Megan Thee Stallion’s Mixtape Goes Harder Than Most Albums
The term “mixtape” has meant a lot of things over the past few decades. Once upon a time, mixtapes were literal cassette tapes put together by DJs. The big-name DJs might have exclusive drops or verses or remixes; the others just had to show off by combining hot tracks as compellingly as possible. Later on, “mixtape” just became a term for any rap album that was available for free on the internet. These days, when every piece of music is available for basically-free on the internet, the difference between mixtapes and albums is entirely semantic. “Mixtape” is now a useful term of art for any rapper who needs to communicate the idea that a new album is a minor work and that it should not be judged too harshly.
Megan Thee Stallion’s new record Something For Thee Hotties is a mixtape in the present-day sense. In terms of function and assembly, it’s not that different from something like Drake’s Dark Lane Demo Tapes. A year ago, Megan released Good News, which was conceived and marketed as her first full-on studio album. Presumably, she’ll make another one of those before too long. In the meantime, we get a collection of YouTube freestyles and unreleased songs, along with the one minor-hit single that she released over the summer. Megan only announced Something For Thee Hotties a week before release. From the title on down, she’s presented it as a for-the-fans stopgap, not as a next step in any kind of aesthetic evolution.
Megan Thee Stallion’s next step will take time, and it should take time. In 2020, she had two #1 singles, and she also made it through the strange media clusterfuck that came after Tory Lanez shot her in the foot. In 2021, Megan won an armful of Grammys and should’ve won more; music-industry forces officially recognized her as a crossover success and a big deal. Right now, she’s in cash-in mode, making deals with Nike and Popeye’s. It’s good business for her to put out a quick, hard, uncompromising record like Something For Thee Hotties. The mixtape gives her a chance to reassure longtime fans that she’s still the same artist, that she hasn’t left behind the audience who made her famous in the first place. It’s just a nice little bonus that Something For Thee Hotties happens to be a tough, strong piece of music.
Something For Thee Hotties isn’t constructed in the same way, but it reminds me of my favorite era of mixtapes — the years when you’d buy them as slimline-case CDs on street corners, when they occupied some murky middle ground between actual album and halfway-illegal side hustle. In the mid-’00s, mixtapes were intended specifically to promote albums, or to keep rappers’ names hot when they weren’t on album cycle. They’d rap over beats from hot songs or half-forgotten classics. They’d throw in new songs that may or may not make the albums. They’d include remixes and failed singles and radio-station freestyles. There would usually be some DJ yelling all over the song intros. A lot of the time, those mixtapes were better than the albums that eventually followed. Megan Thee Stallion isn’t of that era, but she remembers it, and Something For Thee Hotties works in a lot of the same ways.
Among fans, it’s never been a secret that many of Megan’s best songs aren’t her songs at all; they’re her freestyles. The term “freestyle” has evolved as much as the term “mixtape” over the years. These days, a freestyle is basically any rap song without a chorus. Megan has been throwing tracks up like that up on YouTube for her entire career, and the oldest freestyle on Something For Thee Hotties is more than two years old. Still, it’s exciting to hear all these freestyles together, presented as a kind of whole. Megan is a classically great rapper. She talks shit commandingly, and her precision is just as important as her general presence. Megan’s actual singles are tight and compressed, and they don’t always allow for goofiness. But on freestyles, Megan can reference Lou Reed and Pokémon in the space of one rhyme: “When I show my wild side, make ’em doo-doo-doo/ I got these n***as blushin’, lookin’ like they Pikachu.”
Something For Thee Hotties has eminently skippable testimonials from Southern-rap legends like Juicy J, Lil Keke, Bun B, and Paul Wall. It’s got great new songs and so-so new songs. It’s got Megan rapping over samples of “Me So Horny” and the Rosemary’s Baby score. Mostly, though, it’s got Megan rapping viscerally over hard, nasty beats, finding new ways to tell us how rich and horny she is: “This head game lethal/ Use my tongue, put thread through a needle/ Bitch, I’m a movie; these hoes my sequels/ Keep a pussy ho real tight like a kegel.”
On the mixtape, Megan Thee Stallion plays to her base. It’s a good move. Lately, Megan has been showing up on pop songs — a DJ Snake single, a BTS remix. That’s fine. She’s a pop star now, and she can do pop-star things. But she’s also a fierce, inimitable rapper, and it’s a pleasure to hear her in that zone. When Megan first arrived on the national radar a couple of years ago, I wondered if her booming old-school ferocity would prove influential, if it would help move rap past the dissolving Auto-Tune melodies that have been running things for so long. That hasn’t happened. Nobody has tried to rap like Megan, which is probably a good thing. But maybe Megan’s presence has allowed for other deviations.
Another of my favorite rap albums from the past month is another non-traditional LP. It doesn’t sound anything like Megan, and yet it feels post-Megan in some hard-to-define way. BIA, a Boston-born rapper who got her start on the reality show Sisterhood Of Hip-Hop and who’s signed to Pharrell’s imprint, just released For Certain (Deluxe), an expanded edition of an EP that came out last December. I missed that EP when it came out, but BIA’s tracks had staying power. She raps about a lot of the same things as Megan — sex, money, the transactional relationship between sex and money — but she sounds completely different. BIA’s main mentor seems to be Fam-Lay, a deeply underrated Virginia rapper who brought an unflappable deadpan to a lot of early Neptunes tracks. Just like Fam, BIA always sounds powerfully bored, as if she can barely be bothered to explain why she’s so much cooler than everyone else. Like Fam, she’s also got a terrific ear for ominous, minimal beats.
Megan and BIA are at very different places in their careers, and yet these non-album albums make perfect sense for both of them. Freed from the weight of putting together major statements, they get to take chances and talk shit, which is what I loved so much about mixtapes in the first place. The mixtape might’ve changed, but when it hits right, it still accomplishes the same things.
1. Trapland Pat – “Dream”
In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of wild young South Florida rappers with elaborate dreadlock situations. But how many of them get hypnotic over icy beats that sound like trap remixes of early Human League singles? Exactly.
2. Backxwash – “Rosemary’s Revenge”
Backxwash seems to move a little closer to full-on industrial metal everytime she comes out with a new song. This one sounds like a kick to the gut, and I love it.
3. Sauce Walka & Sauce WoodWinnin – “Fully Auto”
This beat sounds like it crawled out of a foggy marsh at midnight. If more witch house had sounded like this, then witch house might still be a going concern.
4. DaBoii – “Too Hard 4 The Radio”
Bay Area rappers still sound the best over 1986-ass beats.
5. Papoose – “Thought I Was Gonna Stop” (Feat. Lil Wayne)
You used to be able to count on people. Papoose, for example, rattled off hilariously overwrought metaphors while barely paying attention to the beat. This was what he did. For years. He was reliable. And now Pap is, what, riding a beat? Interacting with it? Mostly saying stuff that sounds cool? Able to hold his own next to Lil Wayne? What is happening here? (Admittedly, “like Optimums in his prime, I’m as strong as an Autobot” is a classically dumb Papoose line, but it’s one of only a few here.)