Anyone who has access to social media since February 25, 2017 has heard or heard of Remy Ma’s Epic Dis Track ShETHER. A lyrically brutal takedown of hip-hop rival, Nicki Minaj, ShETHER continues the tradition of MC battles and pays homage to another rap annihilation, Ether, the 2001 track released by Nas aimed at his rival, Jay Z. Even those who aren’t hip-hop fans are aware of this beef by now. As always, there are leadership lessons to be learned in the most unlikely of places. ShETHER is ripe for many lessons regarding women in leadership! As I have been watching the buzz and controversy around the song itself and the rivalry it fuels, I can’t help but ask, “Is this a Queen or a Queen Bee Move?”
Difference between a Queen and a Queen Bee
In leadership, there are two types of women leaders: Queens and Queen Bees. Queens are those women who excel in their fields, are committed to growing other leaders, and operate from an abundance mentality. They openly promote and build up other women leaders not only because they want other women to succeed, but they have learned the power of building alliances. They build empires not fiefdoms.
“Queen Bees” operate from a scarcity mentality and don’t see the value in building up others and even purposely tear other women down. Queen Bees are typically successful women in masculine organizational cultures who have fulfilled their career aspirations by actively and deliberately disassociating themselves from other women. Sometimes, once they have achieved their career aspirations they deliberately contribute to gender stereotyping other women. This type of behavior is called the Queen Bee syndrome and occurs most often in male-dominated environments where opportunities are limited and women have an underlying fear of competition. Rather than building empires, Queen Bees seek to destroy the competition.
There Can Only Be One King, but Must There Only Be One Queen?
Nas proclaimed that there can only be one king in this track, The Message, but is that really true? If you look at history, there has always been one king in the kingdom, but many kings—and queens—rule the world. Why are they battling over who is queen anyway? Regardless of the backstory behind this rivalry, there is an inherent fallacy in presupposing that there can only be one queen. There is not one queen of anything. There can be more than one queen in rap. Beyoncé is hailed as Queen Bey, but even she recognizes the royalty of Tina Turner. Quite honestly, queens recognize the queen in others. Queen Bees deny and suppress others to polish the shine of their crowns. The existence of another woman at the top of her game cannot diminish the status of a queen at the helm of her empire. Queen Latifah got it right. U.N.I.T.Y. among queens raises the status of each queen. When you are assured in your position in your empire, you don’t need to dethrone another. You simply get focused on building power in your own right and your performance will speak for itself.
Is Competition between Women Ever Good?
There is much debate around competition among women. There is a popular saying that shows up on memes in many variations, “Real Women don’t compete with other women.” I disagree. I wholeheartedly believe that women should be competitive. There’s competition and then there’s being competitive. As an advocate for women, I subscribe to the concept of collaborative competition. Women should embrace competition and being competitive as a way to empower each other and empower themselves. Women should work together to sharpen each other and push each other outside of the comfort zone and into the excellence zone.
Societal conditions paint the competitive and aggressive women as bad and unfeminine. Like queens, competition operates from two perspectives—an abundance mentality and a scarcity mentality. Competition operating from an abundance mentality takes the position that “what is for me is for me and what is for you is for you. I can’t take your greatness from you and you can’t deny me mine.” Competition operating from a scarcity mentality takes the position that “I can’t achieve on my own, so I must deny your greatness and deprive you of the ability to excel.”
Let’s face it. The greatest brands in the marketplace are fueled by competition and rivalry—Coke and Pepsi, McDonalds and Burger King, Apple and Samsung, to name a few. I would argue that you can’t be your best without competition. Competition inspires innovation and discourages complacency. Collaborative competition at its best is when women don’t allow each other to be mediocre, but demand that each woman brings her A game.
Collaborative competition is when one queen identifies an opportunity that is good for her, but even better for her sister queen. Rather than holding on to a gem that is not meant to be in her crown, she challenges her sister to polish her fabulous and go for it—even when she doesn’t feel that she is qualified. Being unqualified is an excuse that many women use to cover their fear to push themselves and grow. There really is no such thing. Most women possess the skills necessary to excel and just need the opportunity—and courage—to expand their capacity.
