The Playlist: Nicki Minaj Strikes Back, and Fleet Foxes Return With a Folky Epic

Remy Ma’s “ShETHER,” which savagely attacked and tested the resilience of Nicki Minaj, was a stellar act of asymmetrical warfare. It came as a surprise, it exploited its enemy’s weak spots, and it used an old, out-of-fashion tool that Ms. Minaj doesn’t have much use for these days: blunt-force bars. After its release, a few days passed without a reply. Then Remy Ma released a follow-up, “Another One,” that was  less effective. A few days later, in an interview with the Another Round podcast, she seemed to be looking for cover, insisting she preferred comity and collaboration to tension.

So much for all that. Ms. Minaj finally took a moment to respond, releasing three new songs. If Remy Ma’s attack came on the battlefield, it’s maybe not that surprising that Ms. Minaj’s came from the boardroom. Yes, two of them — “No Frauds” and “Changed It” — serve as retorts. They’re less punitive than Remy Ma’s assault but still effective, especially the lines about Remy Ma’s criminal past (“What type of bum bitch shoot a friend over a rack?/What type of mother leave her one son over a stack?”). But they’re also more than that. Each of these songs is sinuous enough to end up on the radio, and that’s the real asymmetry. Remy Ma was barking to the converted, Ms. Minaj has a larger constituency to worry about.

Which perhaps explains why the best of the new songs is the one that has seemingly nothing to do with Remy Ma. “Regret in Your Tears” nails Ms. Minaj’s intersection of hip-hop, R&B, pop and Caribbean influences. It’s sad and also defiant. That Ms. Minaj used this conflict as a staging ground for something like this reveals the true lesson of this battle: A slingshot can do damage, but not to someone in a tank. JON CARAMANICA

Fleet Foxes, ‘Third of May/Ōdaigahara’

“Third of May/Ōdaigahara,” the radiant new song from Fleet Foxes, soothes, and then roars, and then caresses, and then pounds, and then gestates quietly, a digestive tract in repose after a rich meal.  This is the first new Fleet Foxes music in about  six years, and the first single from the coming album “Crack-Up.” What’s been learned in all that downtime is the virtue of calm — previously, the frontman Robin Pecknold sought to cut through the band’s arrangements like a scythe, but here, he’s comfortably in the pocket, ethereal but grounded. J.C.

Aimee Mann, ‘Patient Zero’

Count on Aimee Mann for the aphorism that quietly twists the knife in the middle of a seemingly sympathetic ballad. “Life is grand, and wouldn’t you like to have it go as planned?” is the crux of “Patient Zero,” from “Mental Illness,” her album due March 31. It’s a Hollywood-centric tale of ego-draining disappointment among the canyons, hills and casting decisions.  After “a villain ended up with the part,” she notes, “you paid your respects like a ransom.” She also slips in allusions to “Day of the Locust” and “The Big Sleep.” She gives her guitar a steady, placid strum, with soothing piano and strings and oohing backup vocals, but the city lights she sings about are indifferent. JON PARELES

Lorde, ‘Liability’

Lorde returned from hiatus with a five-alarm fire, “Green Light,” that relied on ecstatic tempo, dynamic shifts and embittered resentment. And yet the more intense heat radiates from her new single, “Liability,” a heart-rending piano-only slow burner about being a partner who others love to play with but not hold onto.
The truth is I am a toy
That people enjoy
’Til all of the tricks don’t work anymore
And then they are bored of me

The realizations here are stark — there’s a difference between superficial and deep love, difficulty is in the eye of the beholder, no one will love you more truly than you love yourself. But Lorde doesn’t sound cowed by them. In fact, in the way she stretches out the word “liability” in the chorus, there’s an echo of Randy Newman, as if she’s rolling her eyes while confidently soldiering on. J.C.

Daymé Arocena, ‘La Rumba Me Llama Yo’

Towering ambitions in Latin jazz take euphoric form on “Cubafonía,” the new album by the Cuban singer Daymé Arocena. Age-old Afro-Cuban rhythms, brassy big-band dance music, modern jazz harmonies and hints of funk all show up in her songs, and her voice — low, rich, agile and irrepressible — ricochets off them all. Try “La Rumba Me Llamo Yo,” an affirmation of Cuba’s deepest rumba traditions that somersaults across eras, from deep traditional guaguancó to hard-vamping rumba to meter-shifting horn arrangements — all of which eventually become a springboard for her exultant scat-singing. It’s just one tour de force on an album full of them. J.P.


Here’s an ecstatic slab of pop-hyphy from the Portland rapper Aminé, who broke through last year with the goofy-fun stutter-step “Caroline.” “REDMERCEDES” throbs and bleeps and pulses with joy. New cars are fun — you can use them as romantic bait, to generate envy from haters, and sometimes even drive them. J.C.

