On a cool June afternoon, soon after I had gotten out of class, I headed into Hollywood to try and see something special. I had tickets to see Megan Thee Stallion perform on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! stage, totally free - as with all late night shows, because apparently it's difficult for working people to explain to their bosses why they're punching out at 2 PM. I moved to Los Angeles 7 months ago for this kind of opportunity - a chance to see a live performance from someone who had risen to the top in a city with essentially infinite competition - in the middle of the week.
We shuffled into the tiny Kimmel stage area with light still streaming in from Hollywood Boulevard, a nervous mass consisting primarily of young men and women of color. I'll be honest, I was there mostly because I was curious, and I think I may have showed my hand, clad in my khakis and black t-shirt, alone, and generally placid in my behavior. The rest of the audience was dressed with the theme, wearing gaudy dress, some that drew the eye, showing off curves, muscles, and thickness, some that were simply the shibboleths of culture, graphic tees on light frames, head wraps, bandannas, big hoop earrings. There was a smattering of Megan merch, but more common was a vibe that suggested that they were Megan's people, a type of laugh, a vocabulary, a tonality. There was energy there, one that was let out into conversations in a language that was born out of online culture, a dialect of references, catchphrases, and ad-libs. Loud and proud, they had made multiple passersby wonder what we were waiting in line for, a question that was asked longingly. Once the doors had closed behind us and we had been shepherded into the audience space as tightly as possible, a Kimmel producer came up to the stage. He gave us the rundown of the expectations, but also played around with us, showing off his age and Britishness by dancing for us to knowing laughter ("it's a party innit?"), imploring us to be energetic for the camera. And then, much quicker than I was expecting, the commotion started as Megan's cowboy hat appeared. It could be seen floating around the side of the audience and up the stairs to the stage. There was a beat where it all felt like it was moving in slow motion, as we took her in under the glow of the lights. I might have stopped breathing, I don't really know. She's a looming figure, her Wikipedia says 5'10", but I refuse to believe it. Her forehead and eyes were shaded by the hat, but her distinctive visage shone bright enough to see clearly. She was wearing sequined cowboy pants, torn in strategic places, and a red Houston Rockets crop top, bedazzled of course. The look was cohesive, the pants matched the hat, and their caramel color complemented the brown trim on her jersey, a conspicuous ensemble. All of which was mere sprinkles on top of the sundae that is her b- and I should probably stop myself before this gets very piggish and just say that she is not difficult to look at.
When she got up on the stage, adorned with balloons that spelled her name, it was instantly hers, for reasons that had nothing to do with the balloons. She owned it. For some reason, the Kimmel producer was still standing next to her, showing her where her cameras were, and there was a collective feeling of "get the hell off the stage", which he abided after a minute or two. Once her background singers and dancers had shuffled onto the stage, she started showing some attention to her devotees in the crowd, reacting to their professions of love and admiration with joking charm. But she soon composed herself, and got ready to perform.
Megan Thee Stallion (born Megan Pete) appeared on my radar the same way that countless other soon-to-be-famous artists have made themselves known to the world, on social media, where clips circulated of an aggressive rapper with a strong Texas accent dropping bar after bar onto our unsuspecting heads. It's the essential nature of social media that people you don't know enter your consciousness on a daily basis, a revolving door of the strange, the meme-able, and occasionally, the surprisingly talented. You never really know which of these people are actually going to break through and get the proverbial record deal, but a good indication is that they keep showing up, over and over, forcing you to learn their name. Twitter reacts in funny ways to the viral sensation of the moment, but in this case it seemed to be on the money in its general assessment that this one was special. The collective take was something along the lines of "your favorite male rapper doesn't have bars like this", and if you narrow that to up and comers, it strikes me as generally accurate. The mumble rap generation is certainly not the trainwreck older hip hop fans make it out to be, but it is seemingly lacking in vision, and more reliant on the sounds of lyrics than the lyrics themselves than previous iterations of the art form. It also is more forgiving of deficiencies in songwriting ability, allowing those who prefer to focus on the production aspect of their sound to speak loudly and come to the fore. That's not an indictment, it's just the nature of the dominant style. You just need to look at the last couple XXL Freshman Class covers to get a general idea of what the trend is here.
Perhaps that's why Meg broke through so quickly. Nobody is confused about what her message is. "I am the captain and he the lieutenant", she declares on "Big Ole Freak", a sex-positive anthem that follows her general pattern of making it clear that even if her pants are off, she's still wearing them. Of course, "quick" is a relative term, given that her first viral moment came from a cypher at Prairie View A&M back in 2013, but her rise from Instagram rapper to XXL Freshman and having her debut album chart in the top 10 has taken place on a much shorter timeline than that. Honestly, it's a good thing; she's come up quickly enough to take the reins of the culture and give us a 30 year career in music, but still has put in enough time in the gym preparing for this moment that her bona fides are in no way lacking. In a lot of ways, she is who you would come up with if you could build the next great hip hop artist in a lab.
Her mom was a rapper (a product of being in the first generation of people whose parents were into hip-hop), so the sounds of the genre have been steeping in her brain her whole life
She's from Houston, which is lacking a face for its hip hop market. Travis Scott is also in contention, but his sound isn't recognizably H-town the way that Meg's is.
Her flow is in-your-face and undistorted
She's sex-positive in a time when that's never been more popular
Her cowgirl ethos would have been the subject of ridicule even 10 years ago, but Generation Z is currently in full Yee Haw mode
That's not to imply she's an industry plant or that she's manufactured, she's anything but. And it's definitely not that she's only big because she's benefiting from the moment, because if there's any word that describes her, it's undeniable. She has a voice that cuts through the noise, confident, punching, and aggressive. She's dropped three projects in three years, not wasting any time to seize her moment. She's shown the ability to handle several styles, the drill rap that made her popular on songs like Freak Nasty, more groovy sounds like on Good At, and even the sing-rap style that has gotten so popular in the genre on songs like Best You Ever Had. You can use a lot of adjectives about her music (as I have here), but boring is definitely not one of them. The listening public is very clearly a harsher critic of women than men, so to even be at this point is probably proof enough that she's the real deal, but it goes beyond that. At this point, she is a three-dimensional in the culture, with her fanbase of Hotties and her alter ego of Tina Snow, each ubiquitous in conversations about her place in the rap game in 2019. For a while, the only ingredient that she was missing was a challenge, and soon after the release of "Big Ole Freak", she had people all over the country filming themselves twerking at gas stations to her song, hoping to earn a retweet from Queen Hottie herself.
Still, she faces one consistent criticism, that she lacks a certain versatility in subject matter. Sex and money are the dominant themes in her discography, her bread and butter, and it is time for her to move beyond them. The criticism sounds shitty coming out of anyone's mouth, let alone a random dude on the internet, given that these are the things male hip hop artists talk about on every album. And certainly, her talking about sex and money don't disqualify her from being considered a very good artist. The great ones, however, have made music that covers a much wider range of ideas. And she's already started on Fever with Big Drank, a song that ponders her distaste for men in her life drinking sizzurp. It's still couched in his ability to perform in bed, but it's the most interesting song on the second half of the album. She has the finesse and the writing skills to pull off ventures into other types of songs, and I can't wait to see it when she does.
She only did two songs for us in that studio, but it was enough to tell that she's a star. My plan coming in was to sway along to the beat of the music, taking in as much of the performance as possible so as to be able to write effectively about her, but that went out the window in less than 30 seconds. Before I knew it, I was chanting with the crowd, dancing like no one was watching, and grinning ear to ear.
I'm a Hottie now.