There’s no doubt that music flows from Rico Nasty’s finger tips. She started out selling feature verses online for $75 as a teen and now has six eclectric and extensive mixtapes under her belt, plus stellar collaborations with Kali Uchis, Doja Cat, A$AP Ferg and Bree Runway – to name but a few – and a raucous EP (2019’s ‘Anger Management’) overseen by you favourite artist’s favourite producer, Kenny Beats. And all this by the age of 23. It’s fair to say that her work rate is immense. With a feverish flow, an endlessly extravagant pop-punk-princess aesthetic and an adorable son Cameron to post online about, it’s a pretty intense gig to keep up.
With shows packed out with fervent, moshing stans to her irreverent visuals and embrace of profanity, Rico has consistently established her own lane in an industry that tends to like labels. On album opener ‘Candy’, she proclaims, “On a dark and stormy night, I don’t blend in / Bitch, I shine bright.” With a major-label deal with Atlantic Records and her sights set on complete and global stardom, ‘Nightmare Vacation’ signals the next sizeable shift in Nasty’s already impressive career. Can she continue to wreak unabashed havoc on the system from within?
The endearing Maryland artist – real name Maria Kelly – has been a strong presence within the movement of black women innovating rap over the last few years, alongside the likes of Tierra Whack, Junglepussy, Leikeli47, Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and more. While Nasty’s catalogue has found her focused on pushing to the extremities of self-expression – baking rock, screamo and punk directly into her rap with reckless abandon – with this record she flexes her chops as an artist with mainstream appeal.
On ‘Don’t Like Me’ featuring Gucci Mane and Don Toliver, Nasty exercises her usual braggadocio over a more understated, trap-pop beat, singing effortlessly in falsetto. ‘No Debate’ packs a melody reminiscent of a snake charmer’s tune that accents her slow deliberate delivery; the track could fit seamlessly on a Megan Thee Stallion project, confirming Nasty’s’s as much at home in the clubs as in the live venues.
Yet the 16-track record, which she self-described as “sugar trap on steroids” in her NME cover interview, still courses with her signature chaos: ‘Check Me Out’, ‘STFU’ and ‘OHFR’ shudder with cartoonishly malevolent angst. Rico’s explosive, hoarse delivery is a constant throughout, preventing any stylistic whiplash. In fact, most of the features – from Portland native Aminé (‘Back And Forth’) to emo-trap icon Trippie Redd (‘Losers’) – fall back in favour of Rico at her most elemental. The frenetic ‘Let It Out’ provides some of her gnarliest catharsis yet, as she encourages us, “If you wanna rage – let it out,” before releasing a guttural scream as the booming chorus drops.
Early single ‘IPHONE’, released back in August, still stands out among the chaos; it’s a convergence of renegade Rico and pop star Rico in perfectly discordant harmony. Sickly sweet pop chords form the intro, tinkling so calmly that you almost forget who you’re listening to, before the pitched-up vocal crashes in with the promise: “This time won’t be nothing like the last one.” Produced by Dylan Brady of hyper-pop duo 100 gecs, the track sharply encapsulates euphoria. It feels like standing on a roof, a little too close to the edge, filled with a nervous excitement and hopefulness for the unknown future, the wind whipping around you.
There’s an argument that Nasty could have reduced the length of the project to preserve the listener’s energy across the collection, though. At its current length, the format – thrashing metallic beats and punchy bars – loses impact slightly; a couple of the simpler tracks, such as ‘Girl Scouts’ and ‘Ten Four’, might test those with less energy than the artist herself. Of course, in a live setting these could be rap-along favourites.
By the end of the project, however, we’re roped back in by her Gold-certified 2018 single ‘Smack A Bitch’; this entirely new version of the song is a welcome bonus. In a full circle moment, Nasty takes the chance to induct a select few of the next generation of exciting rappers – who also happen to be women – in the form of provocative TikTok star ppcocaine, Delaware’s own Sukihana and new Atlanta talent Rubi Rose. The result: a rage-filled femme cypher that breathes new life into the anthem and draws it all to a perfect close. Like the project as a whole, it’s a refreshingly liberating soundtrack to a year that has felt a little like the end of the world.
Release date: December 4
Record label: Atlantic Records / Sugar Trap