Seasons change: every Hot Girl Summer must turn into a Mad As Hell Winter. So Megan Thee Stallion chose the right moment to break free. Her 9-song EP Suga drops just as the Houston rap goddess goes to war with her label 1501 Certified Entertainment, calling her contract “not only entirely unconscionable, but ridiculously so.” Megan sued the label last week, declaring, “Now they tellin’ a bitch she can’t drop no music.” She defiantly dropped Suga nearly before the original street date, battling her label in court over the right to release it right down to the final hours, posting the message: “I will stand up for myself and not allow two men to bully me, I am NO ONES PROPERTY.”
Suga is just a 24-minute taste of Megan’s new sound—but it’s definitely a State-of-the-Stallion report on the trouble on her mind these days. As she told Charles Holmes in her new Rolling Stone cover story, Suga is her new persona, showing her “sensitive” side. “I want to cry a little bit,” she explained. “We going to cry, but I’m still doing bad-girl shit.” Suga might sound like a moodier big sister to Tina Snow or Hot Girl Meg. But as the new songs show, Megan at her most vulnerable is still tough as a tank.
She’s a daughter of hip-hop in every sense—her mother Holly Thomas rapped as Holly-Wood, raised her on UGK and Three Six Mafia, managed her, and passed away of cancer last year, just weeks before Megan released her world-beating breakthrough Fever. Suga was supposed to come out on May 2—her mother’s birthday. But it got sidetracked by one of the nastiest artist/label disputes in recent years, over a contract Megan signed when she was 20. Her opener “Ain’t Equal” sets the tone, moving from personal grief to rage—“I lost my mommy and my grammy in the same month / A bunch of bitches talking down because I’m coming up”—and boasts that since her label boss “think he made made me, tell him him do it again.”
Megan is at her absolute peak in the opening trilogy, raging over beats from Helluva, J. White and her trusty collaborator Lil Ju. In “Savage” she reminds you she’s on top: “Bitch, I’m a savage / Classy, bougie, ratchet / Sassy, moody, nasty / Acting stupid, what’s happening?” “Captain Hook” gets specific about her sexual needs from men—“Find the clit with no nagivation / Mandatory that I get the head, but no guarantees on the penetration”—and others (“I be texting with a bi chick / We both freaky, just trying shit”).
Suga swerves into a Nineties R&B trip, getting production from the Neptunes and Timbaland, quoting Tupac and N.W.A. In “Captain Hook” she bites a rhyme from “Gangsta Gangsta” to proclaim, “I’m a rapper, not a motherfucking role model.” Megan experiments with AutoTune and melodic hooks, drastically different from anything she’s tried before. “B.I.T.C.H.” is a surprisingly playful feminist twist on Pac: “I’d rather be your B-I-T-C-H / ‘Cause that’s what you gonna call me when I’m trippin’ anyway.” Even better, the Kehlani duet “Hit My Phone” sounds like it was designed to be played on The Box in 1993 between SWV and H-Town hits.
The Neptunes production “Crying in the Car” is the biggest departure: Megan sends a prayer above through clouds of AutoTune and a warped gospel-choir loop. She confesses to the kind of vulnerablilty she’s always kept locked down: “All them nights that I cried in the car / All them tears turned to ice on my arms.” This is Megan? Damn right it is. Like she says, it’s just a sampler of the new ideas she’s exploring. Some fans might be put off by Suga’s new sounds. But grief inspires many musicians to reach back to the sounds of childhood, especially when losing a parent, so it makes sense for Megan to evoke the Nineties R&B radio she grew up hearing in her mama’s car. She’s tapping into the strength that got her this far, knowing she’ll need it to keep fighting on. On Suga she sounds warm and vulnerable, unsure how to carry on without her mama to guide her, but determined to do her proud. And she makes herself clear: she’s no one’s property.