It really pisses me off when Drake compares himself to Jay Z; particularly because it is my opinion that Drake coasted through his defining rap year with mediocre music. During Jay’s not-to-be-compared-to defining rap year, The Blueprint was everything VIEWS just simply was not. Even in regard to his beef the year before, “Back to Back” was enjoyable, but couldn’t hold a candle to “Takeover.” Yet, while I remain thoroughly underwhelmed, Drizzy was still, you know, having the best year of his career.
This indicated a harsh reality to me: This is not 2001. When Jay Z and Nas were at war, social media hadn’t even left the sack to be conceived. When “Ether” rang off in the streets, it rang off – literally – in the streets. If you would have used the phrase “Twitter fingers” that year, someone probably would’ve thought you were referring to a sexual act. If you weren’t out in New Jersey for Summer Jam that year, you couldn’t watch the slaughter of Prodigy from your mobile phone as an alternative. The climate was different. The variables weren’t the same.
But when Remy Ma expertly hopped on Nas’s magnum opus diss track to hurl insults at Nicki Minaj for “shETHER,” she brought us all back to 2001. The merciless seven-minute track, sans-hook, was the perfect dose of nostalgia for hip-hop fans. Lines like, “You only fronted on Mariah 'cause Mariah don't carry,” proved that Remy was as hard as she was clever. Mentions of Nicki’s brother’s alleged rape case took us back to a time when all was fair in rap and war (see: Jay Z’s “I came in your Bentley backseat, skeeted in your Jeep/Left condoms on your baby seat”). The onslaught was one of “good ol’ days” proportions, so much so that folks have forgotten that this isn’t actually the good ol’ days.
Dismissing Remy Ma’s 48-hour demand for a reply, Nicki Minaj moved like Young Money molasses and released her retort in the form of one verse on a new single with Drake and Lil’ Wayne titled “No Frauds.” And much to the chagrin of everyone salivating for a taste of 2001, it was a reiteration of Nicki’s numbers on the board. Lines like, “They say numbers don't matter but when they discussin' the kings/They turn around and say Lebron ain't got six rings” did little to fan the flames of Twitter users who wanted an all-out massacre. Hard-hitting facts such as, “What type of bum b***h shoot a friend over a rack?/What type of mother leave her one son over a stack?” were quickly dismissed. And even while Nicki Minaj has literally beaten herself to become the first female rapper to go No. 1 on the iTunes chart since 2014, no one gives a single solitary damn.
Why? Because we’re all stuck in 2001. Including Remy Ma.
The cold, hard fact is that, today, numbers do matter. Numbers equal popularity, and popularity has never been so popular. Drake is the perfect case study for this: VIEWS was widely regarded as Drake’s worst work, but he still managed to break multiple records, and garner a Best Rap Song Grammy for motherf**king “Hotline Bling.” Perception is closer to 20/20 than ever, as social media continues to remind us all that it is indeed about the scoreboard, no matter who the best players are. Fortunately for Nicki Minaj, she understands this. As Remy Ma enjoys the fairweather support of overnight faux fans who just want to see a dead body, the more astute Barbie is fighting checkers with chess. She knows how short our attention spans are, and has reacted appropriately with a selfie here, a nipple pasty there and a song that Remy Ma won’t be able to escape — no matter who gives her props on it or not. This is precisely how she’s garnered the crown many now don’t think she deserves: by playing her game, despite the chatter of anyone in the stands.
So while Remy Ma and the rest of us wait for Marty McFly to take us back to a 2001-style brawl, Nicki Minaj is stacking up the real victory in 2017. Hate it or love it.
(Photo from left: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Roc Nation)