Rico Nasty Is Embracing Weird
The rapper talks big dick energy, meeting Issa Rae, and doing more than the minimum
Rico Nasty is a nu metal-channeling rager, a Balenciaga-wearing pop trap diva, and a bullish shit-talker. All three personas, and the ones in between, thrive on an infectious catharsis. The rager — sporting black, spiked-out hair and the leather choker to complement it — is who shows up to perform at New York’s SOBs on Tuesday, and that influence pops up in nearly every song from her set. As she barks out the hook to her bloodshot 2017 highlight “Smack A Bitch” at her set’s midway point, a woman in square glasses and a puffy ponytail at the front row violently shouts the words back: “Thank God I ain’t have to smack a bitch today.” She’s wild-eyed — this is coming from the soul.
It’s the fourth stop of Rico’s summer tour behind her Atlantic debut Nasty, a sui generis combination of gothic rage and pop sensibility that still stands as a 2018 highlight. What makes the 21-year-old DMV native a unique adrenaline boost is how she isn’t preaching from behind the veneer of cool. It could be because Rico generally performs in a near-shout, but she always sounds like she’s self-actualizing that hype for own sake as well as ours, like she’s just stumbled across a spiritual reserve and burns to share it with her fellow misfits.
That trait, as well as her back story, make her easy to root for. Rico, born Maria Kelly, came up in poorer Palmer Park at Maryland’s Prince George’s County, which forced her to watch the wider area’s wealth up close without enjoying any of its privileges. In 2015, her best friend-turned-boyfriend Brandon died from a severe asthma attack before ever finding out Rico was pregnant with his son, 2-year-old Cameron. But after making ends meet as a front desk receptionist, her star started to heighten in three acts:
– In 2016, dulcet trap gems “iCarly” and “Hey Arnold” go viral.
–The next year, Insecure’s Issa walks home after a tryst with a neighbor and she smiles with opportunity as she looks down at her Tinder. “Poppin” soundtracks the scene and the start of Issa’s hoe-tation arc.
–Nasty drops the same day as Nas’ highly anticipated Nasir. One strongly believes a black man founded Fox News; the other brings back “Superthug” and repurposes Slipknot for Seratos. Yes, Rico’s album was clearly better than Nas’.
At least on the surface, Rico Nasty seems at ease with the steep come-up. Before the SOBs show, I meet her downstairs at the venue as she’s surrounded by an assortment of managers, make-up artists, and label reps — her spiked hair poking through the semi-circle of bodies. The star is as congenial as a college house party host, working out a greeting and a handshake as she chomps on a McDouble. She’s eager to talk.
STEREOGUM: What would you define as “Big Dick Energy“?
RICO NASTY: I feel like Big Dick Energy is someone who is scary and sexy at the same time — like a little bit repulsive but cool. ‘Cause that’s what a big dick is to females. Men don’t really understand that, I don’t think, because a big dick is scary and then it’s like, “Oh my god, I’m dying.”
I also feel like Big Dick Energy is being able to be that bitch in a room full of niggas and nobody’s gonna question your swag, nobody’s gonna question what you’re gonna do. And I definitely exude big dick energy, because I be feeling like — you know when I do shit like have my hair like this, it’s because I didn’t come here to be a pretty bitch. I didn’t come here to be one of ya’ll. I didn’t come here to stay in lane: I came here and I’m lit.
STEREOGUM: What’s a giveaway for you to be like, “That person does not have Big Dick Energy?”
RICO NASTY: Someone who is constantly pointing out stuff about other people, they don’t have Big Dick Energy. It’s someone who’s constantly pointing out somebody’s flaws — you can’t even imagine what that person does to themselves, which mean they have a little dick. It’s just like an insecure person, someone who’s afraid. Closed mouths don’t get fed: So say somebody comes in a room and they’re like, “I’m looking for a photographer,” and you a photographer and you don’t say nothing, then you go home and bitch and moan to your friends, and you tweet about how there’s no opportunities and shit. That’s a small dick energy.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of being insecure, you had “Poppin” appear in one episode of Insecure. How did this year feel compared to that moment?
RICO NASTY: To be honest with you, I didn’t even know that my song was gonna be used in such a pivotal point in the episode. I realized the spin that she put on it and it was like, “I’m a poppin’ ass bitch: Fuck these niggas,” when mine was like originally kind of, like, directed at a girl.
