#PopCultureClass: ShETHER Lesson #1: Just Because You're Down Doesn't Mean You're Out

So, you already know that over the weekend Remy Ma released, ShETHER, a Nicki Minaj diss track. If for some reason you missed it, and/or the backstory, head over to my earlier blog post for the summary.  

ShETHER is lyrically ridiculous and had the internet ablaze on the last weekend of Black History Month 2017. Remy basically had the entire internet looking like this on Saturday:

SheETHER is also equally brilliant for multiple other reasons. For those of us who like to learn from the things happening around us, ShETHER provides enough material for a month long workshop on.....just about everything. I've put together some lessons I took from the song, because if this ain't a #PopCultureClass I don't know what is. This is the first in a series of at least four of the main lessons I took from Professor Ma. 

Lesson #1: Just Because You're Down Doesn't Mean You're Out. 

So...this song's very existence should have us taking notes from now until #BHM2018. For those of you new to Remy, her backstory makes ShETHER's release that much more incredible. Remy was convicted in 2008 of assault (and maybe some other things, but I don't have the energy to find the actual conviction) and served almost seven years in prison for it. She was released on August 1, 2014.

If we do the math, that means Remy has been out of prison for about 2.5 years. Two. Point. Five. Years. In this short period of time, she's become one of the most popular faces on VH1, established herself and her husband as #relationshipgoals for many fans, released an album, and come to reclaim her throne as the Queen of Rap with ShETHER. ICYMI, most people have been working on just doing one of these things for their entire lives.    

Re. the prison stint, Remy's side of the story is one of when keeping it real goes wrong. According to Remy, she had an entourage who used her fame to eat good, live good, and promote their own projects. Remy believed that Makeda Barnes Joseph, one of the former friends/entourage members, stole about $3,000 from her (all while living on Remy's dime). When Remy confronted Makeda, she says her gun accidentally went off and Makeda was shot. Makeda, of course, has a completely different side of what happened. She says Remy shot her on purpose.

I'm not here to pass judgment on who is telling the truth. The point is that Remy is one of tens of millions of people in the U.S. who have been formerly incarcerated. Coming out and doing the things she's done in a short amount of time is incredible, regardless of who she is and what is in her past. 

Why is this incredible to me? Former inmates face significant difficulties once they've been released from prison (not to mention the actual prison experience, which I'll save for another day). Check out these stats:

  • The psychological impact of prison is incredibly traumatic, even for short term confinement, and can actually be psychologically debilitating for many people.
  • Formerly incarcerated people are often not allowed to vote. In 34 states, you lose your right to vote for some period of time. In 10 of those 34 states, you can lose your right to vote for ever. 
  • Many employers won't hire people who have been in jail. Between 60 and 75 percent of the formerly incarcerated remain unemployed up to a year after their release. Even among those who find work, they often remain under-employed for years.
  • Once you've been to prison, it can be almost impossible to get an education because you can't get federal grants. 
  • Landlords don't want to rent to those who have been formerly incarcerated.

Yes, Remy was a celebrity when she went into prison and had some financial resources (her net worth has been disputed, but it was probably a few hundred thousand dollars when she went in). Maybe Remy is a good person. Maybe she's not. Who knows. Either way, that doesn't eliminate the trauma or impact of the prison experience.

Remy actually opened up last year about experiencing many of the difficulties I mentioned above in an interview with The Huffington Post:

In The Prison Community, Donald Clemmer called incarceration one of the more degrading experiences a human could endure. Given the traumatic nature of prison, I am amazed by Remy's recent two and half years. Imagine being taken from your spouse and young child (she had a son who was eight years old then) for any period of time, let alone seven years. Imagine not being able to work, shower, sleep, eat, or get dressed except when someone tells you to. Imagine being referred to as a number and not a name. This would be hard for any human.     

Which is why Lesson #1 for me is that being down doesn't mean being out. Remy seemingly lost a lot during the period revolving around the incident and her incarceration. But, she kept it moving. And over the weekend she created one of the most talked about stories of 2017 and perhaps one of the most impactful diss records of our lifetimes.

To Remy's credit, she seems like a natural-born hustler. While she was in prison, she studied and got an associate degree in Sociology. In addition, according to some reports, her net worth actually continued to rise while she was in prison. This means that Remy created projects, presumably her music and writings, that would bring her income even if she wasn't actually clocking in and out of a studio or other location. And even if she was in prison for almost seven years. That is the quintessential definition of passive income. 

She also stayed married to her husband, when research shows that the divorce rate for people in prison is 80% for men and nearly 100% for women. Remy has defied one odd after another. I don't care what you think about her personally, all of this is impressive. At least to me. 

And so is the circumstance revolving around ShETHER. Given the likelihood that incarceration will actually kill a person's self confidence and self worth, Remy came out seemingly more confident in her skills and proudly proclaimed that she was the best. Better than everybody in the game. Including Nicki Minaj. 

In an industry dominated by men, there is a dearth of rappers who are also women. One recent report indicated that the number of women rappers dropped from 40 in the 1980s and 1990s to 3 in 2010. Even MC Lyte, the first woman to have a solo rap album with a major label, thinks its bad, noting in 2014 that:

"We've gone backwards . . . . This is pretty much what it was like when women weren't able to get major recording and release opportunities."

In fact, usually only one name comes to mind in many discussions these days: Nicki Minaj. While of course there are other women rappers, Nicki is probably the most publicly popular by any number of indicators. 

Last year alone, Nicki was named one of the World's Highest-Paid Women In Music by Forbes and one of Hip-Hop's Highest Earning Acts (the only woman on the list). She's also won the BET Award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist for the past six years straight and been nominated and/or won a bunch of awards, including several Grammys. There's literally a (very long) Wikipedia page dedicated to the awards she's been nominated for or received.

So for Remy to come at her, especially right now, takes a lot of cojones. 

And come at her she did. Though my later articles will delve into the lyrics, the fact that this song exists at all is a testament to Remy's strength, mental toughness, and the skills stemming from the gifts innately in her. I write often about the power of knowing your value (check out some older posts here and here) and not allowing others to devalue that. If we haven't learned anything else from Remy, it is that self-worth can bring you #AllTheWayUp from your lowest points.

Remy Ma is letting everyone know she's back. Though we've yet to get a response track from Nicki, I imagine it may not matter to Remy. It doesn't seem like anything can stop her.   


If you're curious about other issues associated with the American commercial prison system, please watch Ava DuVernay's documentary film, 13th, which you can find on Netflix. Check out the trailer below.