Shooting Star

Taking aim at Remy Ma

 Remy Ma—the new Remy, the one who's ditched the two-tone hairdo that was her trademark so that she presents a more intelligent, grown-up image to the world—leaves a restaurant, and it's immediately apparent that her new look isn't working.

"That's Remy Ma!" a teenage girl says to her friend in disbelief.

The friend responds with a nudge: "Follow her!"

Remy Ma
photo: Howard Huang; styling by Kenyatta Smith; hair by Terrence Davidson; make-up by Khadija Deshong.
Remy Ma

"Hell, no! She just shot her friend!" the first onlooker says, staying right where she is.

Well, perhaps just is unfair: It's been more than three months now since the 26-year-old Bronx rapper (born Reminisce Smith, variously known as Remy Smith, Remy Martin, Remy Ma, and now "the accused") was arrested for putting a bullet into the abdomen of her good friend, Makeda Barnes-Joseph, after a July night at the Pizza Bar, a hot spot in the meatpacking district, that ended in an altercation over Remy's purse, or the $2,000 that went missing from it, or whatever was bugging Remy that night—it's not really clear. These days, after a not-guilty plea, $250,000 in bail, and a new dye job, Remy is on her best behavior, avoiding conversation about her legal troubles and the prospect of spending up to 25 years in prison for first-degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon, and tampering with a witness.

Barnes-Joseph herself—still recovering from three surgeries (the bullet passed through her, damaging her intestines and exiting from her buttocks)—isn't talking about the incident. But her attorney, Lauren Raysor, expresses some exasperation that press reports haven't put the shooting in the context of Remy's past behavior. "I'm not clear as to why no one realizes this didn't happen in a vacuum," Raysor says. There was an altercation between the rapper and video vixen Gloria Velez in 2004, and Raysor also alludes to reports of Remy pulling a gun on someone in the Bronx (something the Voice was unable to confirm). But Raysor claims that the music press has been too thrilled by the idea of a rapper backing up her tough lyrics with felonious behavior to take the case seriously. Prosecutors have already reduced the charges from attempted murder to assault, suggesting that they have doubts Remy intended to shoot the weapon. Remy's extended network of friends and backers, meanwhile, have questioned Makeda's role.

"Once my client testifies, the jury will be convinced that [Makeda] played no part in the shooting, that she didn't take anyone's money. Remy got into my client's car with a loaded firearm and felt [Makeda] took some money, and [Makeda] didn't. My client was shot," Raysor says.

Remy, meanwhile, is watching what she says about the shooting, perhaps not only because there's a reporter hovering, but also because of the videographer that is an ever-present part of her life, taping for a possible reality-TV show that has yet to find a buyer.

If she's staying mum about the July incident, Remy isn't holding back on other subjects. In a wide-ranging discussion, for example, she happened to be asked if she had an opinion about who the next woman selected with the usual slate of nearly all-male VH-1 Hip Hop Honors winners should be.

"I don't give a fuck," she replied. "The politically correct answer would be, 'Of course we need more women; we need to stick together.' I don't care. Everyone is my competition, not just the women. . . . I don't care who's the next dude they're going to honor, let alone the next chick. When are they going to honor me? Everyone dwells on having something for the ladies. Fuck outta here! They always want their own shit, but then they want to be treated equally. Which is it? I don't need something for the ladies. Get with the program. Do what the niggas are doing."

After years of doing what the niggas have been doing—first as a protégée of Big Pun, then, after his death in 2000, gaining notoriety as the lone female member of Fat Joe's Terror Squad—Remy has always held her own in a field with very few successful women. Before the July incident, however, Remy's career was stalling. It had taken her six years to get out a solo album, There's Something About Remy, after Big Pun's death. And acrimonious accusations about how that album was promoted led to a split with Fat Joe and Universal records.

So Remy's looking for a new deal, and it may be too early to judge whether facing 25 years in prison was the smartest way to attract a new contract. On the other hand, she didn't need to pull a trigger to prove her credentials. For years, she's been a fiery performer who can leave a room of hardened hip-hop heads breaking into a sweat. "She's attractive and she can rhyme," says Chuck Creekmur of AllHip with measured restraint. "She's so headstrong—really a strong-willed woman. A lot of guys can respect that, as opposed to the more docile women that are presented in the culture."

Remy's voice is hard, raspy, commanding, not melodic. When she belittled a man by singing, " You know I look way too good to be stuck with you," on her album track "Conceited," there was no doubt, listening to her voice, that it was simple fact. (And it didn't hurt that she did look good, and that she has always carried herself in a way that was as much a woman in control as sex symbol.)

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