It’s a brisk December day in Houston, and Megan Thee Stallion is giving detailed notes on how, exactly, she wants her dancers to twerk. The beat to Yo Gotti’s “Pose” pulsates through White Oak Music Hall as the 25-year-old star prepares for a hometown show 24 hours from now, her biggest headlining concert in Houston to date. She is in an unbreakable trance, watching her choreographer and troupe with a strained eye. For hours, butt cheeks flap, knees dip, asses clap, legs split, feet stomp, and gravity is defied. The dancers are talented — but Megan sees imperfections no one else can. “I just want the movements to match the beats,” she says, exasperated. She shows them how it’s done. She has them try again.
At one point in the afternoon, the rehearsals taper off and Megan disappears. It’s not until later that it becomes clear where she went: to the parking lot, to rap. Upon her return, a new freestyle over Biggie’s “Hypnotize” is uploaded to Twitter, to the delight of her 2 million followers. It’s the sort of thing she seemingly does reflexively.
Megan took the rap game by storm last year. At five feet 10, and with the quick wits of a hip-hop veteran, she went from holding her own in YouTube cyphers to proving herself one of the best lyricists of her generation on projects like 2018’s Tina Snow and 2019’s Fever. Megan’s voice, the captivating centerpiece of her off-the-cuff raps, is distinct; at once rich, deep, molasses-filled, and nimble. As a rapper, she tends towards military precision in her lyrics, with flows that punctuate the end of each measure — no syllable, word, or punchline out of place. There’s no melody or AutoTune and, in a hip-hop ecosystem that, since around 2010, prizes those textural elements over all else, she’s a conspicuous presence in the genre’s new vanguard, a deliberate throwback that, somehow, cuts through the noise.
All the while, she was becoming as well-known for her rapidly expanding digital footprint as she was for her impressive bars. When Megan wasn’t slipping away for a freestyle, she was persuading a rotating cast of celebrities (DaBaby, Lizzo, Fabolous) to let her “drive the boat” — a juvenile but entertaining exercise in which Megan would pour expensive brown liquor into someone else’s mouth — and dropping twerk videos that forced the collective consciousness of the United States to marvel at the strength of her knees.
It’s that combination of viral-ready charm and a willingness to rap everywhere and anywhere that made Megan a new kind of star — a rapper’s rapper who no one could ignore. When she dropped “Hot Girl Summer,” an anthem featuring Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign, the song became both a chart-topping hit and a catchphrase that inspired Hotties (Megan’s stan army) and non-Hotties (everyone else) to scorch every hater in their path.
And she accomplished all of this while losing her mother — her first manager and the woman who introduced her to hip-hop — and chasing a health care management degree that she still refuses to give up on, even as the demands of stardom make finishing coursework a near impossibility.
For Megan, rapping comes easy; it’s navigating the minutiae of her new life that’s proving more difficult. A week before her hometown show, Megan found herself presenting at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, am I going to have to read this, or is it something I could memorize?’ ” she said of the challenges presented by the teleprompter. “That was really the only time that I got nervous.”
Later that night, she would be caught on camera confidently freestyling in the parking lot, wearing the same crimson gown she wore at the ceremony.
If Megan were to direct a movie of her life, she knows how it would open: “It’s me in the back seat of my mom’s car, on my way to school, listening to some UGK shit.” Megan remembers exactly how her mom introduced new music. “Every time she put on a new song, [she would say] ‘Put you on some real shit right quick,” she says.
Megan’s mother, Holly Thomas, was a bill collector and early-aughts Houston rapper known as Holly-Wood, who raised Megan on UGK and Biggie; she was also Megan’s first manager. Megan characterizes her mom’s music as “hardcore gangster.” “When I started rapping, and cussing and shit, she was like, ‘I don’t know where you get it from,’ ” Megan says, and laughs. “She was a potty-mouth, worse than me.” Megan’s father was a “full-time hustler,” imprisoned for the first eight years of her life.
Hailing from Houston’s South Park, Megan describes her neighborhood as a place split between “hood shit” and a “family environment.” In middle school, she was the captain of the cheerleading team and co-captain of the dance team; in high school she was on the drill and dance teams.
By her freshman year of college, though, she knew she wanted to be a rapper. Her moniker was inspired by grown men calling her a “stallion” — Southern slang for a voluptuous woman — in high school. “Believe it or not, I used to be a little shy,” Megan says. “I never wanted anybody to know that I could even rap. Even when I got to college and I told my best friend I could rap, she’ll be like, ‘OK. Well, then rap.’ She wanted me to rap and I wouldn’t do it. But then we went to a kickback and I just started rapping. . . . I was confident in myself, but I didn’t really know how people would react to how I thought about myself on the inside.”
