F or just an hour, Megan Thee Stallion’s world shrinks to the size of a Los Angeles escape room. Here, on this April evening, there are no festivals to rehearse for, no verses to perfect, no brand deals to broker, no rumors to right or trauma to relive or pretrial hearings to sit through — just Megan, a small crew, and a steely determination to conquer the game.
“We did one before, and we were pretty bad at it,” she says of her last escape-room experience. After we enter our room, Megan and I, along with three members of her team, each have a foot chained to the floor. It seems we’ve been captured by wayward seamen cursed for all eternity for their sins, and we have 60 minutes to escape their ghost ship. First, we need to get the shackles off our feet. There’s a grid of rusty iron separating us from the other half of the room, where what looks like a birdcage hangs from the ceiling. I spot a key inside.
We prod at it with our hands and wooden poles we’ve been given. “Do we want to ask for help?” I suggest. “No!” Megan cries, matter-of-factly. Sam, of her Roc Nation management team, eventually knocks the key toward us with one of the poles.
“Are you competitive?” I ask Sam. “Stupid competitive,” he replies. “I’m fucking crazy competitive,” Megan one-ups, then shows just what she means. As we make our way from room to room, Megan takes the lead, climbing on stools, peering through peepholes, guiding us through mazes, and turning over props. Her head swivels from corner to corner, surveying every crevice for the next way out.
Eventually, we make it out with only a handful of hints from our game master. “The first time we did it, it took way longer,” Megan says. “I’m starting to understand the rooms more, though. Next time we’ll be thinking three steps ahead.”
Sure, breaking out of the ghost ship was hard, but it’s designed to be conquered. Megan has to look at her life the same way, or else the weight of the loss, violence, and vitriol she’s faced will pulverize her.
In just a few years, Megan Jovon Ruth Pete has gone from rapping at Houston kickbacks and strip clubs to becoming one of the biggest new superstars in music, assembling a legion of fans she’s dubbed Thee Hotties. Along the way, in March 2019, she lost her mother — a Houston rapper known as Holly-Wood, who raised Megan on UGK and Biggie, and later became her manager — to brain cancer, then lost her great-grandmother just two weeks later. (Megan’s father, Joseph Pete Jr., was incarcerated for the first eight years of her life; after he got home, he and Megan were attached at the hip until he died when she was 15.)
Those losses left Megan, now 27, without the people she trusted most as she navigated skyrocketing fame, graduated from Texas Southern University (with a bachelor’s degree in health administration), and, most shockingly, endured a July 2020 shooting allegedly at the hands of Tory Lanez, a recording artist and former friend. She survived, but has been locked in a contentious battle in court — and the court of public opinion — ever since.
Even without any extra emotional distress, life as hip-hop’s resident It girl and one of the best rappers alive can be intense. During the three months I got to know her, Megan premiered her first Super Bowl commercial, rehearsed for and shot her first major-movie role, released a single featuring Dua Lipa while joining her on tour, became the first woman to rap on the Oscar stage, presented the Grammy for Best New Artist (which she had won the year prior), completely shut shit down at Coachella, graced the Met Gala’s red carpet, performed at the Billboard Music Awards (where she took home the prize for Top Female Rap Artist, and also endured some odd, clingy behavior from supermodel Cara Delevingne, who fangirled over Megan all evening), and, oh yeah, wrote and recorded much of her highly anticipated second studio album, which she hopes to have out this summer. “I want to take you through so many different emotions,” she says of the album, an effort to process her pain without losing sight of her strength. “At first you was twerking, now you might be crying.”
Her friends, her team, and escape rooms help, but night after night, she still dreams about the shooting. “‘Right now we’re going through some dark things. You are built for this,’” she says, coaching herself. “‘God must got something good planned for you, because I don’t think he’ll put you through this if he wasn’t going to give you your reward at the end.’”
After winding through the streets of some of L.A.’s most-gilded neighborhoods, past Beverly Grove and through the Hills, we arrive at the Bel-Air mansion Megan has made her home base for the month of Coachella. The sprawling home feels busy, if a bit icy, with its towering, crisp white walls, and various bags and boxes in corners. A few of the people who keep the gears of the Megan machine turning mill about quietly. Two of her five dogs, gray Frenchies named 4oe and Oneita, bark hello from their kennels. (She also owns a lizard.) Her pets, innocent and affectionate, put Megan at ease. “I don’t think they would do anything to hurt me,” she says. “That’s something I know for a fact.”