San Fermin, ‘Belong’

Skepticism to acceptance to affirmation is the arc of San Fermin’s “Belong,” in both music and lyrics as the track builds modestly and methodically to a grand conclusion. It’s the title song from the band’s coming album. There’s more than a little debt to the xx in the way the song begins with minimal accompaniment, and in the way Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye take separate verses before singing together, admitting both ambivalence and attraction. Eventually they both sing, “There’s a little piece of me that’s always somewhere else,” then decide, “but I’m right where I belong.” And the track builds by accretion,  gradually thickening the beat until it’s at the cusp of reggae,  taking on guitar lines and a trumpet solo, sounding cozily inevitable. J.P.

Alt-J, ‘3WW’

The title of “3WW,” the newest lust-tinged cryptogram of a song from alt-J, is revealed as “three worn words” — presumably “I love you” — once the lyrics arrive. It begins like a psych-folk meditation, a drone punctuated by gnarled guitar picking for an instrumental minute and a half. The British folkiness continues as the first verse introduces “a wayward lad” making a rural trek. But a modern invention, “blue neon,” appears, as do swelling synthesizer tones. So, in the lyrics, do two accommodating girls from the seaside town of Hornsea (innuendo probably intended) who share a campfire tryst with him and then leave a note (sung by Ellie Rowsell from Wolf Alice) about coastline erosion that also teases, “Was that your first time/Love was just a button we pressed last night.” He’s more romantic: “I just want to love you in my own language,” he insists, and she joins him, but female laughter follows. Painstaking construction went into this track; listen to the way the handclaps deliberately lag behind the bass drum, the way the percussion later lags behind the guitar, the way the voices are scraggly or sweet, the rising and falling buzz in the background. Alt-J’s own language is at once nerdy, needy, creepy, calculated, unhinged and self-consciously sincere. J.P.

Benjamin Booker feat. Mavis Staples, ‘Witness’

“Am I gonna be a witness?” sings Mavis Staples in the unmistakable husky contralto that has more than half a century of civil-rights advocacy behind it. It’s the chorus and the gospel foundation of “Witness,” the title song from the album Benjamin Booker is to release on June 2. It’s not a praise song; it’s a piano-pounding hymn for Black Lives Matter that has Mr. Booker singing, with furious mockery, “See we thought that we saw that he had a gun/Thought that it looked like he started to run.” This is witnessing for the courts and the news media, not the church. J.P.

K.Flay, ‘High Enough’

“High Enough” is K. Flay’s backhanded renunciation of drugs; she’s already “high enough” from just being with someone. “I used to like liquor to get me inspired/But you look so beautiful, my new supplier,” she sings in an endearingly scratchy voice. Behind her, the track is a leisurely shuffle that builds muscle while seeming scrappy and casual. The guitars have the low-fi distortion and unhurried attack of indie-rock; drums and bass are choppy and overdriven, like old-school hip-hop. She uses the sounds of 1990s excess to celebrate  sobriety. J.P.

Noga Erez, ‘Toy’

The Israeli singer and electronic-music producer Noga Erez gives “Toy” a beat that jitters and heaves, ratchets across the stereo field, speeds up fitfully and stops for a moment of dead silence halfway through the song; the melodies are brief modal phrases hinting at Middle Eastern origins. She’s singing, obliquely, about not wanting to take privilege for granted — “I wear a crown/with my head down” — and dancing on a rooftop with two darker-skinned men. It’s a sparse, thorny, unstable track — and haunting, too. J.P.

Nicki Minaj released three new songs this week. CreditChad Batka for The New York Times

Nicki Minaj Responds to Remy Ma's Diss Track and Makes a $500,000 Bet

On Feb. 25, Remy released "Shether," in which she accused Minaj of everything from plastic surgery to infidelity. The rappers' feud dates back to 2007, when Minaj called out Ma on "Dirty Money." In the song, she rapped, "Tell that bitch with the crown to run it like Chris Brown," while sampling one of Terror Squad songs, "Yeah Yeah Yeah." In 2015, less than a year after Ma was released from prison, she free-styled over Minaj's "Truffle Butter." Ma's "Shether" was released in response to Minaj's "Make Love" and "Swalla" lyrics, which were aimed at her rival.

The 34-year-old rapper recruited her Big 3 partners Drake and Lil Wayne for "No Frauds," in which she mocked her 36-year-old enemy's follow-up single. "You can't be Pablo if your work ain't sellin' / What the fuck is this bitch inhalin'? / I would've helped you out that pit you fell in / I am the generous Queen! Ask Ms. Ellen / Tried to drop 'Another One,' you was itchin' to scrap / You exposed your ghostwriter, now you wish it was scrapped," she raps. "Heard your pussy on 'Yuck,' I guess you needed a Pap / What type of bum bitch shoot a friend over a rack? / What type of mother leave her one son over a stack? / Lil Boogie down basic bitch thinkin' she back / Back to back, oh you mean, back to wack? / 'Back to Back'? Me and Drizzy laughed at that."

Minaj also released "Regret in Your Tears" (about ex Meek Mill) and "Changed It," which features Wayne.

Days ago, Ma told Another Round she was "not particularly proud" of their beef. "I do not condone or recommend the tearing down of another female. That's not what I do," she said. "Anybody that knows me knows that I embrace females. I always want to do some girl-oriented thing. I think we work so much better when we work together and when we help each other."

