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Rico Nasty - Nasty Music Album Reviews

Rico Nasty - Nasty Music Album Reviews
The ferocious 21-year-old shapeshifter comes through with one of the hardest rap records of the year.

Rico Nasty is happy to try on different skins in order to become comfortable in her own. Like Eminem, Nicki Minaj, or MF DOOM, she compartmentalizes aspects of her personality—her softer side, her anxious side, and her unapologetically brusque side—as a coping mechanism, playing different roles wherever necessary: mostly the pop-trap femme Tacobella and the nu metal rap rager Trap Lavigne. Through these characters, she explores a greater range of sounds, dabbling in bedroom pop, melodic trap, and a bruising style of forechecking rap, drawing inspiration from Grimes, Rihanna, and Slipknot. Her sixth mixtape and first under Atlantic Records, Nasty, is her most complete performance yet, an unrelenting, elbow-throwing mosh-rap record about defending your turf.

Trap Lavigne’s punk edge dominates Nasty, but the tape offers a head-spinning mix of singsong escapades and violent thrasher anthems. It aggregates her personas to present a clearer self-portrait; it feels like a conscious decision to sequence the delicate “Why Oh Why,” her most bashful song, and the growler “Rage,” her most unflappable one, back to back. After four years on the mixtape circuit, she finally achieves equilibrium here, balancing her light and dark sides, at various points self-conscious, thoughtful, humbled, combative, fearless, audacious, and vitriolic.

Rico likes to use her raps to pummel her foes into submission, and it’s impossible to ignore the sheer force she can muster. But the real heaviness comes from the way her writing complements her cadences as she constantly shifts the weight of her flows. She can bark like a drill sergeant or expand into a caricature, but the emphasis is dictated by the dynamism of her rhyme schemes, as on this passage from “Rage”: “I don’t seek shit for a reaction, want action, I’m snappin’/Stop with the racket, Balenciaga my fashion,” each phonetic sound snapping into the next. It’d be all for naught if her lyrics didn’t facilitate these sort of performances; Rico is as precise in her writing as she is a commanding presence. On “Hockey,” she delivers pragmatic advice through staccato phrases stressing each word: “Make sure that you be careful, ’cause somebody’s always watching/You’ll be surprised what people do when they ain’t got no options.”

Rico’s songs are often about proximity. This can be literal (people invading her space, guys attempting—and usually failing—to get at her) or figurative (window shoppers watching her pockets, the widening gap between her and her competitors). A song like “Trust Issues,” makes apparent her desire to keep people at arm’s length. “If you lookin’ for me, I be everywhere you can’t go,” she raps, later adding, “I got trust issues, don’t nobody get too close.” She has a self-described “sixth sense” for fake bitches and broke niggas. She is usually thinking about or attempting to figure out where others are positioned in relation to where she is, and she often navigates these spaces with either a brolic sense of indestructibility or a shrugging nonchalance. These frequent negotiations of space are exhilarating, like watching an apex predator discovering its place in the food chain.

Her wig-splitting flows are only bolstered by Kenny Beats, who produced nearly half the mixtape. His work can vary, incorporating everything from scuzzy guitars to playful synths, all with hi-hat-heavy seismic drum kits that quake beneath Rico’s rumbling voice. On the opener, “Bitch I’m Nasty,” Rico surges into the space vacated by his whirring noises. “Countin’ Up” transposes and interpolates Noreaga’s “Superthug,” darkening the original Neptunes synths to accommodate Rico’s snarled barbs. Elsewhere, the beats provide a splash of color. “Pressing Me” feels slick enough to be right at home on Rae Sremmurd’s latest. As it buzzes in an out of focus in her rearview, Rico seems only moderately inconvenienced by the parade of her rivals’ exes and boyfriends presenting themselves before her.

Rico’s style is punchy but there are more than jabs; while many of Nasty’s best moments are its, well, nastiest, it can also be sweet and sassy. On “Oreo” she slips in and out of Auto-Tune: “Before you cross a bad bitch, boy you better look both ways,” she warns. The Chipmunk hook on “Won’t Change” is reminiscent of Nicki’s lively Barbie turns. On “Ice Cream,” she compares thirsty dudes in her mentions to kids at an ice cream truck, ignoring their advances unless they can “sponsor” her. Carefree and brazen, the song opens with all-time impudence: “With some white bitches screaming YOLO/Lemonade for the shade, Jesus saves, I don’t.”

But Nasty’s most vulnerable song comes toward the end: “Why Oh Why” is a sugar trap confection that encourages people to pursue their dreams while wondering aloud if that pursuit is really worth it. “I been havin’ mood swings, sayin’ shit that I can’t take back/I got all this money but I wanna go back,” she sings on the track, wary of the lurking fame monster but resigned to her path. “They keep on askin’ where the old me at/For the last time, she ain’t never comin’ back.” It’s a moment that shows personal growth often comes at a price. But across these 14 songs, Rico Nasty shakes off haters—and her own self-doubt—by refusing to settle for less.

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