Rico Nasty is what you get if you were to gather a firecracker, place it under a glass bowl, and watch it pop and explode non-stop, bouncing vividly. A walking mosh pit, Rico Nasty is comprised of two distinct, idiosyncratic personalities: Tacobella, a soft-boiled, emotional songstress that croons lovingly about the introspective, and Trap Lavigne, the unrestrained, growling monster that spits the “sugar trap” style that has become her calling card. On her new album Nasty, both opposite personalities converge for a slightly slovenly, but exhausting, romp through the intersection of the mosh pit and candy aisle at the grocery store. And we mean that in the best way possible.
Nasty isn’t a hold your hand, walk you through Rico’s upbringing kind of tape. There aren’t any deep introspective cuts that Tacobella lovingly wails over, detailing the relationships that have been ruined by the kind of fame that sees her grace the cover of The FADER. Tacobella’s been duct taped and thrown into the basement – Trap Lavigne throws you into the mosh pit and challenges you to think for yourself. With her senseless persona taking the reins immediately with “Bitch I’m Nasty,” we’re thrust head first into fast-living, snake-charming paeans of living carefree. Her growling sounds painful, as if she’s aiming for a lower tone than her voice will allow her to reach without trouble, but contextualizing it with Trap Lavigne’s carefree, badass “I Don’t Care” tone enables the understanding of the more problematic subject matters that crop up — such as the paranoia that becomes the center of “Trust Issues.”
Being that we aren’t drawn here for Rico’s penchant for hip-hoppy lyrics, we’re attracted to two things: how well the production is tailored to her slender voice and the creativity of her song structure. It’s safe to say that both aspects meet — no, exceed – expectations. The metal-adjacent beats still retain trace residue of new age rap’s DNA within them, but the production would sound more at home on Rock Band than Def Jam: Fight For NY. That in itself isn’t new; Rico’s career sprang off the saccharine sounds of projects like Sugar Trap and Sugar Trap 2. Here though, too many sweets before dinner may have given her a headache. “Ice Cream” and “Won’t Change” still retain some of the snappy, juvenile bliss of her earliest hits.
Autotune pops up a few times, her gravelly voice on the opposite end of the spectrum, both handling chorus duties at the perfect times. She dances between flows and vocal cadences like it’s as easy as flipping a light switch. When all of these elements come together perfectly, as they do many times throughout the album, the magic seems to be bulletproof. Closer “Lala” is frustratingly simple, but damn, if it doesn’t sound good.
Even though Tacobella is hidden away, the timing of her squeaks makes the switch sometimes jarring enough to see the binary code in The Matrix. In the course of evolving into Trap Lavigne as her star persona, being afraid to let go of the past made her include “Won’t Change” as a means of appeasing her “I miss the old Kanye” type of fans. Yes, including these sweetly violent bangers does connect the dots between the two vastly different personalities, but when Trap Lavigne’s blood runs through three quarters of the project, it becomes questionable to why even include Tacobella for a measly fourth-quarter outing. Without connecting songs of similar ilk, “Won’t Change” sounds weird, grating even. It shatters the immersion even further. Isolated away from multiple tracks back to back pushing sugar trap, is Rico’s style that captivating? Or does stuffing our face with chicken liver without any break makes us like it more than we think?
Producer Kenny Beats should be credited as an artist here. He produces six of the 14 songs on Nasty and it’s pretty easy to discern his contributions from the rest of the cast. Rico sounds at home over his synth-adorned bass showcases and his visceral faux-emotional powerhouses. The mosh pit vibe that permeates this thing down to the bone comes from their chemistry, with Rico donning experimental hats whenever one of his works comes on the board. The delicate dance of constantly switching it up, remaining at home, and creating truthful music with an aesthetic that’s an organic evolutionary angle of what she’s already created is, frankly, pretty awesome.
Much of the album’s heart can be centered around “Hockey” and its unassuming nature. On the surface, the Pi’erre Bourne-inspired production and sing-songy chorus make it seem as if it’s another entry that’ll ignite the dormant energy in your head as you roll to the beat. But here is where Rico gets the most vulnerable, speaking about her looks and mental health; two areas where women, especially black women, are often judged unfairly. Placing her sadness in the confines of a party track is genius enough to work. It helps that it sounds heavenly too. But that versatility goes back into the project as a whole, and her ability to juggle sounds, ideas, and styles, while making an album that could easily contend with any of G.O.O.D. Music’s June 2018 albums.
One of the best parts about Nasty comes from its implications for the future. Women in rap get the short end of the stick, 100% of the time. The phrase “sex sells” applies exclusively to female MCs, historically. Critics and industry officials may yell on the mountain tops that artists like Rhapsody and Remy Ma are the standards that women rappers should strive to reach, but let’s be honest: no one’s rushing to the shelves to buy a record about the world’s pitfalls, they’d rather buy a new iteration of rap’s Karma Sutra, narrated by a woman that’s throwing shots at another in an arbitrary cycle of clout chasing. Rico’s success has shredded that belief completely and shown that sex and controversy aren’t the only things that garner attention. With her identity rooted in the offbeat and the crushingly-hard, previously only thought to be the operating grounds of Travis Scott and Playboi Carti, she’s rewriting the playbook, one tune at a time.
All of this may sound heavy to weigh on the album’s head, especially since it claims to be nothing more than a rousing record for party kindling. Two personalities under one rap roof could be cause for trouble, but it works effectively here — even if it’s handled somewhat sloppily. Trap Lavigne is the album’s star player that sets up base in between the anger and animosity that power the album’s best cuts. Hopefully, Rico Nasty continues to explore this exciting character and make more music for reporting from the mosh pit, because sonically, she’s never been tighter. The album is purposefully disorienting and confusing, but it sends its message effectively. Rico Nasty is here and changing, but, most importantly, not going anywhere.
- Words: Trey Alston