Megan and I take our seats in an elegant dining room for a dinner of six vegetarian courses prepared by her chef. As he drops off some crudité, Megan laughs to herself. “They are really embarrassing me,” she says of her team.
“Because they are being so formal.”
I ask her if things are normally more low-key around her.
“We are all playful. They’re being so serious tonight.”
After her chef leaves us with a sweet-squash dish that Megan loves, she notes how kind he is. Megan has a habit of keeping the people she takes to close: her Roc Nation team; her longtime manager, T. Farris; Emilio Coochie, who has been photographing and filming her since 2018; her hairstylist and best friend, Kellon; the women who do her makeup and nails; her best friends from college; and her close friend from high school, Callie. “I don’t know if it’s a Southern thing,” she explains, “but I love feeling like this is my family. This is my thing. This is safe.”
In July 2020, a year after her mother and great-grandmother died, and six weeks after topping the Billboard Hot 100 with her “Savage” remix, Megan was looking for family, filling a void with new friendships and fun nights out. Rapper and singer Tory Lanez was one of those new friends, and the evening of July 11 began as one of those nights.
Forty-five minutes into dinner, she confronts the toll of that evening head on. It started with Megan streaming herself, her friend Kylie Jenner, and Lanez lounging in Jenner’s pool on Instagram Live. After the poolside hang, Megan headed home in a car with Lanez, his driver, and her former best friend from Houston, Kelsey Harris. Megan explained what she says happened next in an April interview with CBS’ Gayle King.
Megan said an argument broke out between Harris and Lanez in the car, prompting her to ask the driver to pull over and let her out. Megan got out, but says the others persuaded her to get back in, since they were close to their destination. After getting back into the car, she said, the arguing escalated. According to an LAPD detective who interviewed Megan, she and Harris argued, too; L.A. prosecutors say Megan and Lanez also argued.
When Megan got out of the car for good, she said, Lanez shouted “Dance, bitch!” and began shooting at her. Her feet bleeding, Megan dropped to the ground and crawled to a stranger’s driveway. Speaking to Gayle King, Megan said Lanez apologized profusely, and begged for Megan’s silence by offering her and Harris “a million dollars.” Police vehicles and helicopters swarmed the scene; saying she feared law enforcement would respond with deadly force if they found out a Black man was holding a gun, Megan told police she stepped on glass. (Lanez has denied shooting Megan; his representative did not respond on the record to a request for further comment.)
Lanez was arrested for carrying a concealed firearm. Meanwhile, Megan was taken to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, still maintaining she had stepped on glass. As officers left the hospital, a doctor reportedly told Megan there were bullet fragments in both of her feet. (CBS and Page Six later obtained the hospital’s medical report that corroborates Megan’s account of her hospital admittance and bullet wounds.)
Megan says that, at first, she tried to protect Lanez by keeping the shooting private. Then came the spread of jokes, memes, and what she says is false information — like rumors that Megan and Lanez had a sexual relationship and that she became jealous as Lanez and Jenner interacted that night. Soon, though, it became too much for her.
On Aug. 20, 2020, just weeks after releasing her smash Cardi B collaboration “W.A.P.,” Megan named Lanez as her alleged assailant in an Instagram Live stream: “You shot me and you got your publicist and your people going to these blogs lying.” In October 2020, Lanez was charged with one felony count of assault with a semiautomatic firearm and another for carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle. The case is set to go to trial in September; Lanez has pleaded not guilty.
Back in the L.A. mansion, the dinner table between us feels a mile wide as Megan begins to cry, still struggling to process everything that happened. I ask if I can sit beside her, and she agrees, eyes damp and hurt radiating outward. “I thought we had a real connection,” she says of Lanez. She believed she and the rapper had bonded over the mutual loss of their mothers; Lanez’s mom died of anemia complications when he was 11. “I thought he knew me. And I never would’ve thought he would’ve shot at me at all.”
“I never put my hands on this man,” she continues. “I never did anything to him. There was an argument. People argue every day. Friends argue every day.”
