A quarter-century ago, Biggie Smalls let loose with “Who Shot Ya?,” a concussive shit-talk classic that some heard as a coded message. A few months before “Who Shot Ya?” came out on the B-side of the “Big Poppa”/”Warning” single, Tupac Shakur was shot five times and robbed at New York’s Quad Studios. Biggie and Tupac had been friends, but Tupac blamed Biggie for setting up the robbing. When Biggie snarled “Who Shot Ya?” shortly thereafter, Tupac took it as a taunt, and an out-of-control feud raged on. It didn’t matter that Biggie had recorded “Who Shot Ya?” before Pac had been shot. It was all about perception.
Twenty-five years later, “Who Shot Ya?” has returned, though its meaning has been flipped around in the opposite direction. The first song on Good News, the new album from young Houston rap conqueror Megan Thee Stallion, is called “Shots Fired.” On the song, producer Buddah Bless flips the same loping sample that Biggie producers Puff Daddy and Nashiem Myrick used for “Who Shot Ya?” This time, though, the meaning isn’t ambiguous. It’s not a coded message; it’s a direct attack. And Megan isn’t taunting someone else who got shot. She’s taunting someone else for shooting her.
“Shots Fired” caps off one of the weirdest episodes in recent rap lore. Four months ago, Megan was shot in the foot outside a party in Los Angeles. She later said that the Toronto rapper Tory Lanez had shot her after an argument in a car. Authorities are now charging Tory with felony assault, and Tory made a whole album to proclaim his own innocence and throw doubt on Megan’s story. The situation places Megan in an impossible position. She’s a rapper who projects toughness and control, but she’s also a victim of physical violence, and she’s watching as her name is dragged through the mud as a result. But on “Shots Fired,” Megan just laughs at Tory. She sounds disgusted by a pathetic display, ready to wipe Tory off her windshield like he’s a spattered bug.
The Biggie reference is obvious and irrefutable, and Megan lives up to it. She just atomizes this motherfucker, clowning him for everything from his shallow social-media self-aggrandizement to his choice of weaponry: “You a puss in boots/ You shot a 5’10” bitch with a .22/ Talking ’bout bones and tendons like them bullets wasn’t pellets/ A pussy n***a with a pussy gun, in his feelings.” It’s masterful, and it’s devastating.
In a better world, Megan wouldn’t have had to address that shooting on her album. She wouldn’t have been shot at all. Megan was doing great before the shooting, and she’s doing great after. Over the past two years, she’s been a revelation — a regal, guttural Southern rap superstar who raps about sex and supremacy with total, unblinking self-assurance. Megan was already a rising star before 2020, but she’s gone into overdrive lately — two #1 smashes, magazine covers, TV appearances. She’s now a fully-formed mainstream crossover figure, and the release of her album is an event. On “Shots Fired,” she handles a painful, dangerous situation with the same panache she’s shown in everything else lately. It’s inspiring.
Marketing says that Good News is Megan’s debut album. That’s semantic nonsense. Megan has put out a ton of music before this moment, and last year’s Fever did everything an album is supposed to do. Good News isn’t an arrival, but it is a coronation. Megan’s made a big A-list rap album without capitulating to rap trends, forcing the genre to bend its way toward her. There are plenty of big-name guests on Good News. But most of them — DaBaby, 2 Chainz, City Girls — are rappers capable of adjusting to Megan’s bawdy, punchline-heavy style. No matter who’s on a track with her, Megan controls the party.
Good News isn’t a melodic rap album. It’s a rap album. Megan sings exactly once: On the strange and awkward synthpop experiment “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep,” which sounds a whole lot like Empire Of The Sun. Most of the time, Megan is in her comfort zone, flexing hard about her own horniness. The beats are bright and clear and bass-heavy, and many are built on samples of classics from across rap’s history: Michel’e’s “Something In My Heart,” Naughty By Nature’s “O.P.P.,” Juvenile’s “Rodeo,” Webbie and Trina’s “Bad Bitch.” On tracks like these, Megan fluidly switches up cadences and broadcasts a towering toughness. She sounds unstoppable.
There is a whole lot of sex on Good News. If you want to appreciate the album, you will have to accept that. At this point, after “Big Ole Freak” and “Cash Shit” and “Captain Hook” and “WAP,” nobody should be surprised that Megan likes to talk about fucking. But it’s still a blast to hear her having so much fun with it, doing it with such casually nasty eloquence. Megan ain’t playing nice for no fucking plane ticket, and she ain’t coming over till she knows how big your dick is. She won’t kiss you because she knows you been eating ass. She’s saucy like a barbecue, but you won’t get your baby back. She wouldn’t call it macking; she calls it speaking with passion. And she doesn’t call it seducing; she moves on it, then she has it.
Megan makes all this sound easy, but she’s just as effortless when she’s talking about her craft: “Why I gotta prove myself to bitches that I’m better than?/ As if I wasn’t at radio stations going Super Saiyan.” And even when she’s talking about life-altering traumas, she uses it as fuel. There are some truly sad lines on the album: “Bullet wounds, backstabs/ Mama died, still sad/ At war with myself/ In my head, bitch, it’s Baghdad.” But even when she’s dealing with her own demons, Megan keeps her pride and her composure. She is, after all, the rapper who turned her own shooting into a declaration of dominance.
There’s not too much bad news on Good News. There aren’t many experiments, either. Other than the synthpop of “Don’t Rock Me To Sleep” and the Popcaan-assisted reggae of “Intercourse,” every song on Good News is lively, funky party-rap. Sometimes, that sound wears thin. I can’t figure out, for instance, why the genuinely irritating “Body” is a single. Mostly, though, Good News is a supremely fun rap record that succeeds on its own terms. Like Invasion Of Privacy, the 2018 debut from Megan’s “WAP” collaborator Cardi B, Good News is a display of brassy determination, undeniable skill, and pop savvy. It would be a star-making performance if Megan wasn’t already a star.