Despite being one of rap’s rising stars, Megan Thee Stallion had to fight to release her new project Suga. The rapper born Megan Pete emerged onto late-night TV stages and the Hot 100 in 2019 thanks to her undeniable charisma and prowess on singles “Big Ole Freak” and “Cash Sh*t.” She collaborated with stars like Khalid, DaBaby, Nicki Minaj, and Ty Dolla $ign, the latter two on the single named after her hedonistic catchphrase “Hot Girl Summer.”
However, in recent weeks the rapper has been embroiled in a legal dispute with one of her labels, former MLB player Carl Crawford’s 1501 Certified Entertainment. The full details are complex, but basically Megan seeks to escape from her current contract, signed in early 2018, and she claimed that 1501 was preventing her from releasing any additional music. The legal case is very much ongoing. After Megan received a restraining order that blocked 1501 from interfering with its release, Suga dropped on Friday (March 6), running through nine tracks in under 25 minutes. It’s not the rapper’s best work, but it depicts her developing artistry, failing at new styles while refining what she does best.
“Ain’t Equal” opens the project with an update on the rapper’s life and a reminder of her superiority. “I lost my mommy and my granny in the same month,” she intones before scolding “I know some people in my own city hating on me / And if you hopin’ I fall off you gon’ be waiting on it.” The track may not be rebuking Crawford specifically or exclusively, but she advises someone who thinks he made her career to simply “do it again.”
The first third of Suga showcases Megan’s rapping, and after a year full of recording and touring, she has never sounded better. Her delivery combines precision, personality, and punch to make verses feel like hooks. Megan is keen to remind listeners of her roots as a second-generation rapper, not a model or future reality show judge. “Ain’t Equal” continues, “It’s a difference in the bi**h who rap and the bi**h who rap for real.”
Megan’s voice swirls around each syllable, but her thick Texan accent doesn’t obscure any nuance of her emotion. On “Savage,” you can hear the pride and disdain in her voice when she raps “I don’t shop on Insta boutiques / All them lil ass clothes only fit fake booties.”
Megan flips through flows like she’s scrolling through her contacts at 3 a.m. On “Captain Hook” alone, she switches from rapid off-beat bars to hitting the downbeat hard in the hook. In the third verse, she’s falling off the last syllable of her lines like an uptempo Valee, threatening to break someone “in half like a Kit-Kat.” Fellow Texan LilJuMadeDaBeat augmented distorted kicks with the sounds of samurai swords and laser guns for one of the best beats on Suga; given that he also produced “Big Ole Freak” and “Cash Sh*t,” it’s a shame he isn’t featured more.
Midway through the project, Megan pushes her sound towards pop on two songs that build off her rap talents. The first single “B.I.T.C.H.” twists the perspective of a Tupac line, but the Helluva beat is pure post-Uzi sparkle. The hook is tailor-made for IG captions (an ongoing discourse), even if the title seems disadvantageous for pop charts. (The radio edit omits the “I” and “T,” if you’re wondering what it’s worth.)
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“Hit My Phone” features Kehlani crooning about liquor encouraging her to send risky texts as she refuses to go home alone. “Party like a vato,” Megan concurs, taking “shots of the blanco” that would knock a grown man “up out his zapatos.” The synth bass octaves are pure West Coast funk, but the Texan sounds comfortable in new territory. The barbecue-ready bounce of “Captain Hook” and “Rich” recalls Bay Area native Kamaiyah, who recently returned from a three-year release hiatus with Got It Made.
If you believe the press releases, Suga is named after a new character in Megan’s writing, a counterpart to her aliases Hot Girl Meg and Tina Snow. However, the EP isn’t drastically different enough to suggest a new persona, and the clearest hint to Suga’s character came when Megan said she’s “besties with Tina Snow” during her 2019 appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk. In the “B.I.T.C.H.” video, Megan plays both characters, sitting side-by-side in a sportscar as Tina encourages Suga. The moment of self-doubt suggests that perhaps a humble vulnerability will be Suga’s defining characteristic, until she asserts “I am that bi**h,” which is really the thesis of every Megan Thee Stallion song anyway.
Sex is still Megan’s muse, though she finds new ways to boast about pleasure. She raps “I be texting with a bi chick, we both freaky, just trying shit.” It’s a casually queer moment, and Megan raps like it’s just another hook-up.
The Houston rapper boasts about sex with the zeal of her horniest male peers, tilted to provide perspective from another gender. She demands head without promising anything further, looking to get slurped like an Icee. “Rich” is a sub-two minute slice of pimp rap in the vein of Megan’s idol Pimp C, but here she’s not even using men for their bodies, just their money. She loves a lot of zeroes but won’t tolerate losers. She’s a “rich bi**h with some rich friends / and if he buy it for me, he gotta buy it for them.”
For two-thirds of its brief runtime, Suga is Megan’s best release yet, perfectly balancing rap ability and pop craftsmanship. The EP stumbles in its last three songs by slathering the MC’s voice in unseemly Auto-Tune. What may have been an attempt to adapt to hip-hop’s mainstream instead just genericizes one of its most distinctive voices, and I mean that literally. Digitally forcing Megan’s voice into a melody on “Stop Playing” obscures the personality in her performance, though that may also stem from the plodding cadence borrowed from guest Gunna. The two rappers circle each other in the aquatic depths of the beat but never truly swim up next to each other, especially compared to the on-record chemistry Megan has shown with past collaborators like Moneybagg Yo, Maxo Kream, or Young Nudy.
The disappointment of Suga’s conclusion is compounded knowing that the beats come from bona fide legends, two from The Neptunes and one co-produced by Timbaland. The former’s choir chops on “Crying in the Car” sound like a rejected Chance The Rapper beat from 2016, unfortunately appropriate for Megan’s verses devoid of memorable imagery beyond the title. “What I Need,” produced by Timbaland and J Tabb, is just forgettable, a sex song that feels more perfunctory than pleasurable.
Despite some missteps, Suga is a solid release from a developing artist. Nothing is certain given her current legal brouhaha, but her recent statements indicate that Suga is meant to be a mere prelude to her next release. (Supposedly her hallowed “debut album,” but that same term was also used for 2019’s Fever. If you put any extra gravitas behind record label product nomenclature, I have a SXSW ticket to sell you.) It’s possible that these songs will pale in comparison to the ones the rapper has saved for the next project.
Perhaps the EP’s mere release is the real victory. Even ignoring the particularities of Megan’s 1501 deal, the music industry has frequently signed talented female rappers to major label deals over the last decade, only to let them languish in purgatory between releases. It’s a troubling pattern that’s impacted Kamaiyah, Tink, Katie Got Bandz, DeJ Loaf, even a rap-adjacent pop singer like Tinashe. (Thankfully, all these artists have been able to resume releasing music through independence or new deals, but the years of silence feel like lost opportunity, especially compared to these artists’ more prolific male peers.) True to the world-conquering spirit of her music, it’s comforting to know that Megan Thee Stallion won’t be silenced.