When that shit happened for me, I was like, “Okay this is a great moment.” It’s a great moment to learn that all women are different and we all like use things for different scenarios. So that helped me to put a lot less pressure on myself for what type of music I wanted to make. That’s why right after “Poppin,” there was “Key Lime OG,” and right after “Key Lime OG” was “Smack A Bitch,” and right after “Smack A Bitch” it’s “Trust Issues,” and right after “Trust Issues” it’s “Rage.” I just wanted people to feel like Stage One on some like Dragon Ball Z Goku shit. Like this is one, this is two, this is three, and then we’ll just build up. That’s how the shows are too.
STEREOGUM: And you met Issa Rae. How was that like?
RICO NASTY: I met a lot of celebrities; she was the only one who knew who I was. She was the only one who was like, “Oh my God! Rico.” You know most of them was like [Pleasantly apathetic voice], “Hey, hey I like your song.” She knew exactly who I was.
STEREOGUM: The Issa Rae.
RICO NASTY: The Issa Rae — like one of the biggest black female faces right now and she knows who I am, bro. That was like fucking two levels underneath Michelle Obama saying hi to me. Like when we’re taking black female role models: She’s got her own show that’s called Insecure, and it’s about embracing your sexuality as a black woman
STEREOGUM: On HBO.
RICO NASTY: They’re like a white company ass — get the fuck out of here — and you know who I am and you’re like acknowledging me. I don’t really think people understand, but that shit be meaning like a lot to me. They really know who I am and they fuck with me and they’re not on some like, “Hey, come here. I need you to do something.”
STEREOGUM: Speaking of “Rage,” I’ve read you’re into Slipknot. How big of an influence has that band been for you?
RICO NASTY: Yeah I mean all of my music was influenced [in some way]. I just feel like we had “Smack A Bitch” and it’s wild, but it also has an N.W.A. vibe. So I wanted to make sure that I didn’t confuse my fans with the Cali bounce rock-type beat with this rock music. I’m very cultured and I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sex Pistols, Death Cab For Cutie, Paramore. All that shit I was really into, so I really wanted to prove to them like I know how a rock song and a trap song could be constructed together.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting how some of those bands aged. You see people sort of shit on the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but Paramore it’s just like, “Oh great! They’re back.”
RICO NASTY: I don’t know why people shit on Red Hot Chili Peppers. I mean, they have their own sound just how a lot of these bands be having but if we’re talking my favorites, my favorite was like Nirvana, the Smiths, the Drums, Death Cab For Cutie, David Bowie, Joan Jett.
STEREOGUM: Any other current influences?
RICO NASTY: I tried not to listen to a lot of other people’s music. ‘Cause to be honest with you, Nasty is like 45 songs — but they didn’t get released. They’re songs I’ve been working on through the duration of the tape. So when you’re making songs that you don’t use, I’m not really listening to other people’s music. I’m literally just listening to my song [thinking], “Alright, nah, this verse doesn’t go on there. Take this verse put it right here, take this hook put it on a feature, send the feature on.”
And if I am listening to other people’s music, it can’t have no words and shit. Like it gotta be like deadass fucking like the chillwave music and it has to be something like Blondie. Something that’s dated with some mwah to it. Some respect on it — maybe the Spice Girls. I can’t really be influenced, because everyone has already been influenced. So that’s what I will listen to. Bob Marley. But other than that I’m not really listening to nobody.
STEREOGUM: Will any of those leftovers drop in the near future?
RICO NASTY: I can’t tell you, but I’m gonna tell you: Aminé’s album is dropping and I’m gonna be a part of that. I’m really excited for that because that was the first time someone ever reached out to me and was like, “Yeah I want you on the project.” And I did that feature so fucking fast, because he’s fucking Aminé so he came like so humble — so I’m really excited for that. I’m really excited for um … I do got a couple songs that might come out.
STEREOGUM: You hang out with your labelmates at all?
RICO NASTY: I don’t really talk to a lot of them. I talked to Wiz Khalifa. He gives me advice sometimes. He’s a very positive person, so he’ll just be like, “Stay positive.” I might be like in my feelings cause I’m adjusting to all this and I’m learning, “OK, they’re not gonna talk to you everyday.” That doesn’t mean they don’t like you. You see they’re taking pictures with people you don’t like, that still doesn’t mean they don’t like you.
