Megan Thee Stallion is a rap fundamentalist. In the new FADER cover story about the surging Houston rapper, Megan talks about listening to ancestral Southern rap with her late mother, who was a rapper herself. As a young rap kid, Megan developed some specific ideas about what rap was supposed to be. And when she got to the point where she was turning pro, she was dismayed to find out that things had changed: “To see that [rap] changed from something that I love so much to what’s going on right now really blew my mind. Like, we not rapping no more?”
Rap is a music in a constant state of turbulent transition. That’s one of the things that makes it so exciting: By the time you start to nail down your idea of what rap can be, it’s already becoming something else. Over the years, I’ve seen so many people decrying the changing state of rap. But I’m not used to hearing it from surging rap stars, especially from women. Megan isn’t just a fundamentalist; she’s a feminist, too: “And then being a girl too — they criticize you harder than they criticize men. If I was out there making little noises like Uzi and Carti be making, they would not rock with that. And not saying that they don’t be going hard, because we definitely finna turn up to both of them, but if it was a chick, like — no.” She knows she has to go twice as hard as her male peers to get half their respect. But she’d be doing that anyway.
It’s only been five weeks since I last used this column to extoll Megan Thee Stallion’s enormous talent and charisma. But a lot changes in five weeks. This past Friday, Megan released the absolutely monstrous Fever, her first project since signing with the national outfit 300 Entertainment, since she became something other than a regional phenomenon. (Fever feels like an album, but Megan is reticent to use the word “album,” so we’ll just go with the weird new post-mixtape rap terminology and call it a project.) And with Fever, we can stop talking about Megan as a promising new artist. She has now made good on that promise. She has arrived.
In that FADER story, Megan talks about wanting, and getting, respect from her rap elders. The widow of Pimp C, Megan’s late hero, has embraced Megan. So has Q-Tip, who claims in the story that Megan is both “an amazing MC” and “barred out.” (Both true!) It appears that Q-Tip has cultivated a sort of quiet, casual mentor relationship with Megan — sort of like what he once had, in a very different time, with a young Mobb Deep. That’s beautiful. Megan Thee Stallion doesn’t make rap music that sounds anything like A Tribe Called Quest or Mobb Deep. It doesn’t even sound much like what Pimp C made with UGK. But it’s hard and precise and exciting and proud. Fever, like so many of the great old albums that those guys made, is a massive projection of self. It demands respect.
As a rapper, Megan doesn’t mess around too much with wordplay. Instead, what she offers is strength and emphasis. She latches down hard on every word, booming it out with vigor and authority. In a rap climate where so many of Megan’s peers mutter and slur and drown their words in melody, she goes the opposite direction. She knows how to put a melody together, and how to evoke feelings, but her great strengths are impact and discipline. She’s sexy, but she’s not flirty. She’s blunt-force tough. Megan knows how to play around with her persona, depicting herself as a voracious maneater who’s happy to use you for everything you’re worth. That’s an old rap archetype, but we’ve rarely heard anyone use it this forcefully.
Megan is funny, too. Fever is full of great one-liners. “Bitch, keep talking that shit from your Honda.” “Don’t nobody want your man’s weak-ass dick.” “I’m tryna get my pockets ’99 Ricki Lake.” “I’ma rub my pussy on ya nigga’s forehead.” “Pussy finger lickin’ good like I mixed it with Old Bay.” (As a Baltimore native, I am only slightly mad that a rapper from a whole different part of the country was the first one to come up with a strong Old Bay punchline.) Like so many male rappers before her, she uses sex to assert her own strength, to claim mastery over everything around her.
Megan doesn’t really rap about her feelings — not yet, anyway. Her mother died a few months ago, which must’ve been absolutely devastating, and she’s offered up some truly touching social-media memories of her. But Megan never mentions her mother on Fever. The heaviest she gets is “Big Drank,” the one song about being disappointed that a significant other is spending too much of his energy on codeine cough syrup: “I hate when you get on that drank, you don’t wanna listen to me / You act like I get on your nerves, you don’t pay attention to me.”
Even when she’s doing her own version of a tender love song, Megan’s still talking about “pussy keep him knocked out like a painkiller.” She understands how to stick to her strengths. Fever is just banger after banger after banger. It reminds me of Back For The First Time, Ludacris’ 2000 major-label debut, which had punchlines and energy for days. Fever is built the same way — no attempts at radio play, no forced collaborations, nothing to interrupt the flow. Instead, it just knocks you around and leaves you bewildered.
Juicy J produces three songs and raps on one, and another — co-produced by Juicy’s brother Project Pat — samples “Weak Ass Bitch,” a 2000 stomp-you-out classic from Juicy’s old group Three 6 Mafia. Three 6 are a massive influence in rap right now, but it’s usually for the sinister, chaotic occult vibes that they brought back in their early underground days. Megan latches down on another aspect of Three 6: the breathless efficiency of their early-’00s era, when the group had its approach down to a science. And Megan matches Juicy’s knucklehead hedonism with her own. Hers sounds tougher.
There are only two guests on Fever: Juicy J and DaBaby. The DaBaby inclusion is pretty fascinating. Megan and DaBaby are almost unquestionably the two most exciting rappers who have come along and broken through in 2019. They’re both characters, and they both know how to use those characters. Their personas are different: Megan is a cold-blooded, calculating sexual mercenary, while DaBaby is a goofy, harebrained tough guy — a figure who is comfortable being silly because he knows that nobody near him is a threat. Together, the two of them might represent some kind of way forward after last year’s SoundCloud-rap wave. They’re both, more or less, traditional rappers. They prize clarity and rigor and hooks — songwriting, basically. And they’re both succeeding wildly. There’s an appetite for this stuff right now. Rap fundamentalism might take different forms, but it never goes away.
1. Bandgang Lonnie Bands – “Ghetto Moshpit” (Feat. Rob Vicious)
Detroit underground rap overlord Bandgang Lonnie Bands’ new album KOD is one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time: A full hour of weirdly specific under-the-breath crime-life storytelling. And in its own way, it’s as dark and atmospheric as anything from, say, Roc Marciano. “Ghetto Moshpit” doesn’t have anything as concrete as Lonnie’s lines about buying stolen credit cards in a Kroger parking lot, but it does have that atmosphere.
2. Peewee Longway – “Lituation”
Longway never became a crossover pop star the way that so many of his Atlanta peers did. But when he’s in the right zone, his music still moves.
3. RTD Frost – “Non Stop” (Feat. Tee Grizzley & Sada Baby)
This song features one of my least favorite things: Police-siren sound effects on rap songs, the ones that make you panic and look all around when you’re listening to them while driving. This song has extremely convincing siren effects, tangible enough that I panic even when I’m not listening in a car. And it still goes hard.
4. 70th Street Carlos & Sauce Walka – “Drip On 70th Street”
70th Street Carlos comes from Baton Rouge, and his music has all the anarchic glee of classic Louisiana bounce music. Sauce Walka, meanwhile, comes from Houston and yells really loud. They sound amazing together, obviously.
5. NLE Choppa & Clever – “Stick By My Side”
I don’t know anything about the difficult-to-Google Clever, but he sounds a whole lot like a mid-’00s radio-rock singer. And has anyone ever used that vocal style better on a rap song? NLE Choppa is from Memphis, 16 years old, and apparently capable of putting fucking Shinedown hooks on his 102-second bangers without compromising their hardness. He is about to be so rich.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— E40 The Counselor (@E40) May 14, 2019