free remy ma! the bronx rapper is out of prison and talking exclusively to i-d
On August 2, 2014, Hip Hop had a moment. Remy Ma, after serving six and a half years of an eight-year bid for assault (Remy was charged with shooting friend/associate Makeda Barnes-Joseph), was released from prison on July 3rd and two days later...
And we do have love for Remy. It was all around her on a sunny afternoon in late August, as she stood in the middle of the street — flanked by celebrity stylist Misa Hylton in New York City's neo-fashion capital of SoHo — draped in designer threads from retailer Opening Ceremony. As Rem strutted along the cobblestone for her photoshoot with I-D, passers-by stopped in shock and watched as the Bronx's daughter brought her swag back to the Big Apple. "Welcome home, Remy!" one onlooker shouted, before snapping a pic from a respectable distance and continued on his way.
Speaking to i-D at great length about her prison experience, her marriage to rapper Papoose, where she is creatively and where she plans to go.
You've been gone for six and a half years and you managed to come out of prison looking more gorgeous than ever. How?
Well, some of it is good genes. Even when I was about 18 or even 21, I looked like 15 or 16. I was always getting carded. But also too, when you're in prison, you don't really go anywhere. You're confined. I'm almost positive that I'm two shades lighter than I was. Like seriously. You're not in the sun, you're steady inside.
You came out to women in prison being romanticised by a show like Orange Is The New Black. What is prison really like?
Well, you're not always depressed. It's impossible to be. Like, you're really stressed out and you're going through a lot, but I was able to make friends that I really, really care about. I was able to go to college and get my Associate's Degree. I was able to just strengthen the bond and relationship with several members of my family — like my mom and my brothers — because you have so much alone time with them when they come visit you. Say if they come 8:30 in the morning, they can be there until 3:30 in the afternoon and you're just sitting at a table across from each other. So much can be accomplished, where when I'm home I'm moving around, running. So far since I've been home, I've seen my mom twice for like an hour if I put together both encounters.
What were the moments like heading up to the prison to begin your sentence?
What's so crazy is that the route that we had to take to get to the prison, we had to pass through the neighborhood where I grew up. It was like, 'I am not going to see any of this for eight years.' And I'm watching all the highways, and the exits like, 'Ok, that's where I would have gotten off to go to my old school' and 'That's where I would have gone to go to my best friend's house.' It was just very, very depressing and just a reality check moreso for me than probably anyone else that was on that bus with us. I remember it clearly. I'm in shackles, I'm handcuffed, and I'm in this cage inside of a bus. It was very… [pauses]…I think that's what broke me when I first got to prison. Like, what made it real. But I got it. I got the message. It sunk in. I'm a better person now because of it.
Did you and your husband Papoose have some sort of a conversation or agreement about your relationship when you were going in?
No it was more so like we were together, we were married, and we take our vows seriously. It wasn't 'for better or for worse…unless you go to jail for a couple of years and I'm gonna have to be out here by myself' or 'for better or for worse…unless you get into a car accident and you can't walk anymore.' A lot of people don't know what the word "unconditional" means. There were times when it was unbearable and hurtful because you have someone you love dearly, yet you can't be with them and you can't get to them. It used to be so crazy because we would go on conjugal visits, and the first day we would be really, really happy and so excited, but then the second day we would be so sad because you have to leave tomorrow. I'd be sad before it was even time to be sad. It's very up and down.
Did you expect a homecoming like this from Hip Hop when you got out?
I didn't. I hoped for it and I wished for it, but my husband was like, 'I'm telling you, I'm out here everyday and you have to understand that they go crazy like 'I can't wait for Remy to come home'!' I was like, 'Whatever, you're just saying that because you're my husband and you're biased.' I definitely did not expect it, and it's definitely humbling. It makes you appreciate the good things that happen in life. I'm very aware that it could've gone degrees differently, so just to be able to come home and be received so well and financially build up to what I'm used to or even close to it — I can see the path where I'm leading to. It's really good.
Women in Hip Hop have been more visible now than when you first went in, but many have fallen short in some category and the response has always been 'Wait until Remy comes home.' So now you're home, and you're surrounded by weird variations of Remy. Has it become a situation of 'Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?'
Some people see people that emulate them or see pieces of themselves in someone else that they feel that person took from them, and they're like, 'Oh, she's biting me.' For me it's like, well I must've done something really great to have people want to duplicate it or put their own little twist on it. It's actually cool in a way. It's kind of like when I first came out with the blonde bangs and the black hair. I didn't get mad when I saw other people with it. I see people with some styles and I'm like, 'Oh! Why didn't I think of that! She killed it!' So I think it's great. The more the merrier. I'm just so happy to see females in this industry making it. Period. It's really hard for females in anything — journalism, Hip Hop business, the medical field, the legal field. It's like we always get the short end of the stick. It's a just a good thing when you see females making it through doors that are normally closed to us.
Did you try to record while you were away?
The way it was set up for me in prison, it was impossible for me to record. When I tell you I definitely had the hawk eyes on me at all times. Anything that I did was taken out of proportion. And we definitely didn't have anything to record with. It doesn't really work out.
DJ Khaled has been getting props for going right in the studio with you as soon as you got out and giving you that creative push.
That definitely helped, with someone of Khaled's caliber. It wouldn't have had the same effect if I went in the studio with DJ From Down The Block, so that definitely helped. I am very grateful to him for that. I have nothing but love for him.
The irony of this interview is that it's for a British publication, yet you're not allowed to travel to London.
A lot of people don't realise that you could be convicted of a crime and you think, 'Alright I've paid my debt to society. It's over.' But it's really not. You'll be paying for it for the rest of your life. You can't travel to certain places. I can't drink. I have to ask for permission to go to work. My first day out, I was like, 'I want to go to an amusement park!' All of the amusement parks are in New Jersey or Connecticut, I can't leave New York City without permission. There are so many things. I can't vote! It's really not ever over. If I ever had to give a word of advice? First of all, I never proclaimed that prison was cool or jail was cool, and I would never wish it on my worst enemy. But I think a lot of times it gets glorified like you said earlier with these TV shows. They never show how it affects your life forever. Forever.
They make it look like Sex & The City.
It's not Sex & The City. It's definitely not Sex & The City.
Text Kathy Landoli
Photograpy Jai Odell
Stylist Misa Hylton
Make-up Terrance Welcher using MAC and Make-Up Forever