Make way for Rico Nasty
This article is taken from our special print edition Crack Magazine: The Collections, Vol. 1.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut the whole world down, Rico Nasty tapped into survival mode. Born María-Cecilia Kelly with a Taurus sun blazing on her chart, naturally the rapper was on a “health kick” at the beginning while following a routine that involved making smoothies, working on content, helping her five-year-old with homework and protecting her energy. In May, she celebrated turning 23 in quarantine at her house in Largo, Maryland. As the months have passed, Rico’s switched gears to go back to regular life, like bingeing Watchmen on Netflix, but is mostly focused on nurturing her growth.
© Brandon Bowen
Trousers: S.R. Studio
Our interview takes place via a Zoom call where Rico is spread out comfortably on a large couch, slime green pixie wig and spiked choker peaking out beneath an oversized sweatshirt and headset. Despite the circumstances, it feels strangely intimate to speak to her in this way, like catching up with an old friend that you haven’t seen in months. Before unpacking everything that’s been happening in her own life, Rico calmly lights a joint and asks how I’m doing with genuine interest. Right now she’s really into taking cold showers in the dark, as weird as she knows it sounds. She thought she got enough rest in quarantine but laughs over the realisation that she’s clearly mistaken. Rico has also learned that she’s not a morning person.
In the short span of four years, Rico has gone from local celebrity in the DMV to a global rap rock star. At a time where emo rap emerged as a product of SoundCloud, the teen mom dared to be different with a style uniquely her own – equipped with a cast of alter egos to match. Rico’s carousel of rowdy anthems are sugarcoated with the potent scent of teen spirit that sticks to memory, like her 2018 smash hit Smack a Bitch. Now, she’s struggling to capture that same energy. “It’s been hell, everything has changed,” she sighs. “During quarantine it was very hard to try and go in the studio and make music with a good enough vibe because life was weird, even besides coronavirus. There was a lot of stuff going on around racism. As an artist, wondering, ‘What is music going to do right now? People don’t want a bop’. That in itself made me feel like, ‘Well, what can I do? What can I do differently?’”
Coronavirus is dangerous enough as it targets the most vulnerable and marginalised demographics across the globe, but the violent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, Elijah McClain and so many more have only escalated rising tensions in America. Among many systemic issues, the racial uprising amplified the conversation around misogynoir and how the lives of Black women continue to be sacrificed in the fight for progress. The rap and hip-hop scene has been no better with a handful of recent incidents that further demonstrated the divide within the community during a revolution.
When J. Cole had the audacity to check Noname for her methods of activism on a new track, he was rightfully dragged for his ignorance. (Rico is quick to praise Noname for being a “smart Black woman”.) Then came Megan Thee Stallion’s trauma from an altercation in July, where she was allegedly shot in the foot by Tory Lanez, which sparked memes instead of outrage, followed by Azealia Banks’ mental health crisis that called for the same empathy granted to Kanye West during his ongoing struggles. Every case has served as a painful reminder of the persistent disrespect, degradation and violence that Black women face when no one is willing to protect them from harm.
© Brandon Bowen
Trousers: S.R. Studio
“There are some things in life you've got to prepare for, you have to be ready for people to say shit to you, and not like what you're doing and disagree with you”
As a mother, Rico is always thinking about how she’ll go about conducting these types of conversations with her son, Cameron. Rico insists that this toxic environment is nothing new in the hip-hop world. “Being a female rapper coming into this, if [misogynoir] is something that you weren’t prepared to deal with, or at least had in the back of your mind that would happen, then I just don’t even know what to tell you,” she says. “There are some things in life you’ve got to prepare for. You have to be ready for people to say shit to you and not like what you’re doing and disagree with you.”
Often women of colour in the spotlight will be applauded for their “outspokenness” when they raise awareness for social injustice. But the reality of the situation is that they, and so many others that came before them, have been talking about these problems their entire lives – this is simply the first time that white people are in a position where they are unable to avoid listening to the collective cries.
