Ask Remy Ma to describe her 2017 and she’ll tell you that it was simply “productive.”
That’s quite the understatement, considering the rapper celebrated two nominations at this year’s Grammys, won Best Female Hip Hop Artist at the BET Awards, released a collaborative LP with Fat Joe, and — oh yeah — signed a major-label deal with Columbia Records ahead of the upcoming 7 Winters & 6 Summers, her first solo album in more than a decade. (She also snuck in that brutal Nicki Minaj diss track, “Shether.”)
After achieving success as an independent artist — “All the Way Up,” her unlikely hit single with Joe, went double-platinum in the U.S. — Remy wasn’t sure she’d seek the backing of a major record company again. The less-than-positive experience she had with the label system during the release of her 2006 debut, There’s Something About Remy: Based on a True Story, didn’t encourage her, either.
“What changed the game for me was I found a home that respected me as an artist and respected my vision [and didn’t see] me just as another source of income,” Remy, 37, says of signing with Columbia. “I get to keep all the pros and good things about being independent while also being able to get the pros of being on a major label. I have a huge machine behind me. I have people who really believe in my music and want to see me win.”
Though her frequent collaborator Fat Joe is still involved as an executive producer, recording a solo album means Remy can show fans the more vulnerable side they only caught a glimpse of on the rappers’ joint LP, Plato o Plomo. The record’s title, 7 Winters & 6 Summers, references to the six-year prison sentence that nearly derailed her career, and some tracks feature soul-baring lyrics she wrote behind bars between 2008 and her 2014 release. “I grew up in a neighborhood that made you feel like you always had to be tough — if you showed vulnerability, you could be attacked or it could be used against you,” the Bronx native says. But now? “I have no problem opening up to my fans. After everything I went through, I was stripped. Literally: Clothes off, bend over, spread your cheeks, open your mouth, letters read, phone calls listened to.”
Still, with guest appearances from the likes of Lil’ Kim (on the single “Wake Me Up”), Chris Brown, and others, Remy promises there’s plenty of party on the album, too. “I want to show my journey and my blessings,” she says.
One thing fans won’t get, however, is a continuation of her long-brewing feud with Minaj, which Remy says concluded with the release of “Shether” in February. (Though she did release a follow-up diss track, “Another One,” in March.) “That chapter’s been closed,” she explains. “Everyone had their own reasons for trying to keep it relevant. I’m not one of those people who dwells on things. I keep it moving. This album is about me and my life and my fans.”
Besides, Remy would rather put the spotlight on her efforts to support other women in hip-hop — like when she brought an all-star crew of Cardi B, Queen Latifah, Lil’ Kim, MC Lyte, Rah Digga, Young M.A., and others on stage during Hot 97’s Summer Jam concert in June.
“I feel like I was able to help push forward this dope female rapper movement [in 2017],” she says. “I think people just started really appreciating that there’s so many of us and that we’re so talented in many different ways. Neither myself nor Cardi nor Kim nor any other female is single-handedly responsible for the emergence of more females in the rap industry. Everybody contributed. When we start to think that one person is the end-all be-all machine behind everything, that’s when we get all the back-and-forth.”
The Grammy Awards used to appreciate all those differences, too. More than a decade ago, the Recording Academy specifically recognized the contributions of women in hip-hop with the the Best Female Rap Solo Performance award. The category existed for two years — Missy Elliott won in both 2003 and 2004 — before getting replaced by a gender-neutral performance category. Remy hopes that, with 7 Winters & 6 Summers on the way, she and her peers can help bring it back.
“A lot of people don’t get a first chance in this industry,” she says. “To get a second chance and be successful at it? It’s a wonderful thing. I count my blessings every day. If 2018 is anywhere as near as good 2017 was, I don’t know how I’m going to contain myself.”
This article originally appeared on EW.