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Nicki Minaj Takes the Win, but the Deck Was Stacked Against Remy Ma

“No Frauds” is too big to fail

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

On Thursday night, after Nicki Minaj dropped three new songs — including the savage “No Frauds,” the long-awaited response to her rival Remy Ma — she posted a lengthy Instagram caption. “Queens don’t move on peasant time,” Nicki wrote, bitingly explaining her silence since Remy Ma dropped “ShETHER” two weeks ago, and then the follow-up dis “Another One” a week after that. But buried a little deeper in Minaj’s caption was probably the most succinct summary of this whole sordid beef: “we don’t do diss records, we drop HIT RECORDS.”

Make no mistake, this feud has been about something larger than Remy vs. Nicki. It’s been about the changing face of hip-hop writ large: street credibility vs. radio play, “authenticity” vs. pop success. Remy Ma was locked up from 2008 until 2014, an era that coincided not only with the rise of Nicki Minaj, but also in a larger sense with rap music’s permanent crossover to mainstream culture. She’s using Nicki as a target, but the larger thing she’s raging at is a rap game that she believes has gone soft.

Nicki’s response was a total chess move. It was smart of her to release a bundle of three songs at once: It showcases her range and it proves she’s got other things on her mind than just Rem. The breakup kiss-off “Regret in Your Tears” (the poppiest and also weakest song of the bunch) seems to get some of her post–Meek Mill feels out, but it’s a little too reminiscent of some of the more maudlin stuff on her last album, The Pinkprint, to be memorable. “Changed It,” a collaboration with Lil Wayne, fares better, but it’s still more practice than perfect, like she’s gearing up for the main event.

Let’s be real, nobody’s going to be talking about these two songs this weekend — it’s all about “No Frauds.” First of all, can we talk about the subtle perfection of Nicki invoking “Back to Back” in her verse (“me and Drizzy laughed at that”)? She’s not only aligning “No Frauds” with the fatal blow in the Drake vs. Meek battle, but she’s finally acknowledging that her ex lost that battle in the process. That is a subtweet par excellence. Elsewhere, Nicki takes a scalpel to several of the claims in “ShETHER” (“I never signed a 360, bitch, you wild dumb”), and doesn’t deny Remy’s plastic-surgery allegations so much as accuse her of being a hypocrite to bring them up (“I got before and after pictures of your surgery”). For all of her stylistic maximalism, Nicki is, when she needs to be, a master of negative space and brevity. “ShETHER” was damn near seven minutes, while Nicki’s verse on “No Frauds” covers all the ground it needs to in about a minute and a half — as if to once again hammer home the difference between Queen time and peasant time.

I remember the moment I knew the Drake vs. Meek beef was definitively over: The first Friday night after “Back to Back” dropped, I got in an Uber and the driver just blasted it on repeat the whole ride. The Thursday-night drop is savvy: I can imagine “No Frauds” living out in the world this weekend — bumping from car speakers, playing at parties — in a way that “ShETHER” did not. It will be a presence on the radio, although that’s a loaded fact. “ShETHER” has been pulled from the airwaves and SoundCloud because Remy didn’t go through the necessary channels to clear the sample from Nas’s “Ether.” Some believed Nas or even Nicki was behind the plug-pulling, but TMZ has reported that the mandate is coming down from Universal Music Group, which owns the Nas beat.

That gives “we don’t do diss records, we drop HIT RECORDS” a whole new connotation: Nicki’s mainstream clout and pop power give her an upper hand over Remy’s more old-school approach. “I own my own masters, bitch, independent,” Remy spit on “ShETHER,” indicting Nicki for selling out not just to Cash Money but to the industry machine. Ironically, that’s the very machine that’s made it that much more difficult to even hear “ShETHER,” especially now that the Apple Music–backed “No Frauds” exists. Which means that Nicki takes the W for now, but only because she was wise enough to pull from a deck stacked in her favor.