Remy Ma opens her solo debut with an incredulous question: “What do you mean, I’m your second favorite female rapper?” As far as she’s concerned, gender can eat it. Eyeing the rap landscape and seeing only dudes for miles, the former Terror Squad poet, who outshone Fat Joe on last summer’s “Lean Back,” angles to play the boys’ way. On “I’m,” Remy sends up her central conundrum in a few mean, monosyllabic words: “I rap as if I had a dick…bitches is bad, but I’m that Bitch.” Donning Teflon from then on, she acknowledges that, like Yo-Yo and Lyte before her, she’s got limited options in rap’s bro’d-up world. In her hunger to enter the canon, she opens fire on both men and women, guarding herself behind a fortress of prefab personas: slim thug, gangsta bitch, gangsta boo.
Solid producers like Cool n Dre, Alchemist, and David Banner ride with Remy as she plays the proto-material girl (on “Conceited,” where Scott Storch recycles his plinkin’-on-synths production) or the Bronx smackdown specialist (on the terrific party track “Whuteva,” where producer Swizz Beatz dons riot gear and wails sirens). Her references to stripper poles are less convincing than her plainly narrative verse, but at least her fantasies are creative: In “Bilingual,” a scrum manifesto featuring Ivy Queen, she imagines a rival’s husband with dildos and vibrators stuck in unmentionable places. Lean back, indeed.
But maybe seeing sexual violence as a power play is what keeps her from removing her armor on the slow jams. As R&B legend-in-the-making Mario lends his thick-cream voice to “Feels So Good,” Remy just qualifies her love: “I don’t like to kiss / But I really like your lips.” (How Pretty Woman.) It’s only when she turns to autobiography that she’s able to sidestep her street-thug limitations. Her straightforward rap style works best in moments of self-reflection: On “Still the Same,” a missive to friends who begrudge her for neglecting them, she veers from self-defense — “You don’t understand / I been in the studio for six weeks straight / Tryin’ to get these checks” — to a confessional about the abuse and neglect she’s suffered from her absentee parents. After spending much of her debut asserting that she’s fearless, it’s her most vulnerable tracks that finally prove it.
See also: Terror Squad, True Story (Universal, 2004)