After a lengthy prison bid — and a recently released mix-tape — many wonder if there’s a place in hip-hop for the former Terror Squad rapstress. Female experts in hip-hop and media weigh in. And so does Remy.
Let’s start off with some context.
History has shown that hip-hop culture hasn’t been the kindest to the female form. Take a listen to some of the music topping the charts today and you’ll hear the same misogynistic and degrading messages that were in vogue more than two decades ago. It’s like the same script, different cast but this go round, there aren’t many female voices to balance it.
Long gone are the days of Salt N’ Pepa’s self-empowering songs extolling the virtues of womankind such as “Ain’t Nuthin But a She Thing.” It’s been 20 years since Queen Latifah’s Grammy Award winning anthem ‘U.N.I.T.Y.’ ruled the airwaves — both urban and mainstream (becoming her biggest hit song to date). During the 1990s, there was a plethora of various female voices in hip-hop — from the sexually explicit Eazy E-produced group H.W.A. (Hoes With Attitude) and Detroit area gangster rapstress Bo$$ to the conscientious Chicago native Nefertiti and the female empowering Ice Cube protégé Yo Yo, respectively. Other prominent female rappers such as Da Brat, Foxy Brown, Lil’ Kim and Lauryn Hill saw major success during this era too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; much more on them later.
The turn of the century represented a seismic shift in what soon became the dearth of female MCs. A few were able to break through the clutter such as Remy Ma, first introduced to the world via the Fat Joe-fronted Terror Squad. Their 2004 track “Lean Back“ became a certified gold selling hood anthem that reached the Top 10 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 Charts and was later nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or a Group. On the rise to rap dominance — scoring a litany of awards including BET’s Best Female Hip Hop honor — Remy Ma was a force to be reckoned with. With her raw and rugged rap style, she released her solo effort, ‘There’s Something About Remy: Based On A True Story,’ at the top of 2006 to critical reviews. By the end of 2007, however, the Bronx-bred lyricist made a different kind of news cycle after being involved in a near fatal shooting of a childhood pal in New York City. After serving six of her eight-year prison sentence at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, Remy Ma (nee Reminisce Smith) was released from prison on Aug. 1, 2014.
In record time, she was in the studio with current hip-hop producer du jour DJ Khaled adding verses to a remix of his new song “They Don’t Love You No More,” which was released immediately online and to hip-hop radio outlets. “It wasn’t really that different but I had to get a little bit acclimated and familiar with certain things again,” Remy Ma revealed in an exclusive interview. “It has been a really long time and hearing my voice again, I feel like my voice has changed. Some people may not notice it but I notice it. Over seven years, your voice gets deeper. It feels like every day my voice gets deeper so when they were playing it back to me, I was like ‘it doesn’t sound right.’ But it wasn’t because I recorded it incorrectly. It’s because my voice has changed and I’ve grown.”
No longer affiliated with The Terror Squad, she’s enjoying her freedom on all fronts. While she may have been eager to going back to her rapping trade, a more sensible and wiser Remy Ma said she’s entertaining a number of offers for recording contracts — but is in no rush to sign them. “I still have a few deals on the table that I’m going to go over with my lawyer and my money manager,” she explained. “I’m really excited about putting music out but I don’t want to rush into a situation I may regret because this will be my third record deal since I’ve been in the business and you know it’s a couple of things that I know exactly what I don’t want and a couple of things that I know that I do want and I want to make sure that that’s factored in but at the same time that everyone gets an equal opportunity.” “It’s not something I want to rush into because most recording contracts and things like that, they last for years and it’s not something that you can easily get out of so I definitely want to make sure that everything is right on the business end,” she added. “But at the same time I’m really anxious and I’m very excited about putting out new material so … that hasn’t stopped me from recording. I’m in the studio like practically daily so whenever the ink is on the paperwork, I’m ready to go.”
The married mother of one (while imprisoned, she married Brooklyn rapper Papoose in 2008) is optimistic about her comeback to the hip-hop industry. Even though others in similar situations have not fared that well, Remy Ma’s immediate release of the “They Don’t Love You No More” remix signifies a stark contrast to the female rappers before her (the aforementioned Da Brat, Foxy Brown, Lil Kim and Lauryn Hill) who also served time in jail after enjoying the platinum-plated trappings of hip-hop success but never actively recorded commercially viable music for major record labels again.
Their rap sheets are below:
Though the abovementioned artists enjoyed the spoils of what many can consider a golden era in the hip-hop industry during the 1990s, none (with the exception of Hill, and that’s debatable) are still signed to a major recording company, and seemed to have been abandoned by their millions of fans.
