Confined to her home during quarantine, Rico Nasty began playing a new game: seeing how long she can stay awake. Her record, as of late May, was six days. “On the third day, normally, you get really bitchy,” says the rapper, 23. “Once your mind is exhausted to that point, you actually get to your most creative point because you have no boundaries. Your mind isn’t telling you to stop.”
In Rico’s short career — her debut mixtape, Tales of Tacobella, came out in 2017 — she’s made a habit of seeking out her creative boundaries, then dismantling them. Rico is from Maryland, but her music isn’t tied to any specific geographic style; she thrives on genre-hopping. She began rapping in the early 2010s, uploading loosies to Tumblr. “I thought I’d find my own way to do shit,” she says. Her earliest songs are insolent and playful, colorful and catchy. By 2016, she had her first streaming hit, the singsong “Hey Arnold,” which brought Rico a glimpse of stardom. Since then, “shit’s been very, very, very, very different,” she says.
Not long after that early success, Rico began to set aside the melodic beats and lilting deliveries. Instead, her next two projects favored a scorched-earth brutalism somewhere between punk and hip-hop. She began to sound joyously angry on records, and played with sounds that few rappers attempt.
In 2018, she met Kenny Beats, a lanky ex-EDM musician who’s one of today’s most in-demand rap producers. “I’m not trying to be funny when I say this, but I think that rock shit came because I had never worked with a white producer,” she says. “Niggas want to come into my sessions and ask me if I know about hip-hop, so I’m going to ask Kenny if he knows about rock music. And he doesn’t know shit.” Still, Kenny dutifully made an aggressive, guitar-based beat based on her notes. Rico “went out, took some molly, came back, and I made ‘Smack a Bitch’ ” — her most popular song, with more than 58 million streams on Spotify.
In 2019, Rico released her best work yet: Anger Management, a full-length collab tape with Kenny. Rico puts it simply: “I make music for the sad, lonely bitches who like to kick ass and deal with their emotional issues.”
Her debut album, Nightmare Vacation, is due out in December, and Rico remains restless. Her latest single, “Don’t Like Me,” is a light and melodic collaboration with Gucci Mane and Don Toliver; she’s beginning to experiment more with electronic sounds, working with artists such as Boys Noize and 100 gecs, and she says she’d like her new album to sound like Yeezus. The real reason for all those sleepless nights, though? She wants this to be her most personal project yet. “I’ve never shared something so close to my heart,” she says.