On her debut, the 25-year-old combines West Coast samples with the Southern sounds of her youth.
2020 has been rough for all of us, and in addition to all the political, social and pandemic-led upheaval, Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion has experienced some intense hardship on a personal level. Her shooting in July has been well-documented (she was shot in both feet and claimed on Instagram that Canadian rapper Tory Lanez was the culprit) and, after all the scrutiny she’s endured, the 25-year-old ‘Houston Hottie’ – as she likes to be known – finally brings us some ‘Good News’ in the form of her debut studio album.
Given that ‘WAP’, her filthy collaboration with Cardi B, proved to be the sound of the summer, you might expect the record to be a body of work that oozes sex appeal. The NME cover star’s stellar ‘Sugar’ EP, released before everything went wrong in March, featured the deliciously raunchy ‘Savage’ (which later received the remix treatment with Beyoncé, the ultimate accolade) and ‘Captain Hook’, but here she sets the tone by addressing her own scorching experiences in the media spotlight.
Opener ‘Shots Fired’ is a signal that Megan is not messing around. Lanez was widely criticized for his recent album ‘Daystar’, on which he offered his perspective on the alleged shooting incident, and on her icy track, Thee Stallion laments the lack of accountability around the night of the accident. Over a fitting sample of Notorious B.I.G’s ‘Who Shot Ya?’, she warns: “If they sending shot / I’m a send them right back”. The rapper – real name Megan Pete – is widely regarded as a sweet, friendly figure in a notoriously ruthless industry, but ‘Shots Fired’ suggests she’s done with having her kindness taken for weakness; it’s a sentiment that will be relatable to many.
Yet it’s not long before she returns to the salacious songs that we all love Megan Thee Stallion for. ‘Cry Baby’, featuring North Carolina’s DaBaby, features a haunting backing track, which is complemented by DaBaby’s distinctive laconic flow. If this is an attempt to recreate the success of their previous collaboration ‘Cash Shit’, which was one of the biggest songs of 2019, the duo doesn’t entirely rise to the challenge – but on its own merits, the low-key song intense and brooding, Megan showing up her male counterpart with her frenetic flow.
The sampling across the record is inspired. ‘Freaky Girls’, an immaculate collaboration with sultry-voiced singer SZA, sees the duo interpolate that iconic, wheezing synth from Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s 1992 West Coast classic ‘Nuthin’ But A G Thang’ and samples Megan’s idol, the late Houston rapper Fat Pat. It’s a catchy, sex-positive tune on which Megan Thee Stallion and SZA look for a little grit from their respective men: “I’m lookin’ for a thug who ain’t scared of the pussy with a gangster lean,” SZA sings, her smooth, clean vocals thrilling at odds with the reckless, raunchy sentiment.
When she’s not enlisting A-list R&B stars for a song, Megan continues to boast about her sexual prowess on ‘Work That’, a fun club-friendly track that would definitely hurt your knees if you tried to do Megan’s signature rocking squat to it. Speeding up Louisiana rapper Juvenile’s forgotten 2006 bedroom classic ‘Rodeo’, the song continues in the original’s tradition – with a little more vulgarity (“He like it when I lick that, sit down, look back”). ‘Rodeo’ was a ‘hot girl’ anthem around 15 years before Megan Thee Stallion coined that phrase (from the song’s purred intro: “I know all y’all hot girls is tuned in right now”) and here the head hot girl transforms the track into a jubilant celebration of sexual expression: “Bitch, touch them toes, bitch, get that dough / If you in love with your body, bitch, take off your clothes.”
This attitude appears, too, on the buoyant ‘Sugar’, which sees Megan wink, “invest in this pussy, boy, support Black business” over a jokey, marching synth line. ‘Intercourse’ continues the theme lyrically, though the track, featuring Popcaan – one of Jamaica’s musical veterans – sees Megan Thee Stallion explore dancehall, a perhaps unexpected move. It’s not totally successful, her signature verses bumping up against the dancehall instrumental created by acclaimed DJ Mustard, sometimes feeling like two songs jammed together, but it is exciting to hear Megan Pete testing the boundaries of her musical template.
For all the sex positivity and club-ready anthems, though, there are glimpses of that tone was first introduced with ‘Shots Fired’: on the lithe ‘Go Crazy’, Megan admits “the hate turned me to a monster, so I guess I’m evil now”, while Detroit rapper Big Sean (the song also features Georgia’s 2 Chainz) reiterates the price of fame when he asks, “How many besties done upped and left me?”. In the main, however, this debut finds Megan Thee Stallion determined to retain her freewheeling positivity in a difficult year. And isn’t that the sound of 2020?