Remy Ma’s Nicki Minaj Diss Reminds Us That Pettiness Is a Virtue

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At some point during the past few years, the word petty underwent a makeover. Originally derived from the French word for “little,” the word had, for a long time, been purely pejorative. It was not the sort of word one applied to oneself: No one would call themselves small-fry, small-minded, an earner of petty cash, at least not with pride. Yet with no one knowing exactly why it happened (black culture and social media were surely the driving factors), petty became a socially acceptable, amusing way to admit that someone — including you, perhaps — held grudges. (A similar, related process occurred with the word savage, which transitioned from its original sense of “uncouth and uncivilized” to “heartless executioner [insert 3-20 cry/laughing emojis]” within the space of, it seemed, less than a year. What a time to be alive.)

Shortly after noon on Saturday, the Bronx rap artist Remy Ma tweeted a simple image of a multiple-choice option titled “Level of petty.” The three options were “Low,” “High,” and “Remy Ma,” with the third option selected. Though ostensibly tied to promotion of her recent Plata o Plomo tape with Fat Joe, the meme’s full meaning only came into focus an hour later, when Remy posted a Soundcloud link to “Shether,” a diss track aimed at her Queens rival Nicki Minaj, who had, in Remy’s telling, taken advantage of Remy’s eight-year incarceration to usurp the title of Queen of Rap.

What the title of “Shether” promises it to be (the female successor to Nas’s notorious 2001 Jay-Z diss track “Ether”), the track itself delivers in full. In fact, “Shether” may well exceed its forebear in terms of lyrical savagery. The song is a blast furnace, a seven-minute-long dismemberment plan that scrutinizes every facet of Nicki Minaj and finds each of them sadly deficient.

Financially, Nicki’s record deal has her handcuffed five times over: two-thirds of her income is siphoned off by a concentric series of label owners. Fashion-wise, she looks preposterous. (“You had a leopard beehive on your head.”) In terms of phrases, she’s a user of others’ lines, whether Remy’s or those of ghostwriters. Nicki Minaj, according to Remy Ma, is a terrible role model, a liar, and a harlot whose reputation is as artificially inflated and ready to burst as her ass; also, her brother’s a pedophile. With the possible exception of some prophetic passages of the Old Testament, a character assassination more vicious and thorough as “Shether” has yet to be recorded.

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