A Manifesto of Menace: 20 years of Remy Ma’s explosive debut
Original release date: 7 February, 2006
Label: Universal/Terror Squad
At the start of Remy Ma’s debut album, There’s Something About Remy: Based on a True Story, we hear the haunting words of her late mentor Big Pun: “Sometimes you gotta fool ‘em/ Sometimes you gotta send a woman to do a man’s job, nah mean?/ In this case, my girl hit like a grown muthafuckin’ man.” Remy then launches into the opening track, She’s Gone, a dark and menacing manifesto that sets the combative tone for the rest of the project. As she balances her tantalising bravado with intricately crafted bars, it quickly becomes apparent that Remy Ma is one of one, and, like she spits on the track, “better than most men” who dominated the genre at the time.
There’s Something About Remy, then, is an entirely apt title. The cover art matches that same energy: Remy is posted up in a bodega, ornate white dress on, gripping the leash on her white pitbull as magazines chequer the walls, all bearing her face on the cover. Though a streetwise play on the poster for the 1998 film There’s Something About Mary, there really was a unique energy about Remy Ma. This charisma was presented when the Bronx-bred rap assassin first introduced herself on Big Pun’s 2000 LP, Yeah Baby, with a feature on the incandescent single, Ms. Martin. Back then, she was known as Remy Martin, named after the high-end liquor with an intoxicating flow. Again, apt.
The streets grew hungry for what the First Lady of the Terror Squad could bring to the table. That same year, Remy wowed fans when she appeared on M.O.P.’s Ante Up remix. A Certified Gold appearance on Terror Squad’s Grammy-nominated Lean Back and a rap battle win against Lady Luck followed, and it seemed as if Remy was peaking. So by the time she shortened her name to Remy Ma and unleashed her debut album in 2006, we were well acquainted with her platinum blonde bangs and ability to craft bangers.
It was also the perfect time to strike. Artists like Lil’ Kim, Eve and Missy Elliott were already well within their prime, so Remy’s arrival brought a renewed sense of energy from an artist who waited over half a decade to unveil her solo schemes. Remy finally dropped There’s Something About Remy on 7 February, 2006, to coincide with the sixth anniversary of Big Pun’s passing – a token of gratitude to her maestro, but also a statement of intent.
There’s Something About Remy was a long time coming, mainly due to circumstances beyond her control. With Big Pun’s death and Terror Squad leader Fat Joe enduring a series of label switch-ups (stunting the growth of Terror Squad members), it was difficult for Remy to properly kick off her career. As a result, Remy strikes fiercely on Lights, Camera, Action, asserting both her swag and authority: “Here I am, standin’ in my b-girl stance/ I got my name airbrushed down the leg of my pants/ I got my 54 letters and my Kangol on/ Bamboo earrings and my bangles on.” The bouncy, bass-heavy lead single Whuteva is straight shit-talking, Remy’s snide “whutevas” remaining a staple sample in DJ mixes today. With that heavy Bronx accent and unwavering self-assurance, it’s hard not to both fall for and be completely terrified by every word she says. Take the David Banner-produced I’m, where Remy rides the beat with surgical precision: “Ayo the girl spits harder than most dudes/ I give it to you on any given Sunday like soul food/ I ain’t even gotta double my vocals/ I do a main, ad-libs and the rest is Pro Tools.”
“Remy was in her bag and picking different styles of music” - Dre, Cool & Dre
Her debut hit the shelves at a time when rappers were being criticised for their “lack of substance”. After a shift away from the more conscious stylings of 90s rap, money was high, yet morale was low. But Remy remained unjaded, her genuine love and enthusiasm for the craft cutting through the dark fog that hung in rap’s atmosphere. “Everybody was trash to her, nobody had a good verse. They were all trash!” jokes Dre from legendary production duo Cool & Dre. That attitude (even in jest) was no doubt a reflection of Remy’s competitive nature, but she made good on her promise. The Miami producers first became acquainted with Remy as Terror Squad affiliates, later producing two tracks on her debut: Tight, featuring Fat Joe, and the heartfelt Still. On the latter, there’s a deeper tale that coats the poppy piano production, as Remy details her trials and tribulations on the road to the top, complete with her own insecurities about securing a big enough hit. It was a striking moment of vulnerability. “She told her story on it,” Dre recalls warmly. “Remy was in her bag and picking different styles of music.”
Luckily, her second single Conceited (There’s Something About Remy) did much to banish those flickers of self-doubt. Peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard charts (and currently sitting at over 53 million streams), Conceited is an explosive ode to self-love, complete with bars like, “See, I’m so outstanding/ Don’t care if they can’t stand me/ I’m sittin’ on top of the world like Brandy.” Collaborator Scott Storch brought the lo-fi horns of Lean Back to the production, allowing ample space for Remy’s bars – and rizz – to run free.
Remy’s debut was packed with versatility and promise that her stardom was just beginning. But following There’s Something About Remy, Remy was arrested in 2007 and later sentenced to eight years in prison for assault, weapons and attempted coercion charges. She spent seven winters and six summers behind bars and was freed in 2014. By that time, hip-hop had changed, and so had Remy. But what remained the same was her tenacity, as she picked up where she left off with comeback mixtape I’m Around. She subsequently blew up again, taking over screens as part of VH1’s Love & Hip Hop: New York, as well as going toe-to-toe against Nicki Minaj for the incendiary Shether. These are all just checkpoints on the journey, though. It all started with her debut album – a resilient battle cry from an artist who manifested her own destiny, who knew There’s Something About Remy. “Her confidence is on another level,” adds Dre, smiling. “She knows she’s incredible.”