“When you’re a Black girl and you speak up against something or show any type of passion or emotion, then it’s like, ‘Oh look, this bitch wants attention.’” Rico explains. “We always get the short end of the stick with that, but I think the awesome part about it is that we don’t ever take no for an answer and whatever message we’re trying to get across we do it regardless of how anybody feels about it.”
Rico makes a point of listening to others and educating herself. As she says, “sometimes you just have to learn when to speak up and when to just learn”. Having grown up between Baltimore and Prince George’s County, Rico is no stranger to living in a politically-charged environment, but she’s also aware that her loyal fanbase of fellow Gen Zers look to her, and prefers to form her own opinions before influencing theirs. Waving her hands dramatically, she puts it simply: “Let me open up a book because I can’t have this cult following of people believing in something that’s not something I believe in.” Similar to most of her peers in this particular age bracket, Rico worries about the toll of “cancel culture” and even in the midst of this global crisis, she’s been doing her homework – finding the time to read Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, a book that’s teaching her “to not take everything so personal”.
© Brandon Bowen
Rico isn’t trying to be perfect, but still strives for authenticity. With a music industry notorious for pitting women against each other, she refuses to be another pawn in the system. When she came across Flo Milli, a rising rapper who went viral last summer with Beef FloMilli, Rico immediately reached out to link up and build a meaningful relationship. It’s indicative of an artist who feels she has a responsibility to uplift other women, in the same way that someone like Rihanna has done for her through career opportunities like Savage x Fenty ambassador deals, invitations to NYFW shows and exclusive interviews for Rihannazine. Her voice cracks while she gushes about how these special experiences have made her feel seen by her ultimate idol.
“When you’re a Black girl and you speak up against something or show any type of passion or emotion, then it’s like, ‘Oh look, this bitch wants attention’”
© Brandon Bowen
This fall, Rico is expected to release her long-awaited debut album, Nightmare Vacation. She finished the project a week before the world turned upside down, and hopes it’ll provide inspiration to people feeling trapped by the crisis. “While listening to the project, I want [my fans] to think ahead about how bright the future could be,” Rico beams. True to her distinct style, it’s full of twists and turns across rap, rock, pop and punk. While we are officially entering a new era of Rico Nasty, her sonic evolution makes room for nostalgia as well as futurism. There’s a nod to the noughties with “a little bit sexy and a little bit rawr” thrown in on tracks like Come Over where she trades her signature screaming for singing. As a whole, the album showcases a versatile rapper who continues to change like the seasons. After all, coming up at the peak of SoundCloud’s emo rap boom, Rico made her mark with a sound that felt fresh and multifaceted – with a line-up of alternate personas dubbed Tacobella and Trap Lavigne.
© Brandon Bowen
Jacket and skirt: LRS
Belt: Ann Demeulemeester
Earrings and rings: AI Studio
Like every other person who has been hunkered down for the past six months, Rico misses travelling, seeing familiar faces and doing ordinary things outside the house. Most afternoons in lockdown feel pretty intense, but on the day of this interview she’s excited. The Dylan Brady-produced single IPHONE has finally dropped after months of fans begging for it. “I feel a weight lifted off my chest,” she says with a grin. It’s only been a few hours, but the comments section for the music video is flooded with praises hailing it as a “cultural reset”. She’s also had a bountiful summer of hit collaborations such as the 100 Gecs remix for ringtone featuring Charli XCX and Kero Kero Bonito, along with Kali Uchis’ Aquí Yo Mando.
“If an artist ever wanted me to get on the song and they have a specific way that they want me to sound, I don’t feel like that’s a true collab,” Rico say. “I always look for somebody who is gonna give me room to be myself.”
Although still only 23, Rico is accustomed to making room for herself. Her resilience and focus has already taken her well beyond wherever she imagined she’d be when she decided that she wanted to be a rapper in the eighth grade. Now, her eyes are on the future. “I’m looking forward to dropping a lot of music and hopefully never going through a time like this again,” she says. “I’m looking forward to whatever this new world is about to be like.” Even though the pandemic has brought unexpected challenges to the surface, it’s nothing that the rapper can’t handle. Besides, Rico is more preoccupied with leading by example.