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Will Gottsegen is practicing his “Woah, Kenny.”
From Bobby Digital to Slim Shady, the rapper alias works as a superhero alter-ego—a perspective shift that theoretically broadens their thematic palette. As a mask (both a disguise and an act of performance), the rapper’s persona allows for different rhetorical spaces to coexist within the same musical project. For Daniel Dumile, MF DOOM wasn’t enough. In recursive personality splits, he called upon Madvillain, King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn, and DOOM to explore antiheroic psychosis on its own terms. The result is a discography that’s splintered into distinct emotional categories by way of psychic character divisions rather than by the evolution of a single voice.
Rico Nasty doesn’t give a fuck about MF DOOM’s recursive personality splits. In her No Jumper interview, she described her tripartite “army” of personas: “There’s Tacobella, and there’s Rico Nasty, and then there’s Trap Lavigne. It’s not even speaking from a different perspective, it’s a different energy, a different addition to the music.” For Rico, these aren’t different aspects of a singular voice as much as different vibration frequencies, different ways of moving through her rhymes. “Tacobella’s the one who’s like, singing and shit, and Rico Nasty is the one spitting those hard bars. Trap Lavigne is the one egging both of them on. She’s the hypeman.”
2017’s Tales of Tacobella boasted lush, stately production and lyrics as personal as Rico’s ever dared to drop. That its penultimate track features the best sample of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles” since Cam’ron (apologies to Kooda B and Sexyy Red) is icing on the proverbial cake. The boiling point of Tales of Tacobella was the standing temperature of Sugar Trap 2, which signaled the arrival of Trap Lavigne with a Famous Dex feature and an excess of hi-hats.
On Nasty, Rico Nasty now catapults the OG “hard bars” into the spotlight. Opener “Bitch I’m Nasty” pulls no punches in establishing this as the fiercest release in her discography. After 15 seconds of whirring, wind-tunnel crescendo, Kenny Beats comes through with the cleanest 808 kick of his career and sets the tone for a formidable creative partnership between rapper and producer. Kenny produced six tracks on Nasty (all of them highlights), including “Ice Cream,” which sees Rico turning Raekwon’s Cuban Linx-era frozen dairy wordplay on its head. Kenny translates the whimsicality of an ice cream truck into pulsating trap darkness, while Rico flexes: “In real life I’m a shark, you a goldfish/ Here’s my dick real quick, can you hold it?”
This isn’t to say Tacobella and Trap Lavigne are entirely absent from Nasty. Rico’s “singing and shit” on “Why Oh Why” is infectious, and unmistakably Tacobella. “Pressing Me” is a slow burning trap anthem both sugary and caustic — in the vein of Trap Lavigne on Sugar Trap 2. But both of these tracks feature the vicious delivery and unrelenting flows that make Nasty its own beast. You can practically see the spit flying out of Rico’s mouth on “Rage,” when she yells, “Goodness gracious, I might give a fuck on a rare occasion.” Rico’s ire is methodical: with maximum emphasis placed on each individual syllable, the word “oc-ca-sion” is every bit as heavy and bitter as “I might give a fuck.”
That ferocity makes tracks like “Rage” hit that much harder, but has the unintended effect of showing up featured artists. On “In The Air,” Rico comes out of the gate with rhymes like, “The shit I think about, you should put me in a crazy house,” and makes BlocBoy JB’s uninspired guest verse feel tame by comparison. To BlocBoy’s credit, though, “I get ass like a chair” is endlessly quotable. Lil Gnar brings energy to his guest spot on “Transformer,” but lacks Rico’s savage articulation and ear for wordplay, and so ultimately suffers the same fate as BlocBoy.
Between the auxiliary registers of Tacobella and Trap Lavigne, Nasty is the central panel of the Rico Nasty triptych. It’s a distillation Rico Nasty’s most essential persona, where the warm-hearted trap and relative vulnerability of previous releases is traded for fire and brimstone, Oreos and Ice Cream. It’s nasty, to be sure. And it slaps harder than just about any other rap album I’ve heard this year.