Ma added that she's always "happy" to see someone who came "from the bottom" and "managed to make something of yourself," just as she once did. "It just makes me all mushy inside. However, in the event that you piss me off and we become archenemies, run for cover."

After Minaj dropped her diss tracks, she shared a message for Ma on social media, writing, "#YoungMoneyTilTheDeathOfMe committing perjury #IGotB4andafterPicturesOfYourSurgery #StopSurgeryShamingB4IPostThem #Fraud diss records can't be lies. Great diss records are FACTS. But here @ Young Money, we don't do diss records, we drop HIT RECORDS & diss u ON them. I got a bunch more on cock. Pauz. The greats took 3months to respond to diss records. Queens don't move on peasant time. Queens shut down Paris, then drop hits on #QueenTime."

Nicki Minaj Goes for Hype With 'No Frauds' Release: Critic's Take

Her response to “Shether” gets hidden in the noise.

Nicki Minaj has finally responded to Remy Ma. Nearly two weeks after the latter’s eviscerating diatribe, “Shether” (and its follow-up "Another One"), Minaj released "No Frauds" (featuring Drake and Lil Wayne), along with “Changed It” and “Regret in Your Tears.” The release strategy seemed deliberately executed. She positioned the tracks as "3 Pack From Paris" on Instagram, and following a social-media tease, she caused it to trend for hours -- the day before and during release. Minaj has already taken to social media to tout her success -- based on early iTunes charts and Spotify standings -- and to fire additional threats to Remy Ma.

Nicki Minaj knows how to create hype, without a doubt. She can break the Internet, for sure. But with all the noise around this release, “No Frauds” simply can’t push through.

The biggest impediment against "No Frauds" -- lyrics notwithstanding -- was timing. Nicki Minaj unleashed her response too late. It’s true that Nicki and Remy have had longstanding issues (which Remy confirmed on The Wendy Williams Show on March 3), but the relevant timeline for our purposes is as follows: On Feb. 23 and 24, two Nicki Minaj verses surfaced -- on Jason Derulo’s "Swalla" and Gucci Mane’s "Make Love," respectively -- in which she appeared to take jabs at Remy. Remy expediently released “Shether” on Feb. 24. There were no subliminal messages or mincing words -- just direct shots.

It’s true. Back in the day -- realistically, anytime preceding the advent of social media -- rappers were able to spend weeks or even months penning the perfect response track. Nas (who may be the Queens artist she’s referring to) famously took six months to craft "Ether" as a response to Jay Z’s "Takeover" in 2001. But social media and the 24-hour news cycle have flipped that paradigm, creating voracious fans, hungry for instant (or at the very least, timely) gratification. Nicki has mastered the social-media game -- look no further than her fervent Barbz fanbase -- so its subsequent expectations need to apply.

The rollout artificially added to the hype, seemingly unintentionally. On March 8, I was exclusively told by an industry source about the existence of a Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne track. At the time, I was informed that it would be released by Real 92.3 in L.A. I shared the tip -- prefacing that it was a rumor, as I did not hear the track myself -- on Twitter. Almost instantly, social-media chatter between L.A. radio stations Real 92.3 and Power 106 heated up, indicating a fight over the debut of the track. Industry insider Low Key shared that Real 92.3 had tweeted ownership of the track and then deleted the tweet. Power 106’s Justin Credible and DJ Sour Milk subsequently shared tweets insinuating that they were going to get the track.

At around noon ET on March 9, Justin Credible shared on-air that he had spoken to Nicki on the phone and confirmed that his station would debut her music. Based on my own opinion, it seems Real 92.3 leaked information about the track accidentally. Power 106 caught wind -- perhaps from that tweet or my tweet -- and reached out to Nicki and her team. Whatever happened, “No Frauds” was bolstered by this virality, which added to the already-high expectations.

"No Fraud"’s biggest asset was also its biggest detriment. Nicki Minaj reuniting with her Cash Money/Young Money cohorts, Drake and Lil Wayne, is a big story, but tacking them on to a diss record was misaligned. The optics said that Nicki Minaj needed her crew, which happened to be two men, to respond to a fellow female rapper. Given Nicki’s skill set, she is more than equipped at a solo response. She appeared to address this assertion in her Instagram post, stating, "Here @ Young Money, we don’t do diss records, we drop HIT RECORDS & diss u ON them." She is correct in that "No Frauds" is fine as a standalone single. It’ll likely get the airplay and streams that Nicki appears to be concerned about. It also completely misses the point of "Shether."

In rap beef, the response needs to commensurate with the shot. A seven-minute lyrical attack that excoriated Nicki’s artistry, credibility and personal life warrants an equally hard-hitting comeback that’s not a collaboration -- and, even worse, one with three artists. One of the most famous lines in Jay Z’s “Takeover” sums it up well: "It's like bringing a knife to a gunfight, pen to a test… We bring knife to fistfight, kill your drama/ We kill you mother----in' ants with a sledgehammer." In other words, if you’re gonna fire back, come correctly -- or don’t fire at all.

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