You might have heard Fever referred to as 24-year-old Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s debut album, but that’s a little formal—or maybe a little too “DTR”—for her tastes. “I feel like ‘album’ is very husband, that’s very committed, you know what I’m saying?” she joked in February, during an interview on Houston’s 97.9 The Box. “I want it to be a mixtape, like, we’re dating, we’re getting to know each other.” Husband, if you hadn’t guessed, isn’t exactly a term of endearment when it comes to Megan Thee Stallion’s music, which is gleefully libidinous, lyrically precise, and above all things polymorphously perverse. As she boasts on “Good At,” a sultry track from last summer’s EP Tina Snow, “No I ain’t committed, but I’m never lonely.”
Born and raised in Houston, Megan’s first flirtation with fame came courtesy of a 2016 cypher on which 11 local rappers were invited to spit verses over the beat from Drake’s “4pm in Calabasas.” Then 21, Megan was one of only two women in the bunch, but she showed up like the only person in class who’d done her homework. “Video begins at 1:34 and ends at 2:55,” goes the most-recommended comment on the 19-minute clip, singling out Megan’s appearance—a span of time in which the question “Who is she?” is quite efficiently answered.
In quick succession, Megan released a mixtape (Rich Ratchet) and an EP (Make It Hot), though her music traveled most widely thanks to the occasional freestyle she’d post to YouTube or her Instagram feed. The progress documented by these verses was a testament to how tirelessly Megan was working on her craft. Although recorded only about a year after that out-of-nowhere cypher, the arresting 2-minute “Stalli Freestyle” showed Megan possessing the charisma and verbal acumen of a star. “Your favorite rapper only use onomatopoeias,” she says at one point. “You don’t wanna hear it ’cause you only wanna see her.” The implication being that with Megan—as skilled on the ‘gram as she is on the mic—you’d get to have it both ways.
Diamond-tough, digitally savvy, and ever aware of the power of image, Megan came on like a Trina for the YouTube era. Still, she’s upfront about the fact that most of her formative influences—and especially her local rap heroes while coming of age in Houston in the aughts—were men. “Growing up, I’m listening to Pimp C, UGK, Juicy J, my daddy’s playing Three Six Mafia and everything,” she said earlier this year, “and I’m like dang, this would sound real cool if a girl was saying this.”
Perhaps the most crucial influence in Megan’s life, though, was a female rapper: Her late mother Holly Thomas, who, when Megan was a child, rapped under the name Holly-Wood. (Thomas was her daughter’s manager until she passed away this March after battling a cancerous brain tumor.) Megan’s mother passed down the gift of an artist’s tireless work ethic and a matter-of-fact female confidence: She brought Megan into the studio from such an early age that there was no point in Megan’s consciousness when she believed women couldn’t be rappers. “Just growing up and watching my mama in the studio, I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is normal, everybody’s mom is doing this,’” she recalled. “Everybody’s a rapper.”
That confidence is contagious on the 2018 Tina Snow single “Big Ole Freak,” Megan Thee Stallion’s joyous breakout hit. Much like the mixtape it appeared on, “Freak” is not very husband: “Suck it then look in his eyes then the next day I might leave him on read,” goes one indicative lyric. But as ever, even at her most explicit, there’s no question that Megan is the one in control. (Like Rihanna’s “Pour It Up,” one of the most striking things about the music video is the complete absence of men in the world it creates.) Vamping and twerking throughout the clip like an Instagram-era pin-up, Megan creates a woman-centric space where the only concern is her own meticulously articulated desire.
She’ll defend that territory fiercely, too. During that February radio interview, the host Madd Hatta asked Megan a question he suspected was on many of her male listeners’ minds: “Do you feel like an object? Because when most men see you, most men [are] not used to seeing a woman your height and …” [there was a brief pause during which he struggled exaggeratedly to find the appropriate words] “… built like you. So do you ever feel like an object because of this?”
Without missing a beat, Megan gave an unforgettable reply: “Well you see, men are objects to me. I’m not even thinking about what y’all thinking, I’m coming in the room with y’all on my mind. Me being sexy, I wanna do that anyway.”
She looked around the room, grinning. “Y’all’s opinion, it’s just little sprinkles. Not even the icing. It’s the sprinkles on the cake.”
Megan Thee Stallion delights in the complexity of her identity, as you can see from the wording of the second sentence in her official bio: “The seductive femcee is a full-time college student.” Indeed, as she’s been building the foundation of a successful rap career, she’s also been working towards a health administration degree at Texas Southern University. Not long after Tina Snow dropped, Megan told Billboard that her long-term goal was to open assisted living homes in her community. At the stage in her career when most artists are dreaming of mansions and cars, Megan Thee Stallion was quite possibly the first-ever rapper to tell Billboard, “I want to run [a] hospital.”
On tape, she’s just as multifaceted. Megan moves in and out of various personas: The mob-boss-like Tina Snow was a riff on her idol Pimp C’s alter ego Tony Snow—a fulfillment of her long-held dream to make music that sounded like UGK might have “if a girl was saying it.” On Fever, she’s Hot Girl Meg, the college “turn-up girl” who drinks Hennessy out of the bottle. Still, that doesn’t mean these songs are simple, radio-chasing party anthems (“I’m a real rap bitch,” she promises on the first track, “this ain’t no pop shit”), or that all this hedonism has clouded Megan’s artistic vision. Not at all: Her words are always exacting and her flow has the mechanized rat-a-tat of a machine-gun round—which, for all her love of Houston, is what most sets her apart from the drank-slurred chopped-and-screwed legacy of her hometown. “Big Drank,” the closest she comes to that vibe on Fever, isn’t so much an homage to the title beverage as it is a fed-up woman’s complaint to men who drink it too much to properly please her: “I hate when you sippin’ on that sizzurp,” she raps. “Told him, ‘Give me brain,’ and he do it like a nizzerd.”
From its blazing, take-no-prisoners opening track “Realer,” Fever leaves the ground scorched in its wake. Megan’s quick, barbed bars stab her haters before they even register that they’re bleeding: “Bitch keep talking that shit FROM YOUR HONDA,” she raps with enough venom to make an entire car company’s stock plummet. One of the record’s most playful moments, though, is the club-ready “Simon Says,” which features a cameo from Juicy J. (It’s also one of three songs he produced on Fever.) Breathlessly dextrous, Megan almost always raps like she’s got something to prove—and because she’s still working within the confines of a male-dominated industry, the unfortunate fact is that she usually does.
Megan saved some of her most lethal words for a just-published Fader cover story, in which she makes a few observations on gender double standards and the current landscape of more … shall we say onomatopoeiac mainstream rap. “Being a girl too—they criticize you harder than they criticize men,” she said. “If I was out there making little noises like [Lil] Uzi [Vert] and [Playboi] Carti be making, they would not rock with that.” It’s all there in her flow, in her grind, and the gaping difference between how seriously she took that cypher when compared with her male contemporaries. Megan Thee Stallion worked for this. But that also means that she’s so comfortable with herself and her multidimensional identity as an artist that she can make it all sound easy. It’s just one more thrilling contradiction to add to the heap: Megan Thee Stallion’s moment is here, and I still don’t think we’ve seen every side of her yet.