Megan’s scars run deep. First, there was the grueling physical recovery. “What nobody knows is, I had to get the surgery the same night. I stayed in the hospital in California for maybe four days,” she says. “Then I was in New York for a while. Both of my legs wrapped up. I could not walk. I still have bullet fragments in my feet right now. I was very scared that I was not able to be Megan Thee Stallion no more. And I was fucked up.” She began physical therapy in New York before traveling to Tampa, Florida, where she regained the ability to walk.
There are the nightmares. Then, there’s the embarrassment, the way she blames herself for what happened and how she handled it. “I feel shame, a little bit, because even after he shot me, I still was thinking about everybody else in the car,” she says. “I thought everybody in the car was my friend, [and] the whole time, that’s not how they thought of me. That’s what really hurts.”
The incident, Megan implies, was a betrayal on two fronts. Megan claims that Harris met with Lanez at a hotel less than two days after the shooting. “I’m like, ‘Kelsey, as my best friend, why would you meet up with the person you saw shoot your best friend?’” Megan tells me. “She said, ‘Megan, y’all wasn’t answering my calls. My back was against the wall. I didn’t know what to do.’ What the fuck do you mean your back is against the wall? You’re the only person in this situation that would clear this up for me.
“This girl told me out her mouth, ‘He told me, “Oh, thank you for not saying nothing. Now let me invest in your business. Let me do this. Let me do that.”’ And all I know was, from that day on, she never said nothing else about the whole situation online.” (Harris did not respond to a request for comment; Lanez’s representative did not respond on the record to a request for comment on this allegation.)
Before pleading not guilty to the charges against him, Lanez released an album on the back of the incident. On it, he claims he’s being framed, while alluding to a soured romance with Megan. (“That man was never my ex. You were never my man,” Megan insists.) Lanez continued to allude on Twitter to a sexual relationship with both Megan and Harris. After Megan posted screenshots of an apology Lanez texted to her hours after the shooting, Lanez wrote, “Good Dick had me fucking 2 best friends…and I got caught …that’s what I apologized 4 …it’s sick how u Spun it tho . . .”
That same day, Lanez bolstered false claims by media personality DJ Akademiks, who has been lambasted for sensationalizing violent conflicts in rap and for his recurring, hateful, misogynistic tirades against Megan. In February, Akademiks tweeted that court proceedings revealed that Lanez’s DNA wasn’t found on the gun recovered at the scene of the shooting (in court, Lanez’s attorney claimed that a DNA swab of the gun was “inconclusive,” and that “there were four contributors”) and that he had seen unreleased evidence that seemingly absolved Lanez of the crime (release of which, if by Lanez, would have been a violation of a court order). Lanez’s attorney argued that Lanez did not provide Akademiks with any such evidence, but because he egged on Akademiks’ claims on Twitter while addressing Megan, Lanez was briefly taken into custody for violating court orders prohibiting him from contacting or harassing Megan, or discussing any discovery in the case with outside parties.
“I think it’s so crazy that people are able to get online or publish anything that is not a 100 percent fact. That really is messing with my life. How are you able to do it and get away with it?” she says, before hinting at her plans to tackle rumors about the incident. “I just learned that you really can’t get away with that, and I’m going to get you. Right now I’m just getting all my stuff together because I’m seeing it. Yeah, you keep doing that. I’m going to spin the block on you.”
Beyond crass YouTubers eager to discredit Megan with inane theories and dubious claims, there’s a whopping brood of sexist, crude, online randos who insist she has lied about being attacked by Lanez, that this is a ploy for some sort of perverted clout, that she should be retaliated against.
When Megan’s assault is the topic du jour on my Twitter timeline, I mostly see messages supporting her and rebuking her detractors. Megan gets glimpses of this, too. “When I see Thee Hotties care about my mental health, they’ll be like, ‘OK, girl, you don’t want to get online. That’s fine. Oh, Megan, I’m just sending you love and support today,’” she recalls. “I’m like, ‘Y’all know my spirit!’”
