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In 'Traumazine,' Megan Thee Stallion cements her place as a rap superstar

Megan Thee Stallion performs onstage at the BET Hip Hop Awards 2019 at Cobb Energy Center on Oct. 05, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
Megan Thee Stallion performs onstage at the BET Hip Hop Awards 2019 at Cobb Energy Center on Oct. 05, 2019, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Megan Thee Stallion‘s latest record “Traumazine” solidifies her position as one of the most exciting rappers working today.

After her anticipated debut album “Good News” dropped, Megan sued her previous record label 1501 Entertainment over contract disputes. But now, “Traumazine” marks “a coronation for a superstar,” says Dallas-based music writer Taylor Crumpton.

“Megan Thee Stallion is in her bag, quite frankly,” Crumpton says.

Since her 2019 mixtape “Fever,” Megan has made waves in music, pop culture and fashion. At only age 27, Megan has six BET awards, three Grammys, two MTV Video Music Awards and four American Music Awards under her belt.

“We are seeing Megan grapple with the stressors of superstardom while also being authentically herself,” Crumpton says. “That’s why I believe Houston comes out so much in this album because she is saying that ‘I am not only a superstar, but I am a superstar from Houston.’ And that makes a big message to so many young Black girls and women across the South.”

Watch on YouTube.

Interview Highlights

On how Megan shows love for her hometown on “Traumazine”

“For me, it’s her choice of collaborators. You have Lil Keke and Big Pokey, two members of Screwed Up Click, which is one of the most famous hip-hop groups to come out of Houston, Texas. They were founded by DJ Screw who introduced the whole entire world to chopped and screwed sound, which originated in Houston around the Third Coast era, which is the late 1990s, right before Houston’s big boom on Billboard in the early 2000s. And for those familiar with Megan’s family history, her mother, Holly Thomas, was also an active rapper during this time. So to me, it’s not only paying reverence to her mother and her mother’s career as a rapper in Houston, but also the folks who helped create that infrastructure and that foundation for Megan to shine.

“Along with Big Pokey and Lil Keke, you have Sauce Walka, who is a very popular rapper in Houston and the Southern United States. I think most of the world was introduced to him because when Kanye West was in Houston, he actually took a picture with Sauce Walka. So he is one to watch coming out of the city. And in his verse, he makes a direct reference to ‘3 ‘N the Mornin’ by DJ Screw, which is an iconic song. When you look at Houston’s repertoire and all of the artists that have come to Houston — I’m thinking about Drake very much in particular — ‘3 ‘N the Mornin’ is the song that a lot of people say was their entry point into it.

“[Megan] is closing out this album or one of the album’s later track with an homage in an ode to Houston and also putting herself in conversation as one of the next rappers to really carry this sound into the mainstream.”

On what makes Megan a good collaborator

“I truly believe it’s that Southern sweetness … [Beyoncé] is well beloved by everyone in the industry. She is your favorite celebrity’s celebrity, and she always speaks with so much compassion and love for her parents, her Beyhive. And I think she has modeled for Megan in a lot of ways how to navigate through this stardom and how to uplift people and what you want your legacy to be. I think for Megan to only be 27-years-old, she has always returned home and done philanthropy. Right? The ‘Savage’ remix went directly to Bread of Life and a number of Houston nonprofits to help out with essential workers during the COVID pandemic. And when Megan recently graduated in December of last year, I believe she was awarded something by the city government for her contribution. So she’s not only paying reverence to Houston through the sampling, through collaborators, but also doing the work to really give love to that hometown that made her the star that she is.”

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On the song ‘Not Nice’

“During Megan’s meteoric rise, she has endured so much publicly: The loss of her mother, her being a survivor of gun violence, and particularly in that instant, not even being believed as a survivor. There was so much controversy and back and forth online and even some people in the hip-hop industry were giving their opinion in their remarks and they weren’t coming from a place of love. She was being used as a meme. Her pain wasn’t believed. She wasn’t believed.

“I think this is one of the ways in which Megan can directly address everyone who has critiqued her. Even a common theme on this album is betrayal. She has lost a lot of people in her life that were once close to her. I’m thinking about the dismissal of her relationship with Kelsey Nicole, who, according to Megan, was also in the car during that night. So you’re saying that, yes, she is 27-years-old. She is the superstar. But a lot of those people who came up with her have left her alone, have isolated her, had betrayed her. And that’s why in this album … [we] hear her talk about the mental health rate, the costs that come with fame.”

On the song ‘Anxiety’ and how Megan raps about what’s on her mind

“Megan Thee Stallion came up in a time where social media was used as a vehicle for young people to express their feelings. You know, the rise of Twitter, of Instagram and Tumblr and of just being so authentic and vulnerable with people. And that vulnerability is a strength. You’re seeing her also emulate that in her music by saying, ‘Though I may be this Grammy Award winner, this pop cultural figure, I still have anxiety, I still have mental health issues.’

“For me, the most telling lines were when she mentions Marilyn Monroe, Britney Spears, Whitney Houston: Three pop cultural icons who have also endured so much hate and trauma from the media attention, from the paparazzi. We’ve witnessed everything that’s come up with Britney so recently and throughout the decades, we’ve been able to empathize more with the mental health struggles of Marilyn Monroe and Whitney. So she’s already telling you at 27, I’m feeling a kinship to these women who have also been placed upon this pedestal and endured a lot. But I’m still here and I want to let you know you can have anxiety and quite frankly, still be a bad b****.”

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On Megan’s rapid rise from freestyling on Instagram to topping the charts

“I have such a love for her. We’re both ’95 babies and I am based in Dallas, Texas. One of her first viral freestyles was Megan in a short bob with her mom, Holly Thomas. And she’s freestyling in a parking lot in Dallas. It’s Dallas vs. Houston rappers. At the time, I remember everyone was tagging each other on social media. The comments were that Houston won. And as a Dallas person, I hate giving Houston credit, but they did do that and Megan did win. But you have seen her very much capture every single wave of social media virality that happened. I think about a number of women rappers in particular who rose because they were freestyle rapping and putting that on the internet. And that was trending, that was popping, that was of the moment.

“Then when you compare that to the pandemic, we were all in the house. We were all wanting some type of joy, some type of happiness. And we got ‘Savage’ and we got the ‘Savage’ [TikTok] dance to it that was made by this beautiful Black girl whose name I can’t remember. But you had people across the world who were in their house, who were dealing with COVID at the time. It was very unknown. There was a lot of fear mongering in the air. There was a lot of violence and hatred in the air. But I could put on this short song, do this dance, and then my whole entire body was in this rhythmic motion. The tension was being released, the stress was being released. When you look at someone like Megan, who in the midst of everything she has experienced, carried herself with so much grace and happiness and joy, she just emulates that. So from her freestyles to the ‘Savage’ TikTok, I feel people have empathized with her and grown with her.

“For the people who’ve been there with her from day one, I remember her freestyling, getting a deal, and then when her breakout song, ‘Big Ol Freak’ finally hit Billboard. That felt like seeing a friend win. The people who have been with Megan, whether it was when she was freestyling or ‘Good News,’ had developed this relationship, which could also be parasocial. But this fondness and this admiration for someone who in the midst of it all, is still conjuring something within you. Whether it’s the vulnerability, whether it’s you feeling like the baddest girl in the room, she’s giving you all of that multi-facets of herself because we inherently are also multifaceted people.”

Gabrielle Healy produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.