On Anger Management, Maryland’s Rico Nasty leans into her throaty rasp, riding long-time collaborator Kenny Beats’ productions defiantly. The project brings the promised heat of anger: It opens with the 21-year-old roaring wordless ad libs behind her spitfire flow. But it’s the “management” part of the title that really comes through—Rico Nasty is a powerhouse, of course, but she’s a professional first and foremost.
Born Maria Kelly, the young artist found an early following with 2016’s “Hey Arnold” and “iCarly,” each a buoyant sing-song rap laid over samples from the television shows from which their names are borrowed. There was a lightness to her voice, one which isn’t lost on Anger Management as much as it’s overtaken. Whereas her earlier work floated above the beat, here she marches on each track with a militant accuracy. Her bravado snaps tightly to the drum machine on “Hatin” like a magnet to steel, but there’s a cool-headed ease with which she vamps: “I’m just speakin’ straight facts and I hope that you listen.”
Anger Management is a compact album with its nine tracks spread across a meagre 18-minute runtime, but Rico Nasty works quickly. She builds her songs from the outside in: “Sell Out” starts off with a proclamation–”I’m the best at being me, a lot of y’all can’t relate”–before retreating into her vulnerability. She returns briefly to the sing-song style of her earlier hits, stalling the gas on her forceful rasp to preach gently, “You think you’re down but you could get left/Don’t worry about where everyone is going or been.” By the one-minute mark, she’s made it through the first verse and chorus, and returns to her pulpit for a sermon: “The expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation.” Clocking in at under two-and-a-half minutes, the song offers a rapid-fire journey that feels almost transformative as the beat fades out and an automated voice checks in: “Do you feel better now? Good. This has been course one of Rico Nasty’s Anger Management seminar.”
Her flow’s strict punctuality, however, sets a tough precedent. On “Mood,” a mid-tempo sizzler with mile-a-minute verses, Rico’s sharp cadence leaves up-and-coming rapper SPLURGE gasping for air as his trademark slackjaw flow falls behind her intensity. EARTHGANG fare a bit better: The Atlanta-based duo volley verses with Rico like a beach ball on “Big Titties,” and the three of them share a chemistry and charisma as polished as the BROCKHAMPTON boys. Viral producer Baauer of “Harlem Shake” fame lends a lighthearted hand to the production on the track—the pots-and-pan percussion and wonky womp-womp horn line bring a laidback energy that is a welcome guest on the mixtape.
It’s a sharp contrast to “Cheat Code,” also co-produced by Baauer, where Rico Nasty’s breakneck flow meets a heavy, industrial production. Performers with less intensity would be swallowed up by the beat as it rips and grinds like something out of Lotic or Arca’s back catalogue, but Rico lays into the track with a formidable presence: There is absolutely no second-guessing the rapper as she spits, “Rico goin’ hard again, go ahead and tell a friend.”
It’s less a threat and more a call to arms: Anger Management feels like a rally cry, and it’s easy to imagine a crowd swaying to and fro, entranced by the young rapper’s provocations. Anger Management feels like a live performance – from the relentless velocity of “Cold” to the call-and-response harmonies on “Again,” there’s an urgency in her recorded voice that’s both refreshing and unnerving. At times, it’s hypnotic: She hits her words with such a percussive force that even a phrase like “Is my name Lonzo? I’m ballin’, ballin’” feels like a hammer against wood.
It’s also one of the most exciting parts of the project as well. While Kenny Beats’ production is stainless, Rico Nasty’s polished delivery begs for blown out subwoofers, low ceilings, and late night shows. It feels like a club. At its heart, Anger Management is an overwhelmingly visceral, engaging, and consuming project; it also promises to be the can’t-miss live show of the summer as her tour continues through Europe. It’s hardly a surprise—Rico Nasty is, among other things, a professional.
- Words: Nathan Ma