Over the next few years, Megan’s confidence began to pay dividends. By 2016, her hometown freestyles started going viral and, not long after, Megan quickly went from regional star to national brand. But as Megan Thee Stallion’s dreams finally came to fruition, the core of Megan Jovon Ruth Pete’s life was taken from her. In March 2019, Megan lost both Holly, to brain cancer, and her great-grandmother, with whom she was also close. In person, she tears up mentioning the two women who helped get her to this moment. “This year, I lost my mom and my grandmother in the same month,” she said in a since-deleted Instagram video. “Although all these positive things have been happening to me and I’ve been trying to do good, been trying to keep a smile on my face, stay strong, to stay happy for me and my other grandmother and the rest of my family, it’s pretty hard.”
After the deaths, Megan put on a brave face; her searingly painful spring would soon give way to her “hot girl summer.” It was a phrase she created “talking shit” on Twitter, an evolution of the way she’s come to describe her fans (“Hotties”) and her clique (“Hot Girls”). It soon went viral. “I didn’t even know it was going to be this big of a thing,” Megan recalls. “People talking about ‘Let’s be us. Let’s be free.’ . . . I was telling my manager, ‘Can y’all believe this? Jada Pinkett [Smith] is having a hot girl summer.’ ”
For many, the idea of a hot girl summer was a positive force that transformed as their needs did — it’s a catchphrase that means whatever you need it to. Months later, when Megan decided to capitalize on her cultural touchstone with an actual song, it soon went platinum. Predictably, brands like Wendy’s, Forever 21, and Maybelline co-opted the message; it also inspired a “No Pigeons”-like remix called “Hot Girl Bummer,” and so much bootleg merchandise that Megan would eventually trademark the term.
For Megan, the phrase came to describe her own resilience. “[The losses] weigh on me, but I know what my mom and my grandma would want me to do,” she says. “My mama is a very strong woman. She raised me to be super strong. If I got the platform to spread positivity, I’m gonna do it.”
Like rhythm, ass, or generational wealth, a vision is something you either have or you don’t. And back before Megan Pete remade herself as Megan Thee Stallion, she was a freshman at Houston’s Prairie View A&M University and a filmmaker of considerable, if provocative, vision. Megan and her two best friends, Kelsey and Daren, became campus celebrities off the strength of short twerking videos that they would post online. As their filmography grew in popularity, so did their notoriety. Inevitably, their exploits caught the attention of school administrators — nonvision havers — and the trio were called into a meeting.
“The ladies were super uppity. They didn’t want us to wear shorts,” says Megan. “It was fucking summertime in fucking Texas. But, you see her hips and her ass, you see why they don’t want us to wear no shorts.”
In the boardroom they were summoned to, a screen slowly descended. The three women watched their iconic short videos play, one after another, and couldn’t stop laughing. “I was like, ‘God damn,’ ” says Megan. “ ‘I’m really in trouble [for] twerking right now!’ ”
“They was like, ‘Is this what you guys want to be known for on campus?’ ” she continues. “In my head, I was like, ‘Yeah, we lit! What you mean?’ ” In exchange for their parents not being informed of their exploits, Megan, Kelsey, and Daren were expected to write research papers.
Whatever lessons the papers were meant to impart, they didn’t exactly stick. Megan is currently putting on a twerking clinic at her own shows, and her commitment to higher education has only strengthened since she transferred to Texas Southern University. Even as she became famous, she remained a part-time student.
Megan estimates she has seven classes left to complete her degree in health care management. A few days before I meet her, she admits on Twitter that she’s rushing to finish a six-page research paper on the health care supply chain, due the same night she has a photo shoot scheduled. Even superstar rappers with a million in the bank get worried about late assignments.
What, exactly, does a six-page term paper for a health care management course entail? “Cotton balls in the hospital, right? You have to buy X amount of cotton balls before you even about to start running out of them hoes to keep the shit on the floor where it’s moved,” she says. “It’s literally a whole system behind you even ordering fucking cotton balls, or ordering sheets for the beds in the hospitals. You would think that this is a simple-ass process, but no.”
