For the first couple years of her career, Rico Nasty worked to develop her “sugar trap” style — melodious, Lil Yachty-indebted sing-song flexes on top of beats that sounded like souped-up versions of the Barney theme song. Her career trajectory changed course one night in late 2017, during her first-ever studio session with producer Kenny Beats. “I want heavy metal,” she told him. “Have you ever heard of Death Grips?” Within 20 minutes, they had created “Smack a Bitch,” a thrilling and abrasive blend of lurching death metal guitar, bass-heavy trap drums, and Rico’s hoarse, vocal cord-lacerating buzzsaw scream. It was a song that shook the earth with the kinetic energy of a million Four Lokos. Thank god I ain’t have to smack a bitch today. Literally overnight, Rico and Kenny had forged a sound of their own and the makings of a lasting partnership.
Five Kenny-produced tracks in the vein of “Smack a Bitch” formed the heart of Rico’s breakout 2018 mixtape Nasty. They reunited this January for a five-day session that yielded their new collaborative project Anger Management. Across nine tracks and 18 minutes, they attempt to achieve the catharsis of primal scream therapy and to trace the emotional arc of anger management, from rage to calm, as a way to explore new tones and evolve their musical relationship. “The expression of anger is a form of rejuvenation,” Rico raps on “Sell Out.” “I’m screaming inside of my head in hopes that I’m easing the pain.”
Anger Management begins with “Cold” and “Cheat Code,” a pair of vitriol-laden tracks designed to flood the senses and incite a mosh pit. Each salvo from Kenny’s seismic low end (a legacy of his past career as a globe-trotting EDM trap DJ) hits like a mortar shell, and Rico reinforces her vicious sneer with snarling, honey badger-esque ad-libs that sound like she’s goading on her best friend at an after-school fistfight. Taken together, their turn-up powers border on the supernatural. But even in this context, Rico is prone to unexpected moments of reflection. On “Cheat Code,” she is temporarily floored by her dramatic come-up: “Life was a nightmare/Turned into a fairy tale, five-star hotel/No more motel, eating on oxtail.”
Anger Management is Rico’s first release since last year’s Nasty — a huge career turning point for her — and she spends much of this project reckoning with her success and everything that has come with it. Her wry humor jumps out in these instances when she’s bragging about the “white people investing in [her]” or courting fans at her sold-out shows, “signing on some big titties” — a marker of celebrity if there ever was one. She also speaks of being beset with hordes of moochers and jealous haters (“One hater, two hater, three…”). On “Hatin’” she offers up a cliché, hater-blocking sentiment that resonates simply because she’s a woman holding her ground in a misogynistic industry. She instructs her female fans to ignore men: “If you got your own shit, you ain’t ever gotta listen to him, girl/Niggas be hatin’ on bitches.” This is probably sound advice.
The intensity of “Cold” and “Cheat Code” belies the variety of sounds that follow. Kenny channels his hero Timbaland, a master of texture, both by flipping Jay Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” on “Hatin’” and invoking the iconic vocoder from Ginuwine’s “Pony” on “Mood.” In a slapstick radio mid-mixtape interlude that carries a whiff of Kenny’s work on Vince Staples’ FM!, the disc jockey encourages listeners to “be sure to keep that pussy popping until the police come a-knockin’!” over the kind of upbeat surf rock backing track that plays during Wheel of Fortune credits. “Relative” revolves around a morose, de-tuned piano loop courtesy of Harry Fraud, and “Sell Out” features fluttering ‘00s R&B guitar. With Rico taking her vocal cues from Kenny’s production, Anger Management unfurls along its promised path: the initial purge of raw anger followed by the emergence of a broader, deeper, and more complicated swathe of feelings.
Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats operating at full throttle can be almost unbearably intense sensation to behold, like looking directly into the sun. Anger Management finds them working in tandem to pair the adrenal bangers everyone expected with an abundance of slightly more sensitive and playful material. The instant chemistry they developed with “Smack a Bitch,” coupled with their frequent, not-so-friendly social media roasts of one other and now the progression they’ve achieved on Anger Management, indicate that Rico and Kenny will probably be career-long collaborators. Rico is only 21 and her future is incredibly bright — especially with Kenny at her side to help her realize her potential.