‘Suga’ Makes It Clear That Megan Thee Stallion Means Business

Houston, Texas’ Megan Thee Stallion created a buzz when a 2013 video of her brutalizing a male opponent in a freestyle battle went viral. She capitalized on the momentum, and rapidly gained a fervent following by uploading freestyles to Instagram, eventually landing a record deal with Houston indie label 1501 Certified Entertainment. Her debut EP “Tina Snow” stunned listeners with its effortless technical rapping prowess. Megan soon switched to 300 Entertainment, becoming the first woman to be signed to the label. She soon went viral again, thanks to her catchphrase #HotGirlSummer, which whe defined as “women and men being unapologetically them, just having a good-ass time.” On her 2019 mixtape “Fever,” Megan displayed a combination of brazen sexuality and wordplay indulgence that put her in a category of her own. Soon the business reared its ugly side, and she found herself struggling to renegotiate what she considered an exploitative contract with 1501. A restraining order followed, and Meghan found herself prohibited from releasing music, at which stage, she sued the label, and ultimately wound up free from their restrictions. Her victory over the label added fuel to her fire, spurring her to unleash at critics with renewed venom, and pronounce her greatness with more gusto than ever before on her surprise new album “Suga.” 

Megan gets straight to business on opener “Ain’t Equal,” rapping with plenty twang and clockwork precision over twinkling keys and overpowering bass. She immediately calls out all the haters, and dispels any doubts regarding how much their criticism means to her. Her first line is “I lost my mommy and my granny in the same month,” a tragedy which she shed light on in an Instagram post, writing, “My grandma use to tell me ‘these niggas can’t buy you nothing you ain’t already got and if you don’t have ima buy it for you.’” When a grandmother is this forthright and up-to-date, it’s no surprise that Megan turned out the way she is, and the opening track finds her preaching her grandma’s gospel to the maximum. Hip-hop has always been full of misogynistic, sexual bravado, and Megan isn’t shy about paying it forward, with such jarring lines as “I been a freak, so I keep a nigga sucking my clit.” Following in the tradition of rappers like Lil Kim and Foxy Brown, one that has recently reached unprecedented proportions thanks to stars like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, Megan flaunts the vixen persona, boasting, “Yeah, I look good, but, lil’ bitch, I get evil.” She calls out all the haters, and dispels any doubts regarding how much their criticism means to her, insisting, “I’m still winning even if you don’t congratulate me,” and driving the point home with the refrain, “Bitch, we ain’t equal.”

For a rapper from Huouston, Megan borrows heavily from West Coast hip-hop, primarily in the instrumentals she chooses, but also in the stylings that she nods to in her flow. Of course, this comes second to Dirty South style, but the influence is undeniable in tracks like “Savage.” From her first utterance, it’s clear that Megan relishes her emcee skills more than your typical rapper. A beat drops on cue, and she is fully in her element. The track is full of references to previous songs. Megan calls herself “the hood Mona Lisa,” as she did in her song “Good At,” and maintains she’s “still talking cash shit,” as she claimed on her DaBaby collaboration “Cash Shit.” She reprises her song “Simon Says” with Juicy J, succinctly summarizing, “Simon says I’m still that bitch.” As usual, the song is full of classic trash talk and hip-hop wit, for instance lines like “Had to X some cheesy niggas out my circle like a pizza” and “I need a mop to clean the floor, it’s too much drip.” Most important of all, however, is the litany of descriptors that she drops in the chorus, calling herself “savage, classy, bougie, ratchet, sassy, moody, nasty,” then proceeding to prove them all through example. 

“Captain Hook” derives its title from an unabashedly raunchy reference. Megan elaborates, “I like a dick with a little bit of curve… Call that nigga Captain Hook.” This is not music for the meek and reserved, but of course that goes without saying. Megan extends her love to the ladies in the most overt reference to her sexuality yet, rapping, “I be texting with a bi chick, we both freaky, just trying shit.” And as if she needed to clarify, she reveals, “I like to drink and I like to have sex,” and goes on to include a clever bit of double entendre. Her statement “I fuck the niggas that’s cutting the checks” could be taken as a reference to Megan’s litigation against 1501 Certified Entertainment. The track is a sure standout, full of jangly percussion and swooshing sword sounds that nod to the titular phrase, along with throbbing bass, goofy sound effects, and rapid rapping torrents.