Her most pressing concern at the moment isn’t how she’s going to follow up her breakout year, or handling life as a celebrity. It’s simply getting to graduation day. Even with her success, she refuses to drop out of school. “My grandmother would be very pissed off at me if I just stopped college right now. My mother would’ve been like, ‘It don’t matter.’ I got to get this degree. I already started it, and I’m interested in what I’m doing because I want to open up assisted-living facilities in the city.”
There’s another small problem: someone Megan calls her “biggest hater.” “I made an incomplete on one of my classes because this lady, the teacher, she was really hating on me because I told her that I was about to go on tour,” Megan says, exasperated. “But we ain’t going to quit.”
While talking to Megan, I let slip that I, personally, did not have a hot girl summer in 2019, despite the heights to which her philosophy rose across the nation. “I don’t know what pain you holding onto,” she says, concerned.
“First step, you got to spend more time in the mirror,” Megan explains — for me, but possibly for herself as well. “Because once you get in the mirror and you start finding shit that you do like about yourself, you’re going to stay in the motherfucking mirror trying to perfect that. That’s how I am. Like, ‘OK, what do you got going on? Bitch, you look good as fuck today!’ ”
She’s giving this mirror pep talk while literally staring at a gilded mirror in her home in Houston, wearing an oversize Nirvana T-shirt. Rehearsals are over, and she and her friends are doing their makeup back at the house before the show. Like a typical college student, Megan lives in the chaotic, amiable near-squalor of one’s early twenties, a time when you’d rather add water to the nearly empty hand soap than run to CVS to buy more. Unlike your typical college student, though, Megan lives in a large suburban house with neoclassical pillars and a circular gravel driveway.
“Daren, she looks really sweet, but she’s a meanie,” Megan explains of the two women she calls sisters. “Kelsey is very business-minded, very organized, very on-time. I’m like, ‘You should quit your job and be my assistant.’ ”
Megan pauses mid-monologue. Her nostrils flare, and she looks down at Tipsy, one of several puppies roaming the house, in disgust. “It smells like somebody pooped.” This prompts Daren to worry about her dog eating his own excrement. Megan informs the group that Tipsy could get E. coli.
“You can drink your own pee. If you don’t have water for seven days, you can survive off your pee.” Megan asserts.
“You can’t drink your own shit,” Kelsey counters.
“Oh, I didn’t know this,” Daren says.
This — obviously — leads to a discussion of how the girl in The Ring managed to live in a well for seven days, and how one would survive on a deserted island with no food or water. “I’m going to happily die,” Kelsey says with glee. “I ain’t drinking my piss.”
“You want to die!” Daren exclaims.
“No, I’m not going to drink it.”
“You going to have to drink that pee, bitch!”
Since she’s become a public figure, Megan has had to change her life — occasionally at the expense of the clique’s social life. “Sometimes I feel like, damn, maybe we shouldn’t go to the club and get no Staten Islands tonight.” [Editor’s note: Megan may have meant to refer to the popular alcoholic beverage the Long Island Iced Tea.] “You got to be careful what you’re doing in public because sometimes people spin it like it’s something else.”
Much of Megan’s life as a celebrity is colored by a specific misogyny reserved for young black women. If she’s photographed next to a man — whether it’s Daniel Kaluuya at the BET Hip Hop Awards or Trey Songz at a club — it quickly becomes an all-consuming story about who she’s dating that’s rarely rooted in fact. During the first week of February, Megan caught the ire of the internet after G-Eazy posted an Instagram story featuring him kissing her on the face. In true Megan fashion, she’d joke a day later that the Bay Area rapper just liked the taste of Fenty makeup, while denouncing any rumors.
“These are my immediate girlfriends, and we all have a lot of guy friends,” she says. “But now, it’s just a public thing. People think that if I’m hanging out with anybody, it got to be, ‘Oh, they’re having sex.’ Why can’t I just be turnt up with my friend tonight?” she asks. “They’re just doing this shit because they want some attention, and I cannot feed into it. I have a little anxiety, because I’m still going through the grief from losing my mother and my grandmother. Then I have to get on the internet and see these motherfuckers talking about me? That shit really be pissing me off sometimes.”
