O Plomo debuted at No. 44 on Billboard’s sales-plus-streaming chart, selling slightly fewer than 8,000 copies and combining with streams to land at 11,000 equivalent units.

It wasn’t until “shETHER” that Remy saw a brief spike in Google searches, although that didn’t translate to many record sales: This week “shETHER” debuted on Billboard’s digital-songs chart at a modest No. 48, and Plata O Plomo sits at a nice, cool No. 69 on the Billboard 200. If rap fans are genuinely pulling for her in this war, they certainly aren’t behaving like they care. They are, at best, rubbernecking past the garishness of the spectacle. Remy charged into this battle as the kingslayer. She’s finding out it’s merely blood this audience craves, not her continued success. She knows this, and she has expressed resentment for it.

Nicki Minaj knows what a wider rap audience wants from her beef with Remy Ma, but she’s also aware of the specific needs of her very proactive audience of barbz and of the current challenges to her public perception. So it’s reductive to rate “No Frauds,” the celebratory Nicki/Wayne cut “Changed It,” and the dance-hall tune “Regret in Your Tears” merely in terms of how sharply they rebuke Remy. These aren’t just Nicki’s replies to Remy’s joust, they’re her first lead singles since the Meek thing busted up, her official return from the Pinkprint era, and a gesture of unity from a collective we haven’t thought of as a team since Wayne and Birdman stopped seeing eye to eye. The strike is a success for thinking relatively clearly on all these fronts — although “shETHER” deserved fiercer lines than “Back to back? Oh, you mean back to wack? / ‘Back to Back?’ Me and Drizzy laughed at that.” Nicki’s looking past Remy and this tiff, though, whereas the Bronx vet’s whole plan seems to have been simply to maim.

Everyone upset that Nicki didn’t send back five minutes of #BARS, and no chorus, should crawl back into their Beef and Smack DVD collections. Everyone who just came to kiki at a catfight should get back to their regularly scheduled program of Worldstar fight comps. Everyone complaining that Nicki called the Young Money squad in for support should get acquainted with the history of posse diss tracks. Everyone calling it for Minaj should rejoice at today’s gift of savage club-bangers. Everyone who genuinely believes that Remy Ma won this thing should get out and buy her fucking album already. The idea that a clear winner needs to be called today, or ever, is robotics. Two things can be good at the same time.

Nicki Minaj’s New Songs Are More Than a Response to Remy Ma