Is anyone besides Megan Thee Stallion finishing 2020 better than they started it?
Eleven months ago, this 25-year-old Houston rapper was a connoisseur’s fave known for her commanding flow and her healthy sexual appetite, neither of which seemed to put her near the center of a hip-hop scene dominated by woozy lil’ dudes in their feelings.
Now she’s one of the brightest stars in all of pop music, with a pair of recent No. 1 smashes — a remix of her song “Savage” featuring Beyoncé, and “WAP,” her ultra-raunchy duet with Cardi B — that somehow attained in-the-ether ubiquity at a moment when everybody was staying inside.
On Friday, Megan dropped her first studio album, “Good News,” which is the year’s most impressive debut LP (assuming you don’t count 2019’s she-calls-it-a-mixtape “Fever”) — a boisterous collection so detailed that we could spend what’s left of this infernal year just savoring its priceless putdowns, including several addressed to the guy who tried unsuccessfully to make Megan’s 2020 even worse than the rest of ours.
(Language warning on this post’s embedded videos)
“Good News” opens with “Shots Fired,” in which Megan lays out her version of what happened one widely publicized night in July when she says she was shot by the Canadian rapper Tory Lanez as they left a pool party in the Hollywood Hills. (Last week Lanez pleaded not guilty to felony assault charges.)
“You shot a 5’10” bitch with a .22,” she sneers in one of the few printable lines of a song that avoids mentioning Lanez by name. “I know you want the clout,” she reasons — but spares no words in scorning her abuser or in linking his actions to violence inflicted upon Black women.
“Here we are, 2020, eight months later,” she raps over an interpolation of the hard-knocking beat from the Notorious B.I.G.’s classic “Who Shot Ya?,” “And we still ain’t got no f— justice for Breonna Taylor.”
Lanez is just one of Megan’s many targets here; she also goes in mercilessly on men who lack a certain stamina in the bedroom and on fellow MCs who’ll take a photo sporting a chain, then “send it back to the jeweler.”
As its title promises, though, “Good News” isn’t bitter or vindictive — even when Megan has every right to be — but funny and full of joy. Nobody in pop right now is having a better time than she is. On this slick, fast-moving record, she keeps tossing out clever hooks and quotable boasts like those in “Work That,” which flips a flirty chorus from a vintage Juvenile track, and “Body,” in which she raps, “All my pictures been getting these n— through the quarantine.” (The Juvenile and Biggie samples aren’t the only splashy clearances on this album, which also includes recognizable bits of songs by Adina Howard, Michel’le and the Jackson 5.)
Thematically, “Good News” covers territory familiar to anyone who’s been listening to Megan since she started making noise online a few years ago. She vividly describes how much she enjoys sex and even more vividly describes how good she is at it; she enumerates the many qualities that make her a “bad bitch,” then invites us to think through why she had to go through the trouble of laying it all out.
“Buy me everything in my cart if you my boyfriend,” she tells one admirer matter-of-factly in the swaggering “Sugar Baby,” “Invest in this p—, boy / Support Black business.”
Megan’s low Texas drawl — somehow curled and stick-straight at once — is among the most authoritative voices in hip-hop, which gives her music a rock-solid center that suits her fixed subject matter.
Yet she’s also versatile enough to work through a range of styles and attitudes: yearning in “Circles” and “Freaky Girls,” both built on airy, sped-up R&B arrangements; eye-rolling in the bouncy “What’s New,” about her laughable haters; slightly irked in “Cry Baby,” a throbbing duet with DaBaby that has her instructing a lover, “Don’t f— me like that / F— me like this.”
Like Cardi B and Nicki Minaj — to name two female rappers whose pop breakthroughs helped clear a path for “Good News” — Megan is sure enough of her core skills to commit wholeheartedly to the occasional experiment. In “Intercourse,” a collaboration with the Jamaican dancehall star Popcaan, she slightly softens her delivery (if not her happily filthy language) to coast atop a glistening Caribbean groove as Popcaan croons about eating walnuts to boost his virility.
“Don’t Rock Me to Sleep” ventures even further — it’s a full-on ’80s-style synth-pop tune about a jerk who won’t stop toying with her emotions. Is Megan as effective a singer as she is a rapper? She is not.
But there’s something endearing about hearing her push herself in a song that ends with her friends telling her she seems different since she finally dumped Mr. Wrong.
“Waist snatched, ass fat, feeling real pretty,” she sings, the old gloom a memory already.
Megan Thee Stallion
(1501 Certified/300 Entertainment)