From the magazine: ISSUE 93, August/Sept 2014.
Ever since 2001, when a teenaged Remy Ma snatched the mic and out-shouted M.O.P. and Busta Rhymes on a remix of “Ante Up,” the New York rapper’s raspy voice and thick Bronx drawl have struck terror in whatever poor squad found itself standing opposite. Her aggressive style recalls the shut-em-down boot-stomping of late-’90s East Coast rap, but delivered from a woman’s perspective. Her cameo on Terror Squad’s crossover smash “Lean Back” brought her within inches of a major pop breakthrough. But on a hot July night in 2007, an altercation with a woman over money led to a shooting, and eight months later, Remy was sent to prison for assault. A few weeks shy of her release, we spoke to Remy over the phone from the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women in New York. She recalled her life-changing first encounter with Big Pun and explained how six years in prison has changed her perspective.
REMY MA: One day in high school, this Def Jam truck came around. They were promoting DMX’s new album. The side of the bus unfolded into a stage, and kids were battling. People was like, “Oh, Rem, you gotta go spit.” I was the only girl, so they were going crazy. That was the first time I performed on anything close to a stage with a crowd and everything, and I killed it. People started knowing me for being nice.
My crib was around the corner from Big Pun, and there was this dude from around my way that ran with him. This guy knew I rapped, and he was like, “Oh, I’ma link you up with Big Pun—spit for me.” I said, “No, I’m not just some human jukebox.” He was like, “Nah, for real. I wanna introduce you to him.”
We went over to Pun’s crib, and when I walk in, he’s sitting in there with boxers on, getting a massage. It’s just mad dudes everywhere. I started rhyming—the verse that I spit for him actually ended up on his album, on the song “Ms. Martin.” But he was just sitting there, like, “Aight, okay. That was aight. Here, give me your number.” That was it. I didn’t expect him to call.
But a couple days later, the phone rang. I pick it up and Big Pun is like, “You live in Castle Hill projects right? Come downstairs.” “Downstairs where?” “Out front of your building.” He’s out there with mad people. He said, “You know how to braid? I need my hair braided. Also, we ‘bout to do a video shoot with Jennifer Lopez.” So I braid his hair, and we go to this shoot, and I’m like, “Wow, this is Big Pun, that’s Fat Joe, there’s Jennifer freakin Lopez.” Pun introduced me to Joe, like, “This is my female rapper.” Mind you, this is the second time we’ve ever really been around each other. Every day after that, I came home from school and we would be in the studio late.
I found out that Pun passed in a cab. They were saying it on the radio, and I’m sitting there, like, “Pun is gon curse them out like a dog when he hears them saying he passed.” I had just seen him, and he was fine. He was actually talking about how he lost mad weight and showing old pictures of when he was cock diesel. So I called him and didn’t get an answer. I couldn’t believe it. When I had shouted Pun out on the “Ante Up” remix, it wasn’t to get any type of brownie points. He was the person that believed in me so much and had made so many plans for me, and he never got to see it happen.
Time passes, and my album comes out in February 2006. I catch this case in August 2007, and by March 2008, I’m in prison. I had been on tour; I was on the cover of the Village Voice; I was doing Us Weekly. I was doing things other artists hadn’t done a year into their careers. If you had asked me when I was in high school whether I ever thought I would end up in prison, I might have been like, “Well, you know, maybe,” because I was running around being a wild child. But after I started doing music? No way. I just could not believe it.
You go from a nice house in Jersey—“Oh, my Benz is parked here, my Jeep is parked there”—to a cell where you sit by yourself and a door you can’t walk out of when you want to. Those first days, I didn’t want to hear anything from anybody. I just wanted to be by myself, but people were like, “So how is Jay-Z? What is this person like? Is it true that that person is pregnant?” I wished I could just be regular and anonymous. And of course I was getting into it with people. If only you could see my list of disciplinary infractions from those days. People try you, like, “Oh word? She’s a rapper?” But I met so many great people, too, and got close to so many girls here.
The thing is, with women, it’s different. Dudes may go in and have their girl or their crew waiting for them and coming to visit. But I seen a lot of women get abandoned. You realize that just because someone is in prison, that doesn’t mean they are a horrible person. Hearing people’s stories and the details of their trials and what they went through, you end up even closer to them than your friends from the outside. Outside, you may go out and party with your friends, or maybe you went to school with them, but you didn’t live with them or go through so much with them, being oppressed together every single day. Two months from now, it might be different, but I know there are so many girls here that I wish weren’t in here, that I wish I could take with me.
I want to do little stupid things that people may even be surprised about. I want to go to an amusement park. I want to get my hair done, my nails done. I want to get some Popeyes, for real. But more than anything, I want to get back in the studio. When you’ve wanted to say something for years, and couldn’t, and didn’t have that platform—that’s all I want to do. I’m not rapping about popping bottles and being in the club, because it’s different experiences. But I’m ready to go in. I want people to know Rem is back.