Real women surround themselves with people, challenges, and opportunities that sharpen their competitive edge. That’s why queens build alliances with other queens—not princesses, not peasants, not paupers. Like iron, queens sharpen queens. Competition makes you better and keeps you at the top of your game. Remy Ma’s “attack” can empower or deflate Nicki Minaj—their coexistence makes each better and better.
Low Blows or Nah?
There’s jabs at your competition and then there are low blows. Throwing shade at your competition by pointing out your superiority establishes and elevates your position. Spreading falsehoods or personal insults unrelated to the quality of the performance or services is not a queen move. Resorting to personal attacks are low blows that diminish the strength or your empire. Healthy competition does not seek to destroy the competition, but to be superior in such a way that no one would consider the competition to ever be an option. Resorting to personal attacks begs the question of “Am I really as good as I say I am?” It can discredit the person hurling the attack and edify the one at whom the mud is thrown.
A typical Queen Bee move is to the perpetuate stereotypes against other women. A classic and trite stereotype of a successful woman is that her spoils are unearned, but the result of her sexual prowess. It is easy to try and discredit a successful woman with sexual innuendos. Her sexual history is irrelevant to her performance and outcomes. Even if a sexual favor landed her an opportunity, the tangible outcomes stand on their own. It is ridiculous to suggest that Nicki Minaj’s record sales are attributed to her sexual relationships. Her commercial success stands on its own. It is particularly disheartening to see one woman tear another woman down by reducing her accomplishments to sex.
Should Nicki Clapback?
The better question is, “Why should she?” Not all retorts are worthy of a response. Successful people don’t invest their time and energy in responding to critics. They invest their time and energy in creating additional successes that give their critics something else to talk about. Regardless of Remy Ma’s presence or absence in the rap space during Nicki Minaj’s rise, Nicki’s fans are going be her fans before ShETHER and after. Those that defect weren’t real supporters anyway. Unless there is a strategic reason to clapback and the clapback is going to be effective, there is no reason to be trigger-happy and fire back for the sake of firing back. Ironically, that did not work so well for Nicki’s ex-boyfriend, Meek Mills in his beef with Drake.
I believe that you can show your critics better than you can tell them. Nicki just needs to keep on doing what has made her successful and adjust her strategy in response to her market not her critics. Apple is not making decisions about the next iPhone around Samsung’s marketing tactics, but in response to what Apple buyers want and are willing to pay for. Samsung’s improvements make Apple better, but Apple still makes market-driven decisions. Likewise, queens don’t let queen bees run their empires.
Can This Really Kill Nicki Minaj’s Career?
It’s up to Nicki quite honestly. The original Ether didn’t kill Jay Z. Ironically, Papoose was quoted as saying that Ether annihilated Jay Z and called the track a decapitation. Jay Z still has his head and is probably ahead in the game right now. His commercial success in rap and business have spiked over the years. He didn’t retreat with his tail between his legs just because everyone thought Nas “killed” him. He just kept on doing what he was doing and his outcomes speak for themselves. Ether increased the popularity of both men. They eventually reconciled and made tracks together.
Rap music is a strange creature that often blurs fiction and reality in a way that often transcends the industry into real life. At the end of the day, ShETHER is entertainment regardless of the reality behind it. One very valid point that I applaud in Remy Ma’s tirade is the point about the responsibility of women leaders as role models. I like Nicki Minaj as an artist and businesswoman, but I have serious issues with her influence on young girls. I also recognize that she makes her sexual activity fair game due to the graphic nature of her lyrics. Regardless of her intention to be a role model or not, she is one by virtue of her position in the marketplace. Remy Ma was right to take her to task to being more deliberate on how she uses her influence to promote women and young girls.
Alas, ShETHER is not a conversation between Ursula Burns and Indira Nooyi. The track is an entertaining controversy that will spike record sales and popularity of both artists. And such is the nature of rap battles. They are not meant to be polite discourse and the brutality is part of the sharpening process. Regardless of her intentions, Remy Ma may be the greatest catalyst for Nicki’s empire and her own because controversy makes millions. Like Jay Z said, “Lemonade is a popular drink and it still is. Survival of the littest. [Queens] who really up versus [Queen Bees] up in your business.”
Ultimately, ShETHER is a queen move with queen bee overtones.