One person in particular who I really, really fuck with is Lil Yachty, because we’ll go three months without talking to each other, but every time something big happens for him or for me — like when he got the Teen Titans movie and when I got the FADER cover, we were back-to-back, “I’m so proud of you like keep going.” I think it’s good to have a friend like that.
STEREOGUM: And ya’ll are rooting for each other.
RICO NASTY: Yeah. Lil Yachty is opening up that lane of being a black weirdo. I feel like I rep that for the girls. Maybe it’s my pants, my shoes are too high, my hair is too wild, too much makeup, too much eye color. People are like this is just weird stuff, and I take it like, weird is free.
STEREOGUM: It’s interesting that being “weird” is just weird in high school, and afterward that could legitimately be your thing.
RICO NASTY: If I knew all this shit was going to be a trend, bro …. Let’s get hella dark. If being weird was cool back then, I would’ve never had to get these tattoos. I would’ve never tried to hurt myself. I was so hard on myself on everything: My hair is too short, my hair is too big, I’m too fat. I went through a lot of issues. But if I didn’t go through that, then when I get all of this Instagram hate from bitches who be on air mattresses…
STEREOGUM: What’s up with some of your first tattoos?
RICO NASTY: [Indicates to a crescent moon and stars below right earlobe] My boyfriend, who passed, we used to sleep together and I would be behind him and [he’d have that tattoo]. It’s just everlasting love to me. Nothing made me happier than me waking up in his house and his mother cooking breakfast, looking at my phone with text messages of my mom telling me, “Bring your ass home.” Nothing’s more reminiscent of those times … That’s where he had his tattoo.
[Indicates to a ‘Sugar Trap’ tattoo on her right arm] I did this because when I made [2016 mixtape] Sugar Trap and I made all this, I didn’t realize people that came out of nowhere … I made Sugar Trap. This is my thing. I went through a creative depression because I was like, “I don’t wanna create no more if people gonna keep saying they made some shit that I made. Like what the fuck is that?” Then I was like, “It don’t count if you were the first person to think about it. You gotta be the first person to do something with it.”
STEREOGUM: What about the “Sink Or Swim” tattoo on your right forearm?
RICO NASTY: This stands for, “Am I gonna be famous enough to provide?” There are literally people who are famous enough, but they’re broke as fuck. I don’t wanna be bare minimum. I wanna be successful. I wanna be be able to take care of my mom. This says, “Either you die or you keep going.” That’s it. You have no other options. The world don’t stop, the job don’t stop, the kids don’t stop, money don’t stop, haters don’t stop, the internet don’t stop, trends don’t stop, clothes don’t stop, shows don’t stop — nothing fucking stops, unless you stop.
You ever see the videos of niggas getting punched in the chest and they get stronger? That’s how I feel. I’m like, “OK, keep hitting me.” Now I’m solidified.
STEREOGUM: You were speaking in an interview a while ago about how big a deal it was to finish high school after what you’ve been through. The goals have been moving pretty quickly for you.
RICO NASTY: It’s crazy because I used to be bare minimum everything. Going out, bare minimum. Like going shopping for food, bare minimum. I never wanted more for myself. My mom wanted more for me. That’s why when I got pregnant, she was like, “Girl, really? This is what you’re going to do with yourself?”
STEREOGUM: How’s it been like balancing motherhood with touring? That’s been a topic point with your labelmate Cardi B becoming a mother herself.
RICO NASTY: Shoutouts to Cardi B. She’s going to be a great mom. I just know that because people who go through a lot of shit do make great moms. And she’s still on top. She has a beautiful-ass baby, Kulture, and that’s gonna be lit.
But I mean, parents know [your child] is like your heart walking around on this Earth. I can’t go that long without seeing him. I just try to set my schedule accordingly. And then when I’m not there, he’s in day care.
I was doing everything in my power to be around him [more] when we were booking shows, because he wasn’t talking. That shit was freaking me out. I met up with a psychologist who said he’s supposed to know like 50 words? I was like, “50 words?! Bro, what?” I don’t think anyone really knows why I took that [social media] break. My boyfriend [manager Malik Foxx] tried to keep me on social media, but a lot of that time I was trying to get [Cameron] help. Now he’s at school, he got friends, and it’s just a weight lifted off my chest. I did a good job, because now he’s talking. That shit was amazing. And now we gotta tour for like six weeks and then I’ll be back home back with my baby.
Nasty is out now via Atlantic.