The rare major-label debut at the intersection of artistry and intent.
Rico Nasty’s poise is regal and her gaze imperious on her new tape Nasty. TacoBella is no more; this woman eats lobster. She wants you to know two things: she’s awesome and you can never fuck with her. She has a million creative ways of saying those things, of course, but the narrowing of focus is emblematic of an artist who knows who she is and what kind of impression she wants to make. Helpful, as this is her first release on Atlantic. While rising rappers often end up with their identities groomed out once they hit the big time, Nasty is the rare major-label debut at the intersection of artistry and intent.
Like collaborator Lil Yachty, Nasty alternates between candy-colored “sugar trap” and harder-edged, territorial battle rap. She has personas for each; while Yachty had Lil Yachty and Lil Boat, Nasty has Tacobella and Trap Lavigne. The difference is that while Yachty is great at neotenuous pop and boring when he really tries as a rapper, Nasty is fantastic at both. “Block List” from her Tales of Tacobella tape was one of last year’s best pop songs, and certainly the best song ever written about hooking up with guys, stealing their wallets, and blocking their numbers before they find out. But her music’s just as powerful delivered in an Auto-Tuned warble as through thick tangles of language.
This is a grown-up rap album. Nasty is 21, which seems young for a star of any genre. But when so many rappers want to look and sound younger than they are by adopting a patina of millennial nostalgia, it’s easy to forget Nas, Biggie and Big Daddy Kane made their best work around her age. Nasty’s certainly been guilty of this in the past with her anime album art and 8-bit beats, but there are no references to Mario or Hungry Hungry Hippos here. This isn’t an album about aesthetics but about rapping, and it’s a reminder that so much of the youth rap that pisses off purists is as meat-and-potatoes as it comes.
Rico is vicious. When her voice really flares up in intensity, she takes on the weathered rasp of a grunge singer. She even has to tell herself to calm down on the opening salvo “Bitch I’m Nasty.” Her verses are what we all fear the coolest kids in school will say if we try to talk to them. Ask about her weed? “Don’t ask what I’m smoking on, that shit ain’t for sale.” Want to slide into her DMs? “Ew! What the fuck?” Can you drive her car? “Bitch, what you think?” The humor rises out of her exaggerated flippancy. “He call me his little princess, I call him my sponsor,” she raps brilliantly on “Ice Cream.”
If the ferocity of her taunts brings to mind everyone you ever wanted to be friends with but gave you the cold shoulder or worse, we can at least take comfort in knowing it’s all for show, and we end up living vicariously through her. We can taste the lobster. It’s sort of luxury rap, but instead of taking us inside the luxe life like Jay-Z or Rick Ross might, it offers us tantalizing glimpses behind doors she happily slams in our faces. By the way, she actually does reveal what kind of weed she smokes, on “Hockey.” It’s Key Lime OG. But before you run to your dealer’s, remember hers will always be better than yours.