The Houston Rapper Taking the Industry by Storm

Megan Thee Stallion’s much-anticipated debut album, Fever, is a remarkable mix of braggadocio, lyrical acuity, and self-awareness.

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Megan Thee Stallion only takes big swings. Late in 2017, at age 22, the artist recorded “Stalli Freestyle,” a video of herself rapping in the middle of a street somewhere in a suburb of her native Houston. The backdrop of her deceptively simple video was prosaic, but Megan’s performance electrified. Switching up her flow about halfway into the track, she unleashed a cheeky, rapid-fire missive that married braggadocio and pointed commentary: “Your favorite rapper only use onomatopoeias / You don’t wanna hear it cuz you only wanna see her / I’ma show you how a real rap bitch tee up / Get up in the booth and beat the motherfucking beat up.”

In the video, which has since racked up more than 2 million views on YouTube, she strutted around and danced with the confidence of someone who knew she’d be a star. And now, a year and a half later, the artist born Megan Pete has released her debut studio album under 300 Entertainment, the label responsible for the rapper Young Thug and the group Migos’s first two albums. For Megan, it’s also a kind of coronation.

Fever continues the artistic dominance the inventive rapper has been establishing since even before “Stalli Freestyle.” Early videos of her freestyling over classic beats showcase a confident young artist, and by late 2017, she’d already put out a mixtape, Rich Ratchet, and an EP, Make It Hot. Last year was a catalytic one for Megan. While still a college student at Texas Southern University, she released Tina Snow, one of 2018’s best records. The EP was named for one of the alter-egos she inhabits: a female version of Tony Snow, the alias of the late Houston rap legend Pimp C. Bold, brash, and skillfully crafted, it introduced Megan as a rapper to be taken seriously.

That she is a woman, and one well aware of her sexual appeal, has never been tangential to Megan’s repertoire. The 24-year-old is the only female rapper signed to 300 Entertainment; her formative years were spent watching her mother (who died in March) record her own raps under the moniker Holly-Wood. Unlike her late mother, who initially discouraged Megan from rapping before the age of 21 and then went on to manage her, Thee Stallion makes libidinous anthems. Megan’s tracks are as technically precise and lyrically forceful as they are rare in a genre that still remains dominated by male artists and gatekeepers even as some women make strides. She’s thrilling to watch and listen to, nakedly unafraid to champion—and reclaim—the same physical stature that’s often drawn unwanted attention. Of her stage name, the 5-foot-10 artist recently told Vulture:
In the South, they call girls that are tall and fine stallion. I’m like 15 years old and this older dude is like, “Damn, you a stallion.” I’m like, “Stop talking to me before you go to jail.” And he’s like, “How old are you?” I’m like, “I’m 15!” Because I’ve always had a nice body, so older guys have just been like, “Ooh, you jailbait.” So it could’ve been Megan Thee Jailbait, but Megan Thee Stallion just works.

Big Ole Freak,” the breakout single from Tina Snow and the first of Megan’s songs to chart on the Billboard 100, is a prime example of her penchant for flipping male attention into a power of her own wielding. If much of the song is spent memorably extolling her prowess in bed, the second verse begins with a cocky admonition: “See, I’m a big ole freak, I love to talk my shit / And you must be a pussy boy, if you get offended.” Every line about Megan’s sexuality is a conditional promise; she might be offering a man pleasure, but the exchange must occur on her terms. Or, as she puts it, “I am the captain and he the lieutenant.”

The boastful single and its gloriously latex- and candy-filled video earned Megan a swell of attention earlier this year. Her social-media accounts, from which she excitedly shared countless videos of her fans dancing as they participated in her #BigOleFreakChallenge, also played host to an impressive series of her own freestyle videos filmed in her day-to-day life and during press appearances.

One of them, shot during a March installment of the Charlie Sloth Rap Show’s Fire in the Booth segment, closes out Fever. “Running Up Freestyle” is a perfect encapsulation of Megan’s acuity and jocular self-awareness. Over a fast-paced electronic beat from her frequent production collaborator LilJuMadeDaBeat, Megan comes for her crown. But she doesn’t stop there. She also, for example, addresses male spectators who claimed earlier this year that a woman who looks like her couldn’t possibly love anime (as she’s said she does, with specific examples): “Got the moves like I’m Ryu / Yellow diamonds, Pikachu / When I switch my hair to blonde / I’m finna turn up like Goku.” The song, like many of her tracks, is peppered with Megan’s well-deployed interjections. When Megan Thee Stallion stretches out an “eww!” or “aye!” or “aah!,” it becomes a lyric of its own. (Watch out, Migos ad-libs.)

