Rico Nasty Wants To Be Your Next Rap Superstar
"I'm working for this. I'm working so hard. It feels like I was just meant to be here."
It’s nearing the end of Rico Nasty’s sweltering Coachella set, and a circle pit has just opened up in the crowd, sending fans spiralling in all directions.
“Open this shit up!” the 21-year-old Maryland rapper commands from the stage. Everyone rushes to obey, and where only seconds before there was barely standing room, there is now a large circle of pin-balling punters, sending clouds of dust high into the tent. The gravelly dirge of Nasty track ‘Rage’ begins to bellow out from the stage, and Rico gazes out proudly over her frenetic crowd.
Barely an hour before she opens up the pit in the Mojave tent, Music Junkee is sitting with Rico in her trailer backstage, helping her work through some tortilla chips and salsa. She’s dressed to kill: A glittering silver headpiece sits on her head, and some giant angel wings sprout out of her hips. Today will mark her second time on the Coachella stage, following a blistering set at weekend one, but the nerves are still hanging around.
“It was hectic,” she tells me about last weekend. “You don’t hesitate. Shit goes wrong, don’t show it on your face. Persevere. Have fun. When the sets over, I was able to have fun. But it was all or nothing. I mean, it’s fucking Coachella.”
The set served as a bit of a victory lap for Nasty — real name Maria Kelly — who came out of 2018 having released one of the year’s best albums with Nasty. With a sound that slams together the darkest elements of punk and trap, it quickly seared its way across the hip-hop landscape — and cemented Nasty as the hottest property in the game.
Last Friday saw the release of Anger Management, an incendiary collection of tracks made with her frequent collaborator Kenny Beats. Rico snaps and snarls her way through the 20-minute record — the best showing yet of her alter ego, Trap Lavigne.
Trap Lavigne is one of three alter egos that Kelly employs – the others being the sweeter Tacobella, and, of course, Rico Nasty herself.
“Sometimes when Maria is feeling like shit, I can look at the shit that Rico is doing and say ‘I got this.'”
“I feel like I made the names because it made me more comfortable with calling shit out that I go through,” Rico explains, cracking open another jar of salsa. “I feel like all women have different personas, and they probably don’t give names to them. But you have your sexy persona, you have your persona where you’re around your kids, or your family, or your mum, you have your persona when you’re around your bitches, and you have your persona when you’re at work and you’re in business mode.
“I just feel like I put names to mine. And I just brought them to life to make me go harder, because sometimes when Maria is feeling like shit, I can look at the shit that Rico is doing and say ‘I got this.'”
Apart from Anger Management, Rico’s currently working on the follow-up to Nasty — a work which she says will be a lot more vulnerable and intimate than her previous albums. “I’m not just screaming the entire time,” she jokes. “I talk more about real life shit that I have been going through.”
Rico’s been upfront about that real shit throughout her rise. In 2015, her best friend Brandon tragically died of an asthma attack — just months before Kelly would give birth to their child together. The experience threw her mental health sideways, and she’s spent the last few years patching herself up, crafting herself into the indestructible role model she once needed. She hasn’t shied away from discussing it openly, but she says it’s come at a price.
“I feel like once you say out loud to the public that you’re depressed, they don’t imagine that you could ever heal. And I hate that,” she says, her demeanour shifting from polite to rankled. “Because you have good days. I would never want to have a good day and someone’s like, ‘Bitch, you supposed to be sad.’
“I went through grief, I went through a lot of fucking shit, and it was a point where I’m still sad and people are like, ‘Damn, you still not over it?’ I think sometimes it’s best to keep things private, because it’s just like a relationship with yourself. So, treat yourself with some type of respect, and don’t just give your business out to everybody, because some people don’t really care about you getting better.
“They forget that you’re a human being, that you have good days, that you have bad days, that you say some shit that you probably won’t mean.”
“That’s one thing I learned about the internet, and just the general population. People, they think they care for a couple minutes, but then they forget that you’re a human being, that you have good days, that you have bad days, that you say some shit that you probably won’t mean, and they just…It’s messy.”
But Rico trusts in her famously devoted fanbase to have her back. Her shows are tight-knit and proudly inclusive — and nearly always it is young women pushing themselves to the front of the pack.
“It’s so important for me to build that community — but one thing that I love about my fans, something that is so special to me, is I don’t have to tell them to be a family, to be prominent, in the front. They push their fucking way through,” she says. “They get what the fuck they want. Those are my bitches. I love them. They go fucking hard.
“They make a wave. They’re always super vibrant, and I really thought it was super fire last week, being here and seeing my fans right there. There was the VIP section, but I could see my fans, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.'”
A knock at the door signals it’s time for Rico Nasty to get moving. She has another pit to open.
Anger Management is out now through Warner Music Australia.
Jules LeFevre is Junkee’s Music Editor. She is on Twitter.