This new crop of female rappers are redefining genre-blending and representing what an authentic black woman sounds like in 2018.
“I don’t think any label is true to who anyone is” states Rico as she gracefully preps in her luxe Manhattan suite for what will undoubtedly be an electric performance at “Careful on the Pavement,” an evening curated by Red Bull Music Festival New York. The program was set to highlight the new school of ruthless rappers disrupting the landscape of hip-hop with their unique sound and cult following. DMV resident Maria Kelly, otherwise known as Rico Nasty, is on the bill for the night and her role in the new rap movement cannot be understated.
The rapper is one of a slew of underground female MC’s dodging the antiquated labeling and mislabeling done by major labels and eager audiences alike. In addition to rappers like Bali Baby, IamDdb, Asian Doll and Princess Nokia, Rico transcends beyond the realm of the Trump-era, male-dominated dystopia of rap music. Reclaiming femininity by flaunting the dynamism of womanhood and challenging the positioning of men by dissociation or exclusion.
Like genre benders before her, Rico has paved her way through hardship and joy, trial and error. She stumbled upon a goldmine with her charming single Poppin and seasoned street vernacular over her saccharine beats by defining her own music as “Sugar Trap.” As I’ve come to interpret, “Sugar Trap” is the genre for the black kid in Bushwick blasting “Blitzkrieg Bop” till the wee hours of the morn and the white kid rapping “Shook Ones” on the porch of a beach house in Malibu. A juxtaposition of tastes that when combined, create an irresistible attraction.
The average rap lover is undoubtedly accustomed to the foreplay of candied melodies coating aggressive narratives, but for rap’s latest punk girls that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s both the mixture of saccharine beats with NSFW topics that gives pleasure to the listener with its hint of sweet and sour. For example, when describing the transition between Hey Arnold and iCarly, Rico states, “Hey Arnold is about Xanax. I just said it in a happy way, but it’s about drugs and iCarly is about cocaine. People… thinking that due to the beats I pick that I wasn’t talking about just as dark and twisted things as I am now with a raspy voice. But that’s what music is about. It’s really just about evolving.”
In “Banana Clip” by Bali Baby, the artist showcases how the exterior (beats, drum lines, synths) is rarely meant to corroborate with the interior (lyrics, meaning, attitudes) as she raps about loyalty, money and trapping over a tune that sounds handpicked by Dora The Explorer. Discussing street antics over sweet tunes is just one of the many signifiers of the new wave of female-driven rap music but is perhaps a most pivotal aspect in relation to the lives of the artists.
At a young age, Rico not only faces the immense pressure of caring and providing for her now 2-year-old son, but she also perpetually faces societal scrutiny for her unapologetic individualism. Despite being told to abandon her aspirations and simply “settle down,” Rico remained calm and patient. Rather than allowing her hardships to break her, she embraced them, prompting her to further, as she states, “break outta [her] box.” Although she was threatened to silence, she escaped the confinements set by both herself and society and was able to discover and reciprocate her mind and soul through her mixtape Sugar Trap.
When describing her album Sugar Trap 2 Rico states, “Sugar Trap is not really a concept. It’s just my personality honestly.” As she has mentioned in previous interviews, Sugar Trap 2 was mainly about her making a name for the type of music that she wanted to make in the future, in essence, building on the idea of Sugar Trap itself. Through this process of self-discovery Rico not only revolutionized the concept of singing and trap rapping but was able to formulate an all-encompassing brand for herself. “Sugar Trap” was her genre. Her sound. Her personality. A means of accentuating the notion of forbidden love and revealing the collaboration of good and evil. What better way to represent the tension of forces between life’s episodes than with music that toes on the line of melancholy and mirth.
While Rico’s original intent for “Sugar Trap” was to simply introduce and express herself, it quickly became a medium of expression for countless others. The rhythmic beats and explicit lyrics resonated with fellow female rappers, inspiring them to develop a taste and genre of their own. An artistic composition that not only overpowers but also inspires the countless genres popularized by their male counterparts. Moreover, “Sugar Trap” encourages and invigorates those who were belittled and undermined by the watchful eyes of society, creating a comprehensive community that disregards the discriminant labels enforced upon them. Through her process of discovery, Rico not only found a voice and name for herself but also paved a way for others to discover theirs.
Rico’s counterpart, Asian Doll, understands this definite need for confidence and the ability to fearlessly express oneself. The budding rapper, through and through again, highlights how one’s ability to condone their hardships plays in cohesion with their ability to “be really in touch with yourself.” “With patience, consistency, and confidence you’re gonna get there” and “never [take] no for an answer,” states Asian Doll as she recognizes that ultimate gratification derives from self-love.
As the western world steadily but slowly comes to grip with the significance of art contributed by black women and the fluidity of expression of black women, voices like Rico are beyond noteworthy. Rico recognizes that and hopes to create a fertile environment for female rappers to express themselves and be heard. Especially because, in this day in age, where there are countless talented female rappers that are still concealed by the shadows of males in the rap scene. Where an urban music festival like Rolling Loud is still 90% males and aligning female rappers with their male contemporaries is still commonplace. Rico wants to shatter the notion that females are any less than males and create options for girls who wish to take those options and create an all-inclusive rap scene.
It might be too soon to label the new crop of female rappers as rebels without a cause, but as significant as Big Joanie is for the punk scene, here’s to hoping that Rico Nasty and groundbreaking new rappers similar to her continue to blend bubblegum pop, punk rock and hard-hitting lyrics to showcase that the new aesthetic is all aesthetics.
Bukunmi Grace is a Nigerian photographer, stylist, and artistic director that works between Chicago, Los Angeles, and NYC. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @BukunmiGrace.