There’s a scene in Django Unchained where two slaves wrestle each other to the death. They fight at the behest of their master, Calvin Candie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who stages these house carpet brawls because he’s a bored and frivolous monster. Candie has excitedly put his money on Big Fred, who strangles his opponent and then bashes his skull in with a hammer. The audience learns the loser’s name, Luigi, only after Big Fred has deployed said hammer to end the match. “Arrivederci, Luigi!” Candie shouts before telling Big Fred he’s done “a real fine job!” Clear across the room at the bar, the emancipated Django, played by Jamie Foxx, smokes a cigarette and plays cool, refusing to watch this all play out.
For a few months now, Remy Ma has been locked in a cold war with Nicki Minaj. On Saturday she dropped “ShETHER,” a song where Remy launches into a largely predictable series of personal insults regarding Nicki’s dating life, her cosmetic history, her musical style, and her long-alleged employment of ghostwriters. Rap fans have run wild with “ShETHER,” though it’s not the most original song, as far as classic dis tracks go. “ShETHER” is seven minutes of Remy Ma spitting canned but clever insults over the original “Ether” beat that Nas used to eviscerate Jay Z 16 years ago. That beef was notable for how obscure and personal its origins were, and how nasty it got, culminating with Jay Z’s mother, Gloria, forcing her son to apologize on New York radio after he revealed some lurid and devastating details (“I came in your Bentley’s backseat; skeeted in your Jeep / Left condoms on your baby seat”) of his affair with Carmen Bryan, the mother of Nas’s daughter, on “Supa Ugly.”
In contrast, the feud between Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj is all a protracted (and now inverted) publicity stunt, as impersonal as these things get, having originated in 2007 when the newcomer Nicki dissed the reigning NYC rap queen to generate some initial buzz for herself. Now that fame’s tables have turned, Remy Ma has unloaded on Nicki Minaj to recapture the buzz she once had. There’s no great, running rivalry here. No captivating narrative. No precipitating event. No good or otherwise interesting reason for these two people to dislike one another. Not even the pretense of a station or principle worth fighting over. Just a few basic truths: Nicki Minaj is a woman who raps, Remy Ma is a woman who raps, and most rap fans never take women more seriously than when they heatedly rap at one another.
There’s a surprisingly long and exhausting tradition of hip-hop pitting female rappers against each other for no other reason but an irrepressible desire to talk about female rappers only in the competitive context of other female rappers. (To be honest, all rap beef — including the conflicts between male rappers — is pretty stupid.) Before it was Nicki Minaj vs. Remy Ma, it was Nicki Minaj vs. Lil Kim. Before it was Nicki Minaj vs. Lil Kim, it was Lil Kim vs. Foxy Brown. Shortly before that, it was Foxy Brown vs. Queen Latifah, perhaps the most serious beef has gotten between two female rappers. In the beginning, there was Roxanne vs. Roxanne. It is one of hip-hop’s corniest traditions, a reflection of the genre’s tendency to appreciate Female Rappers only as a novel subcategory of Rappers. (In fairness, this particular tradition isn’t nearly as reprehensible as male rappers saying foul shit about women, and to great acclaim, since the genre’s dawn.) Nicki technically started this fight with Remy Ma (10 years ago, before Nicki Minaj was the most famous female rapper in the world), but she didn’t start the tradition. It’s hardly her fault, but she does now have an opportunity to halt a bad, frankly boring cycle. She could abstain from this bullshit, go no further than a post on Instagram, and in turn we can all learn from it and never beg for one of these lose-lose, there-can-only-be-one fights again.
At this point neither combatant can unring these bells, but still, they should leave the ring. Walk it off. Forget about it. Let this beef disintegrate into YouTube obscurity, where it belongs. The only good rap beefs involve territorial disputes, interpersonal histories, and publishing splits. “ShETHER” has none of these. It gets Remy Ma nowhere, and any response to it from Nicki will inevitably feed into the “female rapper” reductivism that she’s spent much of her career resisting. By sampling “Ether,” Remy got us all thinking about Nas, though that song didn’t spur his career comeback. “One Mic” and “Got Urself A Gun” did. Those were the songs that got Nas back on the radio. There’s your scoreboard.