Make Room for the Sugar Trap

Before the beat even drops, before the intro is complete and Rico comes in with her iconic laugh and “sugar trap” or “KENNNNYYYYY,” you already are transported to a musical realm that is both uncomfortable and nuanced. Inspired by emo punk tracks with a hood flair, polished off by pixel pop beats, Rico’s music is…interesting. Dissonant and primal, even. But bear with me for a moment: with a no-nonsense attitude and an expertly curated fashion sense, it’s no wonder Rico Nasty is taking the music industry by storm. Her music is the primordial groan; it is the scream that broke open the earth in the first place. It makes you want to break shit and smoke a blunt while doing so. Rico is unlikeable while simultaneously being effortlessly charismatic. She does not mince words, and the constant gleam in her eye makes you wonder whether or not she knows something that you don’t. And she probably does: her lyrics are a call for pleasure, disorder and self-indulgence. Almost every song references Rico’s plug potential, and she does not shy away from the hedonistic desires within us all. The combination of grating, metal-derived beats with Rico’s iconic belly-belted lyrics can be jarring at first.

But behind all of the chaotic energy is a dynamic rapper who defies genre, and is a symbol of how female rappers are changing the rap game for the better.

In late April, Rico Nasty released her EP Anger Management, produced by her long-term producer Kenny Beats. Through this project, Rico taps into the primal rage that we all possess. In the first song “Cold,” Rico shows off her innate lyricism, reaching back into the diss-track era and putting an unexpected spin on it with a screeching beat. In “Hatin,” Rico flaunts her feminist flag, similar to that of “Jumpin’ Jumpin” by Destiny’s Child, encouraging all bad bitches to show off what they got: “If you feelin’ like a boss bitch, go’n/Go to the club, leave that nigga at home/ If you got your own shit, you ain’t ever gotta listen to him, girl/Niggas be hatin’ on bitches.” The title gives away much of the content of the album, which is of course, anger-fueled, but it also is a critique on how the anger of the oppressed and marginalized is received by white audiences. Rico demands that we see anger as a useful, valid emotion. She makes us question the roots of anger, and how much pain and sadness are inextricably woven into rage. The EP itself gives a glimpse into the multiplicity of blackness: the weird, the queer, the difficult-to-explain, the celebratory and the shamed. Songs like “Relative” confess to a vulnerability often hidden or suppressed: “She does a lot of daydreaming/imagining herself as the extrovert that she is not,” and the last song on the EP, “Again” is almost a confession of loneliness: “Sometimes I get distracted by madness/why do tragedies happen? What if I’m not adapting?/Friends posting pictures, I’m like where was I when this happened?”

But this is not a review of Anger Management—it is, at its core, a thank you to Rico Nasty. Even earlier songs, and more recent collabs like her song “Tia Tamera” with Doja Cat are a testament to Rico’s inimitable identity, and at once an unapologetic appreciation of Black femme rage. Years ago, I can’t imagine that Rico Nasty would’ve gotten the platform or the recognition that she deserves—in a music industry (and a world) that seeks to quiet Black rage, Rico’s assertion of self is—for many who seek to diminish marginalized voices—unappealing. I can only imagine what it would be like to have a rapper like Rico Nasty to lean on during my middle school years. Rico is the rapper that I’ve been waiting for—she, like Princess Nokia and Lil Uzi Vert are genre-busting, badass lyricists with a flair for the dramatic. She embraces both the cynical and revelatory—her music ignites fires within that others would want quieted, or even extinguished.

“I want to be remembered for mixing genres. Of course I’m not the first girl to do rock music. I’m not even the first girl to do rap music. But to blend them together multiple times successfully? I think that’s my shit, right there/ I always loved listening to remixes and listening to R&B songs on trap beats. Like I’m weird as fuck. I’m the goofy person who will sing ‘Faneto’ in a country accent. I just be doing weird shit like that. That circles into my remixing. I want to be remembered as the girl who wasn’t afraid to mix that shit together.”

— Rico Nasty in Paper Magazine

Rico (like Lil Uzi) may even be a symbol of the Black kid emo boom—possessing a synthesis of two counterculture aesthetics. During my emo phase (sixth-beginning of ninth grade), I had a difficult time finding emo and punk artists who reflected my values. Now, I know of bands like Big Joanie, Death and X-Ray Spex. But even then, these obscure bands never broke into the mainstream, white, and male-dominated punk scene. Most of the music seemed to cater towards angsty white boys named Kyle who liked punching walls and shotgunning Monster Energy Drinks. Yes, the emo aesthetic may not have stood the test of time, or simply has swerved into this revisionist “goth gf” aesthetic, and while Rico Nasty may not fully embrace punk (though her iconic spiked hairdo with baby hairs spelling out “nasty” may suggest otherwise), her music tapped into a deep, abiding, perhaps unexplainable sadness that the lil marginalized baby within me still feels. Rico makes you feel as though you don’t need to hide your rage, you can embrace it and let it feed you.

Patrick Chen for Paper Magazine, 2019

A few months ago, AFROPUNK released a video that celebrated the evolution of female rappers. It showed how Rico Nasty embraces most the divine masculine and feminine— she is at once a weirdo and a sex symbol. You’ve got to give Rico credit where credit is due: it’s a Black woman who is carving out space within the weird, angry rap scene without sacrificing sex appeal. Her slim green aesthetic, drag/clown inspired makeup and leather n latex ‘fits complete with garters and fishnets challenge slim notions of femininity and performed sexuality, a complex identity that was never afforded to her female rapper forebears.

As female rappers were starting to get some recognition in the 90s, with MCs like Salt n Pepa, Queen Latifah, Lil Kim and Missy Elliot, strict archetypes emerged. Either you were the sex symbol, or the goofy lyricist (let’s also for a moment talk about how body type played into this dichotomy). But rappers like Rico Nasty are complicating the rap game by being authentically themselves and busting down the industrialized, monolithic walls of both hip hop and perceptions of Blackness. Rico truly can do it all: from inciting mosh pits at concerts to giving sobering interviews reflecting on the death of her baby’s father, to a smooth and vibrant COLORS performance, all with style and charisma, Rico is a shining example of where the rap industry is headed, and I for one am thoroughly geeked.

I’ll admit—Rico Nasty takes some getting used to. One of my friends told me that her music sounded “scary” to them. And different strokes for different folks. Maybe that’s the point—to unearth the fear and use it to radicalize yourself. To embrace and lean into the jarring, grating, hard to swallow sounds of life. You’ve got to appreciate the innovation behind her music. More than that, you’ve got to give her props for being so radically herself in a society that accepts narrowly confined notions of Blackness. For all the Black children out there questioning their Blackness, for the Black queers who feel placeless, for the Black punks, radicals, misfits, we’ve got people out there.  Pop the corn and feed the children, Rico.

Ashia Ajani

Ashia Ajani


is a queer Black storyteller from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains. Her work confronts Black environmental imaginaries, exploring the legacies of trauma and resistance within the diaspora. She has been published in Them, Sage Magazine, and the Hopper Literary Magazine, among others. She released her first chapbook, We Bleed Like Mango, in October 2017.

instagram: @ashiainbloom

twitter: @ashiainbloom

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