There’s a line on Rico Nasty’s “Watch Me” from her Tales of Tacobella tape that perfectly sums up what makes her such a joy to listen to. On the song’s hook, she coarsely raps: “Every move I make, I make it better than the last, bitch. Oooohhhh.” It’s part confidence-builder, part dreamy, part humourous, and part intention-setting. Most of the Maryland rapper’s songs have at least a couple of these elements, if not all. When she released the song in mid-2017, that proclamation may have fell on a lot of deaf ears. At that point, many listeners had no idea of who she was if they weren’t clocking the latest to come out of the Soundcloud and YouTube universe of young rappers. But in hindsight, there were no lies in her assertions. Just a few months later in September, Rico found her biggest hit “Poppin” featured on the soundtrack for Insecure’s second season. A month after, she dropped Sugar Trap 2, a mixtape that best showcased her ability to jump from pop-leaning anthems, to sure fire bangers about how no one on Earth was fucking with her.
Rico’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. The 21-year-old’s ascension runs parallel with an exciting renaissance of young women rappers who—despite how they are typically grouped in together—offer multitudes of styles and content. Miami duo City Girls have carved their own lane by making music tailor-made for the strip clubs with anthems about how to get the most of of men trying to court them. Tennessee rapper BbyMutha makes music about spotting men’s bullshit from a mile away. Houston’s Megan Thee Stallion seemingly makes street hits in her sleep. This is all happening underneath the fact that one of the world’s biggest and most alluring rappers is Cardi B, a Bronx fairytale story who just covered Rolling Stone this week.
And while there is some overlap with all of these acts, Rico’s combination of youthful optimism with the necessary confidence it takes to propel yourself to different career milestones has its own place within the pool. Now, with a newly-announced deal with Atlantic Records, the DMV budding star feels primed to be a mainstream fixture in the near future.
Just after the announcement of her signing last week, Rico dropped her latest project titled Nasty. In packaging, it’s the most mature she’s ever been presented. Her earlier work portrayed her as a bubbly and colorful teen fascinated with anime and fantasy. The elements of playful hits like “Hey Arnold” and “iCarly” can be heard on the new project, but in a much more subdued and polished fashion. Songs like “Countin’ Up” and “Pressing Me” demonstrate her maturity in sound, and Rico’s new preferred language is rage—rage about people underestimating her, rage about people placing expectations on her, and rage, simply, for the sake of raging. It’s the most balanced collection of work she’s put out yet, and during her latest trip to New York, we spoke with her about her maturation and the freedom to change.
Noisey: Nasty has a variety of the hard hitting stuff and your melodic music but it feels like you’re going further into this raging energy. Is that reflective of the mental space you’re in right now?
Rico Nasty: I feel like it’s the theme but it’s also how I’m feeling. The tape for me is like a mixture of both. Some songs are sweet and sugary while other songs are really hard. It’s how I be feeling at the time. The mood I be in. And then it’s my fans. I know they want those harder type songs. I’m trying to be one of those artists that can change with every project, so this one was to show my range. I know people expect me to be screaming and have the whole tape raw. People keep trying to say I’m one type of artist and I’m just not.
Do you feel like people have a preference when it’s comes to your music? What do fans react to the most?
Everybody has a preference but only because I gave them options. When I wanted to become an artist I wanted to be versatile but at the same time, fans never know what to expect. So they can’t be let down.
I like that “Ice Cream” and “Won’t Change” have that bubblegum sound that you used earlier in your career but they feel a bit more refined. Like an evolved version of “iCarly.”
That’s because when I was doing songs like “iCarly,” I was using YouTube beats. That shit was hella low budget. Now I’m signed and you get certain resources and perks. I don’t know why people thought I forgot about that style. It just wasn’t summertime. It hasn’t been summertime so why would I make happy songs? It’s been cold as fuck, fucked up shit’s been happening, and it’s been winter.
And it’s been cold for such a long time this year. Some nights are still cold and it’s June.
Exactly. I like to set the tone based on the weather. In the winter I made more aggressive, hardbody songs because I feel like people go through more shit in the winter. I know for a fact that I go through the most in the winter: family shit, money shit, all these holidays and shit. So that’s why you get a “Smack a Bitch” and you get “Trust Issues” and “Rage.” But now that it’s warm you get a song like “Ice Cream.” I wouldn’t make a song called that in February. So I always go back to the lighter stuff because that’s my style, but it’s good to show people what they never seen before. The reaction I get from people when I do stuff like “Rage” is so different.
And it plays out different with performances. I’ve seen you play about three times now and when songs like “Poppin” or “Key Lime OG” come on, people lose it.
It’s about the build up. I love that my friends understand that I’m not gonna forget about the old me. You know, with the signing and all the other stuff, people think you’re gonna change and that weird shit is gonna happen to the music. I want Nasty to say that I am the same person but it is evolved.
