Toward the end of his life, Pimp C, quite possibly the greatest shit-talker in rap history, started referring to himself as Tony Snow. There was context for this. Tony Snow was a right-wing talk-radio host and a regular substitute for Rush Limbaugh. In 2006, George W. Bush hired Snow as the White House Press Secretary, and he served for about a year. I like to imagine that Pimp heard the name on the news one day and decided that he liked it. It was a joke, a cocaine pun that was also a pop-culture reference. (This was around the same time that Bun B, Pimp’s partner in UGK, started calling himself Big Dick Cheney.) But it also sounded really, really cool if you said it in Pimp’s thick, snarly Texas twang. He said it all the time. I remember exactly nothing about the real Tony Snow’s tenure in the White House. I will remember Pimp C saying the man’s name forever. (The real Tony Snow died of colon cancer in 2008, a few months after lean and sleep apnea claimed Pimp C’s life.)
In the few years that she’s been rapping, Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion has been calling herself Tina Snow. There is no Tina Snow, at least no famous one. Megan’s nickname is entirely a tribute to Pimp C, her favorite rapper. Megan has said that she sees herself as a female version of Pimp, and when she talks nasty shit, which she does all the time, it really does work something like a gender-flipped version of the shit that Pimp C would talk. Megan once said that Pimp “makes me feel so confident and he makes me feel so cool.” Pimp C was nothing if not confident. And you can hear that same sort of confidence exploding off of Megan Thee Stallion. It’s what makes her so exciting.
Right now, a whole lot of women are rapping about sex. This is not new. Also right now, a whole lot of those women rapping about sex are getting famous. This is something new — or, at least, it’s something I haven’t seen since the late ’90s. At this point, Cardi B is an actual straight-up pop star. A lot of other women — City Girls, Saweetie, Cuban Doll, Asian Doll — are viral sensations who could easily reach pop-star level. (There are other internet sensations, like CupcakKe, who don’t really seem to be targeting conventional rap stardom, and they’re thriving, too.) Right now, Megan Thee Stallion might be the most promising of all of them. Last year, she became the first woman to sign with 300 Entertainment, the label that made stars out of the Migos. This week, her single “Big Ole Freak” has cracked the Billboard Hot 100. Last weekend, Megan sold out Houston’s Warehouse Live, and the videos from that show make her look like a conquering hero.
Houston is a big part of Megan’s rise. She is not a post-regional rapper. Unlike a lot of the rappers who have gotten huge on the internet in recent years — and unlike Travis Scott, the last Houston rapper to get huge — Megan exists very much within a fiercely distinctive regional lineage. She is every inch a Texas rapper. Like Pimp C, another Texan hero, she delivers shit-talk with absolute disgust, as if she can’t believe she needs to waste her time reminding you how insignificant you are. Like Pimp, she raps about sex with visceral specificity and unapologetic delight. She likes the sort of heavy 808 blats that have ruled Texan rap since before she was born, 24 years ago, and she raps in the kind of precisely drawled bounce that her hometown has always prized. She can freestyle, and she’s charismatic as hell when she does it, another thing that’s always been important in Houston. And she’s a second-generation rapper. She was born into this.
Megan’s mother was a Houston rapper named Holly-Wood, who put out music locally throughout the ’00s and who tried to launch her own label at one point. The origin story is that Megan went viral rapping in a rooftop cypher a few years ago, when she was in college. Her mother didn’t know she could rap. When her mother heard her, she could tell that her daughter had talent, but she was also struck by how freaky Megan’s lyrics were. Holly said that Megan couldn’t start rapping until she was 21. But when she turned 21, Holly became her mentor and manager, helping to sharpen what she was doing. While Megan’s rise was beginning, she and her mother were inseparable. Last month, Holly died of brain cancer.
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We were together EVERYDAY, holly was my biggest cheerleader and toughest critic. she taught me enough for 2 lifetimes and if you were blessed to meet her she taught you something too. My mama is still my rock, my world and my inspiration. ima go 100x harder because I kno that’s what she would want me to do.
The whole time her rap career has been exploding, Megan has also been a full-time student at Texas Southern University. (I don’t know if she’s still doing that — I would imagine that she’ll leave soon, if she hasn’t already — but in profiles that came out within the past month, she was still studying.) She says that she wants to open a few assisted-living homes in Houston once she graduates. And you can hear some of that businesslike brusqueness in her raps. Megan raps about sex and money and the places where those two things overlap. One of her favorite subjects is how you can’t fuck her if you’re broke. But she doesn’t rap about sex as a pure capitalist exchange, the way City Girls do. Instead, she makes it a part of the self-confidence that she radiates. She talks about sex the way a typical male rapper does: She’s good at it, everybody wants her, don’t get attached.
She’s funny, too. She’s funny in the way that she delights in her own power: “Feet on the bed / I’ll fuck him up in the head / Suck it then look in his eyes, then the next day I might leave him on read.” And she’s funny in the way she dispenses shit-talk and instructions: “I’m running through your nigga house like the Tomb Raider / You got a pass-around nigga, he a hot potato / I told him, ‘Eat it or get out, that’s your ultimatum / But stop licking my pussy hard, that shit aggravating.'” She never tries to sound stereotypically sexy, and she never takes the bass out of her voice. Instead, she brings force and intensity. She clearly loves rapping, and she clearly knows how good she is at it. Her future seems limitless. Pimp C, I think, would be proud.
1. Youngboy Never Broke Again – “Freedawg”
I’m never sure how a critic like me is supposed to deal with a rapper like YoungBoy Never Broke Again. Right now, the 19-year-old Baton Rouge rapper is under indictment for a lot of disturbing charges, including domestic violence. He is also one of the most popular young rappers in the country. With a figure like YoungBoy — or Kodak Black, or 6ix9ine — the general impulse for critics like me is to ignore them, lest it seem like we’re embracing them. But there’s a reason why YoungBoy is as popular as he is. He raps with absolute urgency, and he’s been focusing that more and more lately, as on this bracing two-minute burst of hate. To write about him is to write off the terrible things that he’s likely to have done. To ignore him is to willfully pretend his music isn’t important to people. I don’t even know, man. Am I so out of touch? Or is it the children who are wrong?
2. Tyga – “Goddamn”
Another uncomfortable truth, albeit a less high-stakes one: Tyga is making some really good ignorant rap music right now. What the fuck is that little pluck-riff thing? Is that a zither?
3. OmenXIII – “Redstar”
Pretty soon, SoundCloud rap and Bandcamp hardcore are just going to merge into one another. I can’t wait.
4. Lil Yee – “Sacrifice” (Feat. FMB DZ & Lil Pete)
We need to figure out how to install some sort of teleporting station between Detroit and the Bay Area, just to facilitate more underground rap collaborations like this one.
5. Boosie Badazz – “Bonnie & Clyde”
Not long ago, Boosie went viral for getting furious at his Instagram Live followers — “Get the fuck off my Live!” — when he found out that his album had only sold 300 copies in its first week. (Albums are getting to #1 with those numbers these days!) I wish Boosie the best of health, but if he’s going to seethe righteously, I would prefer if he continues to do it on records like this.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
Imma be honest that looks like a chair https://t.co/KVT6PuKSGS
— Big Papa Prime (@Primetimelcoe) April 14, 2019