Remy Ma seems optimistic about her chances for a true comeback. But let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Will her being in jail cause a problem?
“I think being imprisoned for the past six years can be both a gift and a curse for Remy Ma,” hip-hop authority and former Source magazine editor-in-chief Kim Osorio said. “On one hand, hip-hop’s wider audience has traditionally glorified street credibility and both Remy’s crime and her time lends to that. When she was locked up, she was already a well-respected and authentic emcee whose skill could only have been sharpened by her circumstances.” “But of course, we know that hip-hop and the music industry in general can be very fickle, and it has changed so much over the past six years,” she added.
When asked if being imprisoned is a factor of some other female rappers’ ill fates, Remy Ma, herself, pondered the thought some. “As far as being in prison, I don’t really know,” she opined. “I think that works against you in any job that you want. Me having a felony conviction I could never work in a lot of places just because that’s on my record so, why would it not affect me in the music industry? It’s really serious how people don’t realize that.” “In so many professions, once you have that conviction … people still feel like you’re a female, you’re a woman, you’re supposed to be nurturing, you’re supposed to be a wife, you’re supposed to be a mother, you’re a girl and girls are supposed to be a certain type of way. So with this prison thing going on as well, it’s like ‘Oh we don’t want to deal with that!’ I don’t really know why it’s like that because it doesn’t seem to be like that for the men but it’s always a double standard.”
Yo Yo, a champion for Remy Ma’s comeback who always promoted sisterhood and empowerment via her four major label albums, further expounded on hip-hop’s double standard. “I’m wishing that this industry wasn’t as male dominated as it is and the lanes stay open for females no matter what. I wish there were lanes for women no matter how slow, fast or reckless we’re driving. We have to promote that because I see so many comebacks from men who have been all kind of things, who have done all kind of things and say all kind of things and look at them; they get promoted to do kid shows, they get promoted to teens, they get promoted to do whatever the hell they like.”
As a manager of the Trackmasters production team, Mona Scott-Young experienced their hit-making success with Foxy Brown’s early beginnings. Later, as a manager of platinum-selling artists such as Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott, she became well versed in all the factions of making and breaking a bonafide female hip-hop talent. She believes Remy Ma could have a career resurgence outside of her troubled image. “I think it’s going to be all about the music,” Scott Young attested.
“I mean I know that there’s a lot to be said about the notoriety, I don’t know if it works the same way or if it crosses genders and for a woman having done time gives her a measure of credibility or whatever that notion is but it’s really going to boil down to the music. I think there’s a lot of good will and a lot of support out there for Remy Ma and people want to see her succeed and win and nobody loves anything better than a comeback story so if she’s able to really find a way to channel the experiences that she’s just had and what these last few years of her life have meant and have taught her and put that into her music and translate that into something that moves people, then I absolutely think that she has a shot because there is, thanks to Nicki Minaj and other artists, a renewed interests and resurgence and support level for women in hip-hop and people are looking for it. Shows like [Oxygen network’s] ‘Sisterhood In Hip Hop’ are showing that they are out there and they want to be counted and we haven’t had that in quite some time. So, if there would be any time for her to have an opportunity now would be it.”
Scott Young, who is the producer of a slew of infectious reality shows — including VH1’s “Love & Hip Hop” franchise — said it’s unfair to compare Remy Ma’s future success to the other imprisoned female rappers because they crossed over and had mainstream success. “Well you’re talking about pop artists…I don’t know even without the jail time if she was ever a pop star. That was not her path even then. But what I’m saying is whereas before the only opportunities I think in interests level were for female artists who weren’t even necessarily as much hip-hop as much as they were pop. I think now the idea of the female MC is something that is being embraced and sought.”
“Interestingly, had Remy attempted to conquer the game six and a half years ago before her prison bid, she likely wouldn’t have been as successful as she can be now,’ black celebrity blogger Natasha Eubanks (of the Young Black & Fabulous website) offered. “The rap pendulum needed to swing toward the genre becoming more pop and more commercial before the masses could see the value, once again, in what hip-hop really is: The storytelling of the hardships, successes, riches, and survival.”
Remy Ma said she’s ready for the challenge: “I mean, it is what it is. Like in every situation everything changes and evolves with time and it’s just a matter of adapting the same way I had to adapt to my conditions when I was in prison. And if I can adapt to that it should be nothing for me to adapt to the new policies and things that are going on in hip hop and the music industry.”