But more often she encounters disparagement. “I get online,” Megan says. “I see funny shit all day. But then in the mix of that, there is also 20 people at-ing me at one time, saying crazy stuff. I’m like, ‘My 15 minutes [online] is over. Get off.’” When she’s not seeing her version of that night’s events blatantly discounted, she’s seen Lanez being celebrated, sometimes gruesomely. “I see people saying, ‘Damn, I would’ve shot that bitch too,’” says Megan.
“In some kind of way I became the villain,” Megan says, bewildered. “And I don’t know if people don’t take it seriously because I seem strong. I wonder if it’s because of the way I look. Is it because I’m not light enough? Is it that I’m not white enough? Am I not the shape? The height? Because I’m not petite? Do I not seem like I’m worth being treated like a woman?” For just a moment, her voice cracks.
“I’m trying every day to get through it and be good. I feel so bad because I don’t feel like anybody’s taking me seriously, but I don’t want them to see me cry. I don’t want them to know that I feel like this, because I don’t want them to feel like, ‘Oh, I got you. I’m breaking you.’”
She seems to especially feel this way about her alleged attacker. “‘I feel like you’ve already tried to break me enough. You’ve already shot me. So, why are you dragging it out like this? Like, what else? Have you hated me this much the whole time and I didn’t see it?’”
As it stands, Megan will face Lanez in court when the case against him goes to trial in September. “I want him to go to jail,” Megan says plainly. “I want him to go under the jail.”
Megan writes everywhere — in the car, in bed, in the shower. “I put my phone outside the shower but close enough to where I could still tap it. Shit be getting wet all the time, fucking up my phones,” she explains. “It’s a whole movie trying to write in the shower, but I keep my speaker loud and I just freestyle, and then I write it down when I get out.” She’s spent more time than ever writing songs for her new album. She does, after all, have a legacy to build: “I just always want people to remember, ‘Yes, Megan Thee Stallion, she was great, she was a rapper. She was one of the best rappers, the coldest.’”
Megan made a home of Criteria Studios in North Miami while recording the album, joining the company of the icons who have recorded there too — Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac, AC/DC, Lil Wayne. When I meet her there in early March, she breezes in, her layers of cherry-red and black hair bouncing, with 4oe and Oneita darting behind her. She’s bubbly and hot, tugging at her sleek nude sundress as we sit next to each other in soft, dark leather swivel chairs, a massive mixing console in front of us.
Shawn “Source” Jarrett — who has been Megan’s engineer since he worked on “Simon Says,” from her breakout mixtape, Fever — sits at the console to play us some of the 25 to 30 songs Megan has recorded for the album. He calls Megan “sis,” with casual affection, and gets her a fresh tea when she asks him to “pretty please” have the one she’s sipping reheated.
“This song has a feature,” Megan says before Source cues up a new track called “Pressurelicious.” It goes. The beat is dark and intense, and Megan’s initial staccato raps are cool and sexy as she announces “I’m stompin’ on ho’s so motherfuckin’ hard I’m knockin’ out Mario tokens!” Source, jamming, throws an uppercut into the air when a digital chime punctuates the bar. Soon, Megan is joined on the song by Future, and the pair start trading bars.
Future is sometimes described as romantically toxic, but he’s one of Megan’s favorite rappers. “He just so fucking ratchet!” she says with a big laugh. “He is unapologetically himself. I appreciate that about anybody who gets up and has to do anything in the public eye. Anybody who has to read about their life online every day and deal with so many energies and can put it out into their music and do it gracefully, I feel like you deserve your flowers.”
“Pressurelicious” is fun and hype, and when I catch up to her in May, Megan says her album could use more songs like it. “You know, the girls they be wanting to turn up,” she says. Every time I talk to Megan, she’s close to knowing just what she wants on the project.
She’s particularly proud of the way “Gift and Curse” layers personal revelation on top of exuberant dance music. Of the five songs she plays me, it’s my favorite. Produced by Murda Beatz, it’s shrouded in menacing piano and bouncing bass. After asserting her independence in the first verse, Megan gives a set of freaky shout-outs to sex organs and her dominion over them in the second — “My motherfucking body, my choice/Ain’t no lil dick taking my voice.”
The hook, though — “A bitch like me, yeah, I know my worth/Fucking with me is a gift and a curse” — is a glimpse into her psyche. “I can take care of myself. I’m so emotionally strong. I’m so independent,” she explains later. “You know how easy it is for me to dismiss you, because I don’t need you.”