Megan recruits Kehlani to sing a hook on “Hit My Phone,” a song that plunges headlong into West Coast cool, with aquatic, wah wah synth bass, and a fitting flow that vaguely echoes the likes of E40. Megain effortlessly settles into an irresistible groove over this backdrop, and continues to reaffirm all the usual talking points, reiterating, “I get nasty… No need to ask me.” Kehlani’s chorus is short and sweet, confessing, “Liquor got me sendin’ that risky text,” but indulging the temptation without reservation in the titular refrain. Next, “B.I.T.C.H.” rings like an effective encapsulation, with Megan coopting and owning the eponymous term, declaring, “I’d rather be a B-I-T-C-H / ‘Cause that’s what you gon’ call me when I’m trippin’ anyway.” Megan makes a bold move by modeling the song after 2Pac’s “I’d Ratha Be Ya Nigga,” unafraid of all the criticism that she invites by tackling hip-hop royalty. She delves boldly into regional retro hip-hop fare, singing a jokey hook, and excavating dated sounds that have scarcely been revisited with such confidence and flair. At moments, the combination of the retro instrumental stylings and Megan’s combative gusto echoes early Mystikal. 

“Rich” is a riot of streamlined funk, with slurring hi hats and cowbells, polyphonic ringtone melodies designedly tacky, two-bit trash for connoisseurs. It’s a refreshing diversion from the overproduced instrumentals that dominate contemporary hip-hop. Megan expounds her grandmother’s aforementioned deas, and boasts about self-sufficiency, throwing out priceless lines like “I love a lot of zeros, but I don’t fuck with no losers,” and repeats a line from “Savage” that contextualizes the album title: “I taste like sugar, but ain’t shit sweet.” Come “Stop Playing,” she has got most of her main points across, and can comfortably devote her energy to driving them further home. There could hardly be a more representative statement of intent than the one-line hook, “Please stop playing with me, bitch,” delivered with the final word hyperbolically enunciated.  Elsewhere, Megan dons a laidback voice, and rides the beat slickly, setting the stage for featured guest Gunna, who riffs off the same flow, infusing the template with his own trademark flavor. Megan raps the chorus in a restrained sing-song, so silly in its stylings that it has to have a tinge of self-parody.

It’s surprising that it took Megan until her penultimate late, “Crying In the Car,” to in the fully indulge in Auto-tune. Even more surprising is how well it suits her, enhancing her natural inflections, and shaping her sound into an ultra hi-def, honey-soaked wonder. With clipped samples and aggressive hi hat stutters, the production could hardly be  more crisp. The track betrays an unanticipated vulnerability, with Megan stepping out of character to implore, “Please don’t give up on me, Lord,” alongside snippets of a gospel choir. Of course, she ultimately pivots back to her usual stance, singing, “All of them nights that I cried in the car / All them tears turned into ice on my arms.” Finally the Neptunes-produced “What I Need” lingers on the Auto-tune, but dilutes and disperses it, bringing back the mellow funk stylings and the jarring video game blasts. Megan shuttles effortlessly between singing and rapping, delivering a catchy hook that makes for a readymade hit. The track is as close as Megan gets to a sincere love song, which makes it a rather odd choice for a closer. Still, Megan brings it to form with such lines as “I’d beat a bitch up for ya,” qualifying any sappiness by framing it as badass. 

Megan Thee Stallion is proudly blunt and outspoken, unconcerned and unfiltered. She doesn’t waste a syllable on nonsense, and her latest record is appropriately devoid of fluff and filler. The nine new songs are streamlined cuts full of bona fide bragaddocio and relentless trash talk. The primary drawback is that “Suga” hardly qualifies as an album. At twenty four minutes of running time, it’s closer to an EP. The set of songs is generally pointed and coherent, but little oddities such as the anomalous closer suggest a hasty scrambling together of tracks, likely rushed out in an attempt to capitalize on the hype of Megan’s record deal drama. If that’s the case, it’s hardly cause for complaint, as the label situation is so instrumental in inspiring the release that any shortcomings might be taken as reflections of the contextual narrative. Moreover, the overall frivolous nature of the music hardly warrants disciplined cohesion. “Suga’ might not live up to “Miss Snow” and “Fever” for some diehard fans who expected a more thorough next album. However, the record generally compensates with scattered peaks that surpass those of prior releases, showcasing Megan bolder, nastier, and more brashly entertaining than ever.   

Suga” is available March 6 on Apple Music.