By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
By Hilary Hughes
By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
"I don't really think too many people want to mess with Remy," says Creekmur. But, he suggests, there's more to Remy Ma than comes across in her music. "By the same token," he adds, "she seems to have a vulnerable side that she buries. Sometimes it's behind a smile or behind the lyrics."
Perhaps. But to find that out, we're going to have to do what that young fan didn't dare, and that's follow Remy around for a few days. And be careful about offering to hold her purse.
Although born in the Bronx, Remy Ma spent much of her childhood in Astoria, Queens ("That's off the record!" she says, laughing), helping her mother, Amanda Smith, raise younger siblings. The family had little, and she characterized her mother as "strict," meaning that Remy had little freedom and resented it.
"Do you remember how I couldn't come outside? I had to take my little sisters everywhere, and my little brother," she says to childhood friend Mo, who is with her as this conversation in a restaurant takes place (and didn't want to give her last name to the Voice). Remy also had an older brother. And one of her most painful childhood memories, she says, is the neighborhood reggae party, which her mother banned her from going to.
"Do you remember how I cried?" she asks Mo, whom she's known since she was 11. "I hear the music from my house and couldn't go. I sat in the window!" Mo's uncle was a DJ and threw house parties on the weekend. "This was the thing that got me so pissed. Why couldn't I go?"
"Because you had to baby-sit," Mo says.
"That was the worst day of my fucking childhood. It was! I was so stressed."
Remy was 13. And soon things got even worse: Her mother was locked up, and the family faced homelessness. That's when, Remy says, everything changed.
"I found out the man I thought was my father my whole lifewe weren't biologically related!" The man she had called "Daddy" left New York with his son, her younger brother. Her little sisters went to live with their father, another man, and her older brother was on his own. Remy was alone.
"I don't know what my other choice was than to live with Moeither that or go to a home somewhere. I ended up living in her bedroom, on the floor. Moved in when I was 13 and moved out right before my 18th birthday. Seemed like my whole fucking life. I swear, those were the years that mattered. That's when everything went crazy. Everything I learned that makes me who I am today I learned at that point in my life."
Three years after the man who turned out to be her stepfather had left, Remy and her mother went to visit him in North Carolina. "We had a family discussion," she says. And Remy got aggressive. "He really couldn't take it. Long story short, he told me to shut up. I wouldn't. He punched me in my face."
To make matters worse, she says, her mother and stepfather told her she wasn't going back to New York. "I think they were scared I was going to tell the cops or something," she says. To make sure she didn't leave, they took her suitcase and bus ticket. "They were talking about how I was living there now. What? Operation: I'm Outta Here!" she says. "I broke out somehow." Her younger brother recruited a friend's mother to drive Remy to the bus station. "I never spoke to that nigga since that day," she says of her stepfather. "That was in 1996. I used to call that nigga my daddy. That was like my father. I had his last name at one point."
She came back to town with a black eye. "You remember that trip?" she asks Mo. "Tell them what I came back wearing, so they'll believe me."
"I remember," Mo says with a laugh.
"My shit was black for like two or three months. That was when Aaliyah was wearing her eye patch. I was wearing mad eye patches," Remy says. "I would say, 'I'm on my Aaliyah shit.' "
The incident, she realized later, would have a direct result on what would later make her famous: her ability with words.
"Especially after I got smacked and felt my face swelling, oh, I was going to say everything. Now I'm cursing. And after that, I just got worse. Somewhere along the way, I realized how powerful my words are. I could come up with something to really crush someone. I stab people a lot with my words."
Remy's biological father didn't surface until she was 18. Then, as her career was beginning to take off, he started coming around more. He also began coming up with schemes to cash in on her success.
"He wanted to sell 'Remy Ma' baseball caps," she remembers. "Not the fitted kind that were in style, but the snap-adjustable ones. Then he would ask for posters of me to prove to people that he was my father." She'd tell him: "I'm mad that you're telling people you're my father!"