But she’s also thinking about how these assets can hurt her. “It’s a gift that I’m so strong,” she says, “but I feel like it’s also a curse because it makes things get kind of lonely sometimes. Everybody’s kind of like, ‘Well, you good. You got it. I ain’t messing with you.’ So I feel like it makes people treat me not as delicate as I would like them to.”
Her manager, T. Farris, is one of a handful of people whose musical critiques Megan says she considers now that her mom is no longer around. Farris tells me he likes “Pressurelicious,” “Plan B,” and “Gift and Curse” as much as I did. “Those particular three records,” he says, “are not really party records. They really have substance.”
Farris was president of A&R and an artist manager for the Houston independent label Swishahouse, working closely with local stars Paul Wall and Mike Jones. Megan grew up on that sound. Farris is especially fond of “Plan B,” the explosive diss track to an unnamed ex that Megan premiered publicly onstage during Coachella’s first weekend. (Megan is clear that the song is not about Lanez, despite online speculation.) “It gave me an old-school, Lil Kim feel,” Farris says of the song. “I really love when Megan goes in, and just raps, and it’s not about twerking. I always want people to understand that she’s really one of the ones that can rap.”
Farris is more than a manager to Megan; he’s like a brother. “He probably is the only person who really knows exactly what I’m feeling and what’s on my mind,” she says. “When we up, we’re jumping around, we’re happy, with the puppies running. Then when I’m sad, he’ll be like, ‘OK, cry it out for a little bit, but we need to get up and get it together. You Megan Thee Stallion!’ He really is my hype man.”
Megan trusts Farris because he was one of the few people her mother trusted. They met Farris while he was working with 1501 Certified Entertainment, the label Megan signed to in 2018 before signing with a different label, 300 Entertainment, later that same year. (Since 2020, Megan has been fighting 1501 Certified in court, claiming she’s locked in an “unconscionable” contract, and that the label has tried to prevent her from fulfilling the terms of it. In March, 1501 countersued, saying it is owed more music and money from the rapper.) “My momma didn’t like anybody in life,” Megan explains. “So when she liked T. Farris, I was like, ‘This man might be an angel.’”
Megan’s mom constantly permeates her thoughts, and on her new song “Anxiety,” she confronts the loss more candidly than she ever has on wax. “Anxiety” is not one of Megan’s best-sounding songs — its beat is a little too simple and saccharine — but it’s one of her most open. Part of a verse includes a letter she wishes she could send to her mom in heaven: “I would tell her sorry that I really been wildin’, and ask her to forgive me cuz I really been trying,” she raps.
In one of their last conversations, Megan’s mother gave her a pep talk. Holly was in the hospital in Houston, just informed she had a brain tumor, while Megan was expected to fly to L.A. for a show. “She was like, ‘Megan, I don’t want you to miss this opportunity just because I’m sick. I don’t want that to stop you from being Megan Thee Stallion. You need to take Farris and y’all need to go to L.A.’”
Megan stayed with her mother until midnight that evening, when her mom believed she was taking off to make the show. “Hell no, I wasn’t leaving my momma,” Megan says. “I just didn’t want to stress her out. I just wanted to go home, take a bath real quick, and I was going to come back.” Around two hours later, Megan got a call that her mother was unresponsive. Soon, she was gone.
Holly’s final encouragement has stuck with Megan. So have Holly’s taste, critiques, and faith in her. “When I make music, I always scratch the first draft because I feel my momma would’ve scratched it for me. So I’m like, ‘OK, go harder than that,’” she says. Those memories hold her up, as does the example she feels she needs to set for Holly’s mother, her grandmother Madlyn. “Ever since my mom and my great-grandma passed, she’s been really depressed,” says Megan. “I don’t want to show her that anything is getting to me because I don’t want it to get to her.”
In May, around the time of the Met Gala, Megan flew Madlyn to New York from Houston for her birthday, which they celebrated with a dinner attended by all of their small family, as a surprise. They cried and ate and laughed. Megan felt happy. She felt normal. She felt at peace.