As her star has risen throughout 2019, it’s become obvious that Megan is one of the genre’s most talented female artists. To say as much is hardly controversial. But it’s also reductive; Megan’s music isn’t just exciting within that narrow framework. She’s talented, savvy, and hardworking, all without qualifiers. That her music, and that of so many other women in the industry, is evaluated along such a limited—and skewed—rubric is something Megan knows intimately. “Women have to be the best and then some. A man can get on a track and literally make two noises and be the G.O.A.T.,” she said in that same Vulture interview. “When you listen to a girl rap, she gotta have all the bars, all the flows, be melodic, she gotta look good. They expect so much of us, and I mean, I like to work, so I’ll do it.”

And she does—but not without sacrificing her signature ebullience. A perfectly timed pre-summer record, Fever is a 14-track testament to Megan’s oft-stated wish that her fans have as much fun as she does. The album introduces listeners to another one of her many characters, the party-loving Hot Girl Meg. (The rapper refers to her legion of fans as her “Hotties,” and often dubs her own activities and theirs “Real Hot Girl Shit.”) Indeed, Fever is packed with bouncy tracks that inspire—or, more accurately, insist upon—twerking. The Juicy J and Crazy Mike–produced “Dance” evokes the former’s 2012 strip-club mainstay, “Bandz A Make Her Dance.” And there’s the aptly titled “Ratchet,” which begins with a nod to one of Megan’s most infamous onstage activities: “Drinking Henny out the bottle.”

“Hood Rat Shit,” the album’s second track, opens by sampling a viral video from 2008, in which the 7-year-old Latarian Milton (who went on to become a small-time social-media star) infamously said he stole his grandmother’s SUV, because he “wanted to do hood rat stuff with my friends.” It’s a raucous start to a track on which Megan raps about maintaining her rebellious habits despite leaving the neighborhood where she was raised. Still, the track maintains a boisterous levity.

Though she’s been celebrated by and publicly supportive of many industry peers, especially women, Fever finds Megan tapping only two other artists for features: the young North Carolina rap phenom DaBaby and the Memphis rapper Juicy J, who also produced several tracks on the record. DaBaby is one of hip-hop’s rapidly rising stars, and Megan’s track with him, in particular, is a decadently southern pairing. (In recent months, she’s stolen the spotlight on tracks with newer artists such as Khalid and Young Nudy, as well as veteran rappers such as the D.C.-area fixture Wale. On Wale’s “Pole Dancer,” for example, Megan wrests away all attention within her first two lines: “He said, ‘I heard I love the best things in life come to you for free’ / I say ‘Baby, I know you ain’t never met no bitch like me.’”)

Elsewhere, Megan is as fierce and incisive as ever. The album’s first single, “Sex Talk,” is an ode to the pleasure she insists on from men. “Realer,” which she debuted Thursday, features a menacing combination of trap drums and pizzicato strings. Megan swings from shouting out industry all-stars such as the incarcerated City Girls rapper J.T. to reiterating her own post as hip-hop’s ascendant star in colorful language: “They put that check in my hand, now I’m killin’ ’em / Don’t wanna link with these bitches, ain’t feelin’ ’em / I’ll knock the shit out that bitch like a enema.” Regardless of whom Megan might be addressing, the track gives her listeners permission to imagine themselves hurling such bile at their own detractors. (“W.A.B.,” or “Weak Azz Bitch,” on which she issues a series of dismissive threats, is as much a pump-up anthem as it is a diss track.)

Megan’s more overlooked slow tracks, meanwhile, showcase the artist’s range. Tina Snow’s “Cognac Queen,” for example, was a celebration of the rapper’s brown-liquor-fueled moments of sensuality. Fever’s “Big Drank” and “Best You Ever Had” channel that same sultriness with no shortage of energetic production. Megan is, after all, from the city that birthed “chopped and screwed” remixes and shifted the national hip-hop landscape in the process. (The very first line of Tina Snow, on “WTF I Want,” was “First of all, I’m from Houston.”) Fever is an unmistakably Houstonian record, at turns syrupy without sacrificing the city’s trademark bounce.

More than anything, play the Pam Grier–inspired Fever and you’ll hear an artist who has been perfecting her craft since long before cameras were trained on her. Skip back to Tina Snow, Make It Hot, or Rich Ratchet, and you’ll find a musician honing her talent as she pays homage to her many influences—Pimp C, to be sure, but also Biggie, Three 6 Mafia, Trina, and Holly-Wood.