Rico Nasty: Nasty Girls
“Do you want to see a picture of my car?” Maria-Cecilia Simone Kelly, aka Rico Nasty, aka Tacobella, aka Trap Lavigne, reaches over the table and starts scrolling through the thousands of photos on her phone at lightning speed. Her wide eyes are ringed with red makeup and peek out from behind a mesh veil attached to a black beret. She’s wearing a plaid blazer and skirt, and big black boots. She looks like a cross between an anime character, a mall goth, and Cher from Clueless.
We’re in a hotel in Berlin’s Mitte district, mere hours before she is set to take the stage for her first ever appearance in the German capital, and Rico is anything but nervous. She flicks past some photos of her two-year-old son, Cameron (“I have your name tattooed on my body!” she exclaimed when I introduced myself minutes before). Finally she locates a stunning picture of herself striking a pose in front of a massive slime green, neon Audi. It’s so bright and colourful, it looks straight up lifted from a video game, or the final street race in a Fast and the Furious movie. “I bought it with cash off of rap money,” she says proudly. “It was a fucking deal. I took a picture in front of it because it was my first big purchase. When I got any type of money I was like, ‘I’m gonna get me an Audi!’”
© Michelle Helena Janssen
All clothing and accessories: Stylist's own
Trivial as it may seem, Rico’s car offers a tiny insight into why, at the age of 21, she has gone from Soundcloud bedroom rapper to one of the most talked-about new players in hip-hop, with her expertly balanced mix of ultra-glossy aesthetics and aggressive trap. While most of her contemporaries rap about your traditional luxury vehicles – your Lambos, your Ferraris, etc – Rico chooses a more leftfield, niche way to flaunt her status. “Ain’t no bitch in me bitch, come proper/ In an Audi going fast, you behind us,” she raps on 2017’s woozy and wild Poppin, the closest thing she’s had to a crossover hit so far. It seems as if Rico has already run through several lives as a rapper for the short time that she’s been in the game, and has confidently landed in a lane all her own, fluorescent whip and all.
Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Maryland, Rico has already packed a lifetime’s worth of experience into her young adulthood. Her parents sent her to a boarding school at age 12, where she was expelled for smoking weed; she created the alter ego of Rico Nasty soon thereafter, repurposing a playground taunt regarding her Puerto Rican heritage; she tragically lost Cameron’s father to a severe asthma attack before she even knew she was pregnant, giving birth to her son at the age of 18. A lot of the time, the flipside of growing up fast is the self-reliance that comes with those kind of intense life lessons. “The kickoff was the idea of just being that young and doing music, and just blowing people’s minds, for real,” Rico explains when I ask her about where she found the determination to begin rapping at such a young age.
Rico dropped her debut mixtape, Summer’s Eve, in 2014. Listening back to it now, it’s like watching a butterfly hesitantly emerge from its cocoon. All the elements of Rico Nasty are there, but muted, softer, finding their footing. “When I put my music out, I got in a lot of trouble because I was skipping school to go record and stuff,” she says of the early days. “I got like, two offers for shows, but I’m 15, so my mom is like, ‘Get the fuck outta here, you’re failing school and you think you’re gonna go be a fucking rapper? Like, you are not motherfucking Willow Smith, take your ass to school and stop playing!’ So that’s what I did. I graduated high school, and didn’t start rapping again until a year later. But it was like I never left.”
“Legends always came with the flavours. They were able to reinvent themselves”
© Michelle Helena Janssen
Hat: Emma Brewin
Coat: Monster Coat Club
Bikini: Stylist's own
Boots: Stylist's own
Since then, not satisfied with just being another rapper vying for clout online, Rico has created an entire mythology around her persona. One that serves to both leave an indelible mark on current hip-hop culture, and form a deeper understanding of her music for her fans. She calls her music “sugar trap” (Sugar Trap and Sugar Trap 2 are also two of her recent mixtapes). In addition to Rico’s gutterral rhymes, she also inhabits Tacobella (her more feminine incarnation for her softer, more sensitive songs) and Trap Lavigne (her neo-emo, punk-inspired persona). Listening to each persona, you could almost believe these tracks were written by a completely different artist.
“I feel like for the whole aesthetic, it should be a different personality, in order for people to visualise it better,” states Rico when breaking down her multiple identities. “When the Spice Girls came out, that shit was so fire, because you got so many different flavours. I feel like part of why people are legends is because they always came with the flavours. They were able to reinvent themselves. From being around a bunch of girls, I’ve realised that we all have multiple personalities. We have that one person you are when you’re with your man, and then there’s that one person you are when you’re with your family, and then there’s that one person you are when you’re with your friends. I just put labels on those personalities that people have inside of them already.”
© Michelle Helena Janssen
Hat: Emma Brewin
Sheer bandeau: Jean Paul Gaultier
Dress: Poster Girl
Gloves: Stylist's own
Fur: Zizi Donohoe
Choker: Issey Miyake
Silk blouse: Escada
Snakeskin two-piece: Stylist's own
Snakeskin boots: Patrick Coxx
And yet, Rico recently found herself at a new crossroads, one where Taco and Trap and maybe even Rico could all be potentially recast. Nasty, Rico’s latest mixtape and the music she’s been promoting on her European tour, is a melting pot of every genre she’s flirted with over the past five years. Tracks like Countin’ Up echo the late 90s golden era of TLC and Missy Elliott, while Rage and Trust Issues percolate with such white-hot boldness, they might be some of the hardest tracks Rico has put out to date.
“I’m not afraid of my voice anymore,” she says seriously. “Before, when I’d be making tapes, when I listen to it I’m like ‘Fuck, I don’t like the way I sound’. I don’t like these songs but I made it because that’s what a ‘female rapper’ should sing like, this is what she should talk about, and you gotta have those songs in order to be a female rapper and blah blah blah. Fuck that shit! The new music I’m working on is just how the fuck I feel. I’m not trying to adapt to what’s cool anymore. I know what I am and what I sound like.”
This is the message of Nasty. Just like being the only girl in town with a green Audi, she’s an artist that has fiercely carved out her own niche, if only by virtue of being herself. “I feel like it doesn’t matter what beat you’re on or whose song it is, if Rico Nasty is on it’ you know it’s Rico Nasty, because of my voice. I’m done trying to put autotune on it, or make the shit sound pretty. Tacobella is dead, there ain’t no more pretty because I don’t want to be pretty! Look at my makeup!” she suddenly exclaims, motioning to the red and black swirls around her eyes. “I’m not pretty, I’m just whatever I want to be that day, you know what I’m saying? This new music is just raw.” She flashes a big grin. “It’s the Rico they’ve all been waiting for.”
Photography: Michelle Helena Janssen
Art Direction: Ade Udoma
Styling: Rhiannon Barry
Styling Assistant: Valeria Charmpani
Makeup artist: Scott Osbourne Jr. & Mata Marielle
Hair: Gina Nipah
Nasty is out now via Sugar Trap