But you’re allowed to change as a person, too. You have to let yourself grow.
Right! I made “iCarly” when I was 18 years old.
What’s your chemistry like with Kenny Beats? Before you and Key!, I’d never heard of him but some of your best songs are produced by him.
The first time me and Kenny ever met we made “Smack a Bitch.” And it’s so weird because it was on some Twitter shit. I told him to come through and when he came I was shocked because I didn’t know he was white. I was like, “What the fuck? Alright! Let’s get to it.” He’s able to do whatever you tell him you want. He even has his own drum kits and shit. He’s fire as fuck. When I sat down with him I told him I wanted to come up with my own genre. That’s where all those guitar sounds come in. But he also produced “Counting Up,” “Won’t Change,” and “Bitch I’m Nasty.” So he can do a lot. I also think he was just getting tired of only doing the raging songs.
Is Kenny someone you’d work with exclusively, or at least throughout your career?
I don’t see me working with him for a long time being far fetched. But you never want your music to sounds the same. Work with the same producer for your whole career? That’s not fair to your fans, bruh. You’re not giving them any options. But it’s also good to build relationships with different producers because a lot of rappers aren’t good at that. They don’t even remember the name of producers who made beats for their songs to give them credit. But with my music, I sit with them and cook up so that shit means something. I know what it took for them to make the music. Producers are the biggest part of my music being good. They bring the atmosphere. If you have a trash beat, your song is not gonna be fire.
There are a few songs on Nasty where you talk about protecting your energy and being conscious of who you are letting in your space. Is that something you’ve had to put emphasis on recently, now that new people are constantly coming into your life?
People come with all different types of energies. I’m not the type of person to let a bunch of people in, but I know it’s a lot of people who want to get in. I already know how this shit goes. I already seen this shit. I’m so happy that I’m a baby in this shit but I’ve seen some things go down and turn left. People will ask for a feature then they go and bite you. Then I’ll see the circles people go in to get clout or get respect. I’ve seen people lie on me and threaten me. I’ve seen the wildest shit. But I also talk about those things in the music to let people know, if you’re in this position, it don’t matter how nice people are. They don’t give a fuck about you. You gotta protect yourself at all times. You have to protect your energy. You can’t be out here lowering your standards. I don’t settle. So many people in my generation do because everything is at the touch of a button. Muhfuckers don’t wanna go out and get it because they’re so used to seeing people get it overnight on social media.
Good for you because it takes some people a long time before they realize they’ve been getting taken advantage of by friends and family. There are so many stories of people across industries getting burned in their early years.
For me, when I got burned I went down a downward spiral. But I always think of it like Slumdog Millionaire: really bad shit I went through has always been the key for what I had coming to me in the future. Like, I remember one time I was on punishment for something and my mother made me look up some shit about NASA. Then I never thought about it until one time recently I was in a meeting with some big person in the industry and they were talking about space and I knew exactly they were referencing. The person’s face lit up. I thought about how I would’ve never knew that if my mother didn’t punish me and make me look it up. So when I go through shit I always just take it knowing that it’s gonna be fuel for something else.
A few days ago I saw that you were out trying to be super low and some fans peeped you anyway. What has that been like for you? Like having to reconsider the way you move around?
I think my fans have superpowers. I was in Target at home in Maryland wearing a hoodie over my head and they still saw me. Or even here in New York, I was shooting a video and some people spotted me from all the way down the block.
It feels like “Life Back” from the project is touching on this. You’re having a conversation about people having expectations of who you are supposed to be.
I like to think that I’m not important so I don’t put so much pressure on myself. Lowkey, it’s the pressure people put on me to be this certain person. “Life Back” is about remembering when I had a choice. It’s so weird because everybody has a choice in life because you can do whatever you want, but I really can’t do certain things anymore.
Going to the store. Going to the mall to go shopping. Growing up, that’s all I used to do was go to the fucking mall to hang out, go to the food court. I used to be so wild. I’d go to the mall at 12, meet a nigga at 3, meet another nigga at 6. The first day I realized I couldn’t go to the mall no more was when I had a whole outfit picked out and I put it down to take pictures with some fans. I’d overheard somebody say, “Oh my god! Is this the outfit Rico picked out?” Next thing I know, somebody took the outfit. That reminded me that I can’t do that anymore. I can’t have those days out where I don’t want to talk. I remember those days where I’d go out, put the headphones in, and no one would talk to me.
You think it would happen as much if you didn’t still live in Maryland?
But that’s home. I could move to New York, but I don’t want to live in New York. I could move to LA but it’s so far. I’m from Maryland! I don’t want to move nowhere. I love my Maryland lowkey. I hate it and I love it. It’s not time to move right now.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey US.