The Rise, fall and rise of Remy Ma
For six years, four months, and five days, Reminisce Smith sat in the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women, a 45-minute drive north from the Bronx, where she was born. Separated from her son, Jayson, and husband, Papoose, she plotted her comeback, studying the rap game. Soon, she came to a conclusion: With the exception of 2Pac, every rapper who served time suffered for it, career-wise, upon release; none found greater success. With social media now allowing artists to release music and address fans directly, the MC we know as Remy Ma knew she had to start rapping the moment she touched ground.
And so she hit the studio hours after being released from prison on August 1, 2014, meeting DJ Khaled to record the “They Don’t Love You No More” remix. One week later she knocked out a song with Jadakiss. Then a record with Ty Dolla Sign. Then, since it was summer 2014, she touched Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga” instrumental. She was 34 years old, without state ID or driver’s license, without health insurance. She had to find a school for her then 14-year-old son, who was living out of state at the time. But she had a plan, and she stuck to it: She’d reestablish her music-industry presence before getting her life in order.
“Looking back,” Remy, now 37, says, “I guess it was a good decision.”
There was more to come. In 2015, Remy joined the cast of VH1’s reality series, Love & Hip Hop: New York, establishing a footprint in another medium. She also scored a hit record with “All the Way Up,” a collaboration with Fat Joe and French Montana that went double-platinum and spawned a slew of unofficial remixes.
But as Remy’s plan unfolded, a clash brewed with Nicki Minaj, the Queens MC who had ascended to rap’s A-list during Remy’s incarceration. Like most rap battles, it escalated from subliminal disses to calling out names. In February of this year, a few weeks following the release of Plata o Plomo, her album with Fat Joe, Remy unleashed “Shether.” A savage seven-minute assault on her rival that left few stones in Nicki’s past unturned, “Shether” peaked at No. 2 on the iTunes rap chart. Remy then went on a press run that, in a way, doubled as a victory tour.
The comeback was complete. But she learned something during the process that left her with a bittersweet feeling.
“It’s a popularity contest,” she tells Complex over the phone in early spring. “I don’t really care about rap the way I used to because there is so much politics. I just do what I do. I write, I talk my shit, say what I want to say, bounce around on the beat, and I keep it moving.”
She added that she feels constrained with the direction of her music. She’d like to diversify and address different topics. But she can’t, she says, because the public prefers her rapping about certain things in a certain way over a certain type of production. “I actually have some dope records that are actually about something,” she says. “I just never get them close to the forefront because it’s not what people be wanting to hear.”
There’s something sad and wrong when an artist like Remy Ma, someone who has survived so much to reach the point she’s at now, feels boxed-in and unable to express herself in her totality. Throughout her career, she’s been so stubborn, so sure of what she wants and what’s best for her. What’s stopping her now?
The answer, of course, is money. “If I didn’t have bills to pay then I could do any record that I want,” Remy says. “I do what I do because it’s fun and I love my craft, but this is a business and this is my job. You can go into your job and do the job that’s expected of you or you can do the job that you want to do. It’s going to affect your paycheck.”