“I would not be anything but a black woman. That’s life to me.”
“However you are, that’s how you’re meant to be,” Remy said of the 2005 single while on the phone with HuffPost last month. “And that’s what I want people to hear when they listen to ‘Look at yourself in the mirror like what’s up.’ That’s what I’m giving them.”
Born Reminisce Smith, the Bronx native has been active in rap since her debut in 2003. Many regard her as a true game-changer in female rap. Over the course of her career, Remy has made women’s issues an integral part of her platform. After finishing a 6-year prison sentence in 2014, she’s been outspoken about her values: empowering women through her music, denouncing colorism and advocating for female reproductive health.
When HuffPost spoke with her, the rapper said this empowerment must start at home.
“It starts when women are young,” she said. “Depending on how she’s treated as a child and how she’s taught to view herself will affect how she thinks about herself and other women growing up.”
Remy credited her childhood for shaping her views today. She grew up as one girl in a legacy of women taking charge and working together. Her grandmother, mother and four aunts all had a hand in raising her and giving her a clear idea of what strong black women look like.
“I had a family that was mostly women,” she said. “I learned in order for us to progress and be progressives, we help each other.”
That lesson is something Remy consciously incorporates into her music.
“Melanin Magic,” which came out this January and features Chris Brown, praises dark-skinned black women for all of the traits they possess that are commonly dismissed in Eurocentric standards of beauty. Along with the song, Remy launched the #MyMelaninMagic photo series to highlight black women across New York City and share their definitions of melanin magic.
“You always hear songs that are about, ‘I got this exotic girl. She half this and she half that’ or she’s yellowbone or redbone,” she said. “You never hear anybody glorifying the people or the women that are brown skin or that are dark skin.”
Colorism functions by devaluing darker-skinned people in favor of skin tones that more closely approximate whiteness and white aesthetics. As Remy pointed out, if black women are highlighted in videos or songs, they tend to be lighter-skinned with hair in loose curl patterns.
“I can’t preach to people the way I’m talking now. They’d be like ‘Aw, here goes Rem again on her rant,’” Remy said. “I have to trick them into it with a beat that they know that’s catchy to them with cutie pop or Chris Brown on the record.”
So while Remy’s outward celebration of dark skin in music is still uncommon, she says she’ll always use her music to fight against these very stereotypes and push for more representation for girls like her.
“[It’s] for those women who listen to my record like ‘Melanin Magic’ or a record like ‘Conceited’ that I made 10 years ago,” she said. “I want them to hear those songs and be like, ‘You know what? There is nothing wrong with me. I don’t need to change nothing.’”
In February, Remy hosted a women’s empowerment brunch, where she discussed how she wants this pride to foster more female collaborations within rap. The industry is notorious for alienating female rappers and simply not giving them the same credit as male artists.
Remy believes that women standing together is the answer to their collective success.
I’m always gonna tell people stand up for yourself. That’s what women’s empowerment includes as well.
While some point to her public feud with Nicki Minaj as contradictory to this message, Remy believes that it’s all a lesson in women speaking up for themselves.
“And sometimes people are like, oh, she’s just saying that. I don’t feel any woman should tolerate disrespect,” she said. “And that comes from my mom, my grandmother and my aunts. If you have a problem, then say something … I’m always gonna tell people, stand up for yourself. That’s what women’s empowerment includes as well. ”
Remy has also been vocal about issues related to women’s health, publicly discussing in vitro fertilization (IVF) and her own challenges with infertility. After a tragic ectopic pregnancy in 2016, Remy found she could no longer give birth naturally. The process has made her very aware of the issues facing women trying to conceive.
Not including the costs of medication and doctor’s appointments, a single IVF cycle can cost between $7,000 and $13,000 in the state of New York. The procedure isn’t covered by insurance in most states. At the 2017 Essence Fest, Remy announced she was going start her own foundation for women unable to afford fertility treatment costs.
“Where are these politicians for pro-life when there are women out here who want to have children?” she told HuffPost. “A lot of things that have to do with women always gets swept under the rug. We’re always secondary and that’s why I’m so adamant about the IVF situation.”
From women’s health to simply acknowledging how magical black girls are, Remy Ma views her platform as a chance to elevate women. She’s also basking in the proud moments when she acknowledges just how dope her identity is.
One of her favorite moments is when the box braids are finally taken out, and her hair is washed and standing alone in all its afro-puff glory. In these moments, so singular to black girlhood, she’s fully herself.
“Those are the days where I’m like I wouldn’t wanna be anything else,” she said. “I would not be anything but a black woman. That’s life to me.”