by Bernadette Bruu, WRUC Senior General Manager
(This review was originally published in the Union College Concordiensis on May 23, 2019.)
You may have only learned about her recently, but she’s been at it for years, her talent bubbling under the surface of an industry that wasn’t ready for her until now: Megan Thee Stallion, a 24-year-old Houston native who wields a perfect combination of unexplainable magnetism and raw lyrical ability. She’s been rapping since 2016, but last Friday marked the release of her long-awaited studio debut “FEVER.” It joins the ever-growing number of successful releases by Black women rappers in the past year, which suggests that tangible changes to hip hop’s male-dominated landscape are in the works.
Every track on Thee Stallion’s latest project is a refreshing, even genius interpretation of a hip hop standard: the trap anthem, the hometown shoutout, the sugary downtempo cut for listening alone in your room. Over the course of its forty minutes, “FEVER” crackles, blazes and smolders, playing with style and story but remaining red-hot throughout.
The album is the first project by a woman to be released by record label Entertainment 300, which boasts the membership of modern hip hop magnates like Young Thug, Rich the Kid, and Migos. Ever since Thee Stallion signed in late 2018, rap circles have been watching closely, sometimes too closely; the five-foot-ten “stallion” has received all the standard backlash directed at women rising to the top.
She spoke out on this double standard in an interview with Vulture, explaining, “Women have to be the best and then some. A man can get on a track and literally make two noises and be the GOAT. 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.” On “FEVER,” it’s clear that Thee Stallion has put in that work.
An immediate standout feature of the album is that almost every song could be played at a party. Whereas many rap albums today feature two to four lead singles the artist hopes you’ll add to your pregame playlist, Thee Stallion offers a multitude of veritable bops with beats for dancing and lyrics for shouting.
“FEVER” wastes no time getting to these highlights — the opening track “Realer” is a thrilling introduction to her confident persona, emphasizing how neither critics nor overbearing men can threaten her success. She also assures she’s “still hanging with the same crew;” she’s authentic despite her stardom. This trend of repping Houston and her modest roots continues throughout the album, adding depth to her fearlessness.
For the most part, the tracklist alternates between catchy hook-driven songs and wordier endeavors that show off her talent. “Hood Rat Sh–” is balanced out by “Pimpin.” The fast-paced “W.A.B.” is followed by crooner “Best You Ever Had.” “Cash Sh–,” featuring fellow Southern rapper DaBaby, is a perfect medium in terms of style. To a simple but infectious beat she provides imagery of her encounters with guys who underestimate her: “He told me send me a pic ’cause he miss me / I told him send me a stack if he really / I don’t be trusting these tricks ’cause they tricky.” She’s confident, and constantly invites other women to follow in her stead: “I’m a finesser and I’m a fly dresser, move to the top floor and flew in my dresser / My b—–s hustle, make money together.”
“Simon Says (feat. Juicy J),” “Shake That,” and “Dance,” the last interpolating a 2012 club hit by Juicy J himself, are tailor-made for dancing with abandon. In addition to rapping, Thee Stallion attends Texas Southern University, and these songs are no doubt inspired by its vibrant social life.
Interspersed, however, is “Money Good,” a bouncing ode to the strange experience of being humble in your success, but self-assured enough not to let criticism get the best of you. The lines “Throw up where I’m from, let ’em know I’m still hood / I ain’t had to get nobody hit but I could” reference this balance she has obtained only with time and persistence, and “Ratchet” echoes it later on. Thee Stallion has always transcended fame by finding the middle; when she tours, she throws widely-advertised open parties where she is a guest like any other.
Unlike other projects by artists still establishing themselves, “FEVER” does not front-load the best songs. Big Drank and Running Up Freestyle, the penultimate and final tracks respectively, are the album’s must-listens. They most effectively blend Thee Stallion’s innovative, of-the-moment style with that of hip hop’s legends. “Big Drank” is a smooth tribute to Pimp C, one of her idols, while the impeccable final freestyle clearly belongs to a woman who grew up listening to Lil Kim and who now hangs out with the high-energy City Girls (see the name-drop in “Realest,” plus they toured together).
For this review, I am intentionally omitting any mention of “lowlights.” Quite frankly, there are none. With such diversity in track style there is something for everyone, from the R&B fan to the trap elitist. None of this is on accident. “FEVER” is ultimately a study in meticulously calculated balance — women rising to the top must be able to shift effortlessly between hot and cold; cockiness and humility; elegance and rage. Megan Thee Stallion wants us to know that if we let her lead us toward this triumphant dexterity, she won’t let us down. On “Simon Says,” she reminds us that she’s the “hottest out, but you already knew that.” So, if you don’t know — now you know.