Megan wants to reclaim her story and tell it her way. That’s one of the goals for her new album. There’s also a docuseries on her rise in the works, too, and Netflix is developing a comedy series loosely based on her life, the product of a first-look production deal. Megan plans to write for the show, and she’s working toward a directorial career, too. Also on her to-do list: making more cinematic music videos. Last year’s “Thot Shit” clip, in which a hypocritically sexist legislator is terrorized by Megan and a pack of twerking working-class women, was gorgeous, funny, weird, and thought-provoking — and Megan says it’s just a taste of what’s to come.
I ask her to look even further ahead: to her sunset years, after a life on the biggest stages and behind the scenes. “I feel I’m going to be a lit-ass grandma,” she replies. “Still going to be like, ‘Yes, I still got the good knees!’ What? I got a lineage of good knees. It’s like my daughter, her daughter, her daughter-daughter. It’s just going to be a bunch of us just lit-ass beautiful Black women!”
In the meantime, Megan is dating Pardison Fontaine, an artist and songwriter who’s worked with Cardi B and contributed to the “Savage” remix. (“Not my part,” Megan clarifies.) They have a creative partnership. “I feel like he’s so good. And he feels like I’m so good,” Megan says. “There are always instrumentals playing. So if I can hear him rapping, I’ll be like, ‘OK, I’m going to do better than that.’ Or if he likes the beat that I’m playing, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, let me get that beat.’ We sharpen each other.”
Online, they are goofy together and proud of each other. In March, Fontaine, known casually as Pardi, posted a celebratory reel that captured Megan dancing, performing, posing, and achieving. It showed clips of her college graduation, her defiant Saturday Night Live performance, and her humanitarian award from Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, all set to his song “Hoop Earrings,” where he raps, “If you a Black girl, do your thing.”
“I appreciate him for loving on me even when I don’t feel like I love me,” Megan tells me. Though she seems happy with Fontaine, her trauma can be a block. “I have a lot of anxiety, and I know I’m probably depressed on some level. I’ll be like, ‘Damn, you really sticking through it?’” she says of him. “‘I really want to be good for you because I’m trying to be good for myself.’ But I just . . . I don’t know. Right now, I really don’t know, because sometimes I don’t feel good about me. So I feel like it’s hard to be in a relationship when you are not loving on yourself right.”
And yet, Megan has taken incredible strides to stand up for herself and people like her. During that SNL performance, three months after her shooting, she protested the minuscule charge levied against an officer involved in the death of Breonna Taylor, then spoke to the crowd: “We need to protect our Black women. And love our Black women, ’cause at the end of the day, we need our Black women.” Shortly after, she penned an op-ed, published in The New York Times, focusing on Black women’s sociopolitical achievements and setbacks, and contextualizing her own experiences among them. “You know what?” she wrote. “I’m not afraid of criticism.”
Her late great-grandmother instilled a sense of social responsibility in her. “I would always see her from outside her front door, giving out money to the kids that would walk past the house. Any family members, any of her friends, she was always helping,” she says. “She lived in the hood, but she felt so rich. I know money didn’t make her, she made money. I always wanted to be like her.”
After leaving a trail of philanthropy — from donating $8,000 to help fund a fallen fan’s funeral to six- and seven-figure giving campaigns in partnership with Popeyes and Fashion Nova — Megan launched the Pete & Thomas Foundation, named in honor of her parents. Self-funded for now, it focuses on education and housing, as well as health and wellness.
There are the things that have happened to Megan Thee Stallion. Then there are the things — the beautiful, awe-inspiring, culture-shifting things — she’s made happen for herself. It’s been only three years since her breakthrough single, “Big Ole Freak,” hit the charts. It’s been only three years since she dropped Fever, her riotous venture into the mainstream, where she declared that the only thing we need to know about her is that she’s in love with money. She then found her every move and trauma under a microscope, and saw as many people celebrating her tragic losses as her momentous wins.
When I ask Megan what, exactly, she would like people to know about her life now, she pauses. “OK, yes, I very much went through that,” she says after a moment. “Yes, it’s very fucked up, but I’m still me. Look at everything I can accomplish and everything I can do in the face of it. I’m still not letting nothing knock me down to take me off my game. So you shouldn’t let nothing take you off your game, either. Because if I can get through this shit, you could get through your shit.”