- Black Women Rap BattlesA Textual Analysis of U.S. Rap Diss Songs
On February 25, 2017, rapper Reminisce "Remy Ma" Mackie sent the hip-hop community and the Internet into a frenzy when she released "ShETHER," a seven-minute diss song aimed at the self-proclaimed "Queen of Rap," Onika "Nicki Minaj" Maraj.1 The song was made less than forty-eight hours after Nicki Minaj made a subtle reference to Remy Ma's disappointing album sales in a collaboration with Radric "Gucci Mane" Davis entitled "Make Love." Sampling Nasir "Nas" Jones's 2001 diss song to Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter entitled "Ether," "ShETHER" was neither the first nor reportedly the last time Remy Ma and Nicki Minaj disagreed with one another; consequently, it reignited a decade-long rap feud and brought attention to a lineage of women rappers who used diss songs to humiliate their rap opponents.2
In hip-hop, diss songs are used by artists to verbally abuse, lay claim to territorial identities and, more importantly, call into question the credibility of fellow artists.3 "ShETHER" was no different, making a number of allegations against Nicki Minaj accusing the rapper: of having sex with Dwayne "Lil' Wayne" Carter, Aubrey "Drake" Graham, Tremaine "Trey Songz" Neverson, and radio personality Ebro Darden; of having poorly done butt implants, preventing Nicki Minaj from having sex with her ex-boyfriend and rapper Robert "Meek Mill" Williams; and of openly supporting Micaiah Maraj (Nicki Minaj's brother), who stood accused of sexual assault of a minor.4 As a diss song, "ShETHER" was significant for three [End Page 64] distinct reasons. First, it represented a public rap battle between two top-selling female lyricists, which boosted Remy Ma's career. Second, it was applauded by members of the hip-hop community, described as "the most disrespectful song I've ever heard in my life" by Nicki Minaj's ex-boyfriend Safaree Samuels and "one of the top three diss songs in hip-hop's history" by popular hip-hop radio show The Breakfast Club.5 Third, the diss song heightened commentary about the status of women in hip-hop and exemplified how women rappers have used diss songs to achieve commercial success, respect, and voice in rap.
While "ShETHER" set the stage for what Kathy Iandoli referred to as "one of the most significant beefs in hip-hop history," the concept of a women rap beef is far from new. From diss songs like Lolita Shante "Roxanne Shante" Gooden's "Roxanne Revenge" and Lana "MC Lyte" Moorer's "10% Diss" to Inga "Foxy Brown" Marchand's "Bang Bang" and Nicki Minaj's own "Tragedy," women rappers have a long history of employing diss songs as a mechanism to disrupt the careers of their rap adversaries. Rap women have also participated in underground rap battle competitions for community respect, exposure to major record labels, and money. For example, New York's Fight Klub hosted a rap battle in 2004 between women rappers Shanell "Lady Luck" Jones and Remy Ma, in which the winner took home $20,000.6 The infamous rap contest lasted for several rounds; Remy Ma dissed Lady Luck for not being successful, targeted her sexuality, money, and rented cars, and eventually was declared the victor. Within months of this televised rap battle, Remy Ma's career ascended with the release of the Terror Squad song "Lean Back," while Lady Luck was released from her record label contract and exited the music industry.7 Reflecting on the 2004 rap battle, Lady Luck remorsefully recounted, "I singlehandedly blew up the Fight Klub, and I singlehandedly blew up that battle…. This battle made Remy Ma one of the leaders of the new guard of female rappers."8 Lady Luck's and Remy Ma's rap battle served as critical moment in rap women's history, for it illustrated a street-oriented, underground women's rap beef genealogy deeply rooted in hip-hop history yet often neglected in academic literature.
In the hip-hop documentary My Mic Sounds Nice: The Truth about Women and Hip-Hop, rap group Salt N' Pepa member Cheryl "Salt" James chronicled...