“If you wanna rage, let it out,” Rico Nasty barks over a strangled guitar that sounds like it could have been ripped straight out of a Korn song. The Maryland rapper uses her music as an outlet for aggression, her bottled-up emotions smashing open into a million shards. On “Let It Out,” a highlight from her new album Nightmare Vacation, she encourages the listener to take part in that same catharsis, to give in to their basest instincts. “I’m the asshole, what the fuck’s new?/ If it’s fuck me, then it’s fuck you,” she snarls, surrounded by cackles and bleats. “These bitches be trippin’, we are not cool/ Get the fuck out my way when I come through.”
It’s been a long journey to be able to harness the reckless abandon that Rico Nasty yields with such confidence on Nightmare Vacation. The rapper born Maria Kelly has put out six mixtapes in the last six years, all of which have found her refining her style without sacrificing any of her integrity. In 2018, Nasty marked her big breakthrough and it presented Rico as an already dominant force, shit-talking her way through battle-blasted beats and wielding her anger like a broadsword. Last year’s Anger Management, a collaboration with producer Kenny Beats, was another triumph, a 19-minute tantrum that had all the intensity of a hardcore record.
Nightmare Vacation is billed as Rico Nasty’s major-label debut album, but she’s already a force to be reckoned with. She stomps around like a horror movie villain, slashing her way through all those that doubt her talent and the demons in her own psyche. She’s freaky and fun, feral, deranged, batshit and leaning into her persona with full-throated enthusiasm. She’s built herself up as a formidable figure with a clear vision, a self-described “pop-punk princess” with a killer sneer. As she’s gotten more of a budget, she’s adapted that vision into high art. In her promotional photos, she’s wild-eyed and decked out in chains and spikes and designer outfits that feel decades ahead of the curve. On the cover of Nightmare Vacation, she’s floating in the sky on a messy bright-red bed, a rainbow and a lightning strike representing the sweet and sinister sides of her aesthetic.
She’s wildly ambitious, and those ambitions are hard-won, as she lays out on opening track “Candy,” a victory lap that takes her critical adoration and stan dedication as a given. Her first lines begin with a knowing cliché before twisting it to show how she’s ahead of everyone in the game: “On a dark and stormy night, I don’t blend in, bitch, I shine bright/ I heard your favorite rapper and he sounds like all-caps, sound like all hype/ But I don’t write reviews, that’s something y’all do, that’s something y’all type.” On “Candy,” she invites you along for the ride but reminds you she’s in the driver’s seat. “I won’t change the way I act no matter where I go,” she insists, hyping herself up. “Can you feel me? Can you feel me? Yeah, Rico, I think they can feel you.” She sounds joyous, both because she’s able to reflect the interiors of her own twisted head and because there are people out there who value that reflection.
Or at least that’s how Rico puts it when she’s in shit-talking mode, which she is most of the time on Nightmare Vacation. “I’m so tired of people dressed like me trying to take my style/ But I can’t act like that shit don’t make me proud,” she raps on “Girl Scouts,” a track in which Rico places herself at the center of a troop that’s delivering more than cookies. The song’s all menace, with a creeping beat from production duo Take A Daytrip — who have worked with Travis Scott and Kid Cudi, Sheck Wes, and Lil Nas X — and they’re also behind “STFU,” a similarly biting track where Rico’s voice curdles as she demands you to “shut the fuck up” and let her speak.
She sounds hyped-up on her team-ups with 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady. Much like her successful collabs with Kenny Beats, Brady recognizes that Rico works best when she’s given something that she can mold into something monumental. (Let’s pray for a full-length Rico/Brady mixtape in the future.) He mines the same maligned genres that Rico has been working with on her own — nu-metal, emo, bubblegum pop — and there’s no high better than hearing Rico lock into one of his delightfully unconventional beats. “IPHONE” is one of her all-time best songs, a delirious glitter-blasted smear that features a digital howl apt for 2020: “Smoking so much gas, I forgot to put my mask on.” On “OHFR?,” a warning siren punctuates Rico’s flippant posturing as she exhibits some grace in the face of conflict: “I coulda hit her, I let her live.”
And on the aforementioned “Let It Out,” Rico and Brady offer up perhaps the perfect distillation of the rapper’s aggression as a form of release. It’s bristling and hard-edged but there’s still a whole lot of charm. She’s pushing you away while inviting you into her chaotic party. “If you wanna rage, let it out” is an apt declaration for everything that Rico Nasty does, and it’s that version of her that dominates so much of Nightmare Vacation. There’s still so much further that she can go. Rico Nasty has a dream — or nightmare, if you will — and she’s going to do everything she can do achieve it.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Sigur Rós’ Odin’s Raven Magic.
• Respire’s Black Line.
• Green Day side project the Network’s Money Money 2020 Part II: Told Ya So!.
• Joan Of Arc’s Tim Melina Theo Bobby.
• Lavender Diamond’s Now Is The Time.
• Lost Horizons’ In Quiet Moments Part 1.
• Gone Is Gone’s If Everything Happens For A Reason…Then Nothing Really Matters At All.
• Father/Daughter and Wax Nine Records’ Simply Having A Wonderful Compilation Christmas compilation.
• The Sonder Bombs’ Clothbound.
• Jordana’s Something To Say To You.
• Clearbody’s One More Day.
• Kelly Moran & Prurient’s Chain Reaction At Dusk.
• Alex Maas’ Luca.
• Steve Perry’s TRACES (Alternative Versions & Sketches).
• Craig Wedren’s Sabbath Sessions Vol. 1.
• Khruangbin’s Late Night Tales compilation.
• Neil Young’s Way Down In The Rust Bucket.
• Arctic Monkeys’ Live At The Royal Albert Hall.
• The Postal Service’s live album Everything Will Change.
• Deafheaven’s live album 10 Years Gone.
• Nils Frahm’s Tripping With Nils Frahm.
• The White Stripes’ Greatest Hits.
• Quarter-Life Crisis’ self-titled EP.
• Tori Amos’ Christmastide EP.
• Young Baby Tate’s After The Rain EP.