Megan assures the room that she’s strong in mind, confident, and loves herself, but the constant deluge of Instagram comments, gossip blogs, and opinions sometimes take their toll. One of the drawbacks to becoming a sex symbol is how quickly the public strips you of your humanity, and relegates your likeness to a product. “Because I don’t really clap back and I don’t show I’m feeling sad on the internet, and I’m showing that I’m pissed off,” she says, “they probably think, ‘Oh, she’s a celebrity, so she’s not going to care about this.’ ”
To unwind, Megan watches anime. The Houston rapper beams while discussing what part she’s at in Naruto (she just finished the “Chūnin Exams”). One of her nicknames, “Todoroki Tina,” and its accompanying (and stunning) half red, half white hairstyle was inspired by a character in the hit Weekly Shōnen Jump manga, My Hero Academia. She gushes about the main hero of My Hero Academia, Deku, and touches upon a hallmark of Shōnen battle manga — the training arc. It’s a trope built into Japanese comics — Dragonball, One Piece, Naruto — where the protagonist searches for a mentor and trains to attain a new strength.
“Deku, though. I was watching this episode, and they had to go start training in the forest. His teacher was like, ‘basically, you got to tear your body down to make it be its strongest.’ They was outside using their quirks real hard so they could start building themselves up. I look at myself like I’m doing something literally every day, I’m ripping and running. I’ve had a lot of tragedy this year, so I’m preparing myself. I feel like I’m probably in training in a way right now.”
And Megan’s training is well underway. She’s prepping a new album, titled Suga, modeled after a new persona. Typically an alpha on the top of the rapper food chain, she wants to show a side of herself that’s “sensitive” in ways Megan Thee Stallion has never allowed herself to be perceived. On lead single “B.I.T.C.H.,” Megan flips Tupac Shakur’s “Ratha Be Ya N.I.G.G.A.” to open up about a toxic relationship, rapping, “But it’s 2020, I ain’t finna argue ’bout twerkin’.”
“I feel like sometimes guys be trying to be too controlling over me,” Megan says of the line. “I’m like, ‘No. I’m still gon’ shake this ass. I’m gon’ shake this ass every night at my shows. I’m gon’ shake this ass with my friends, with my fans.”
It’s the first project she’s putting out into the world without the guiding hand of her mother. Megan hopes to drop Suga on a special day in the spring — “May 2nd is my mom’s birthday.” So far, she has written or recorded in Cabo, Miami, Los Angeles, and Texas. SZA, Kehlani, and the Neptunes are confirmed for the project. Pharrell has dubbed her “Megan Thee Machine” for her work ethic.
Megan is still in awe of Pharrell after recording with him in Miami. “I would go in and write a song and the beat would sound one way, but by the time he gets done to it, it’s a whole new song,” Megan says. “I had never worked with a producer before that goes back in on his own beats and changes a bunch of stuff, like post-production. ‘Wow, these beats don’t even be done? That’s crazy.’ ”
In the new year, Megan the student and artist is looking to change. She’s taking two online classes this semester and is determined not to repeat the same mistakes she made in 2019 as a full-time rapper and part-time student. “I could’ve did better,” she says with a sigh. “I still passed. This semester I really want to take my time with sitting down and actually studying for my tests, getting my homework out the way earlier. I’m already off to a pretty good start. Took my first quiz and exam, and I made A’s on both of them.”
Similarly, as a musician she has begun to think about what her younger fans might need to hear from her.
“When I started making music, I was making music that I liked,” Megan says. “I’m making ratchet shit, turn up shit. I’m doing me. I wasn’t thinking about anybody else in my music. I wasn’t thinking about kids, and I’m not thinking about other races. I wasn’t thinking about anybody but me and my brand, but when I go and I see these other artists, and when I go to some of my friend’s shows, and I’m looking at who’s in the crowd, and I’m looking at even my god-sister, they’re six, seven, eight, and they’re singing my songs. I’m like, ‘Okay. Let me give y’all something a little deeper, because I definitely want to grow with my music. I want to grow up with my music. That was me making music as a freshman in college.”
But before Megan can get to any of that, she has a hometown show to get through. A room full of Hotties, Houston rap legends (Bun B, Paul Wall, Slim Thug), and friends (Kelsey and Daren are obviously waiting in the wings) are all present for a very specific, very Texas moment in history. The TSU marching band arrives onstage to perform Megan’s “Big Ole Freak,” a fitting dedication for a classmate. A few moments later, fog fills the air, the bass begins to hum in earnest, and Megan Thee Stallion emerges, riding a rotating merry-go-round horse. Ginuwine’s “Pony” rattles the speakers.
Megan performs the songs that made her a star, and the Hotties scream back every single word. Toward the end of the show, she lets them all on her stage to twerk — probably imperfectly — and looks on with pride.
“I want to cry a little bit,” Megan told me a few hours before, as I left her house. “We going to cry, but we still doing bad-girl shit.”