Courtesy of the artist
Given the place she’s been currently, it ought to come as no shock that Megan Thee Stallion has chosen to dispense with pleasantries on her new album. The ferocity of Traumazine begins with its cowl, which exhibits her visage in an emotive triplicate paying homage to Cerberus, the three-headed hellhound of Greek mythology. In Dante’s Inferno, Cerberus resides within the Third Circle of Hell with the gluttons, the place he “rends the spirits, flays, and quarters them.” As an executioner, Megan is extra exact. On the Rico Nasty collaboration “Scary,” she renders each her lyrical and bodily kind as a foreboding omen for her detractors: “Say my title like Candyman, and bitch, you realize I am there / These hoes want they noticed me after they lookin’ within the mirror.”
Megan can also be used to being the life of each get together. Her bawdy, unabashed 5’10” presence rapidly received her devoted followers, and as her star rose she engaged in rowdy revelry with these loyal supporters at famed roving areas known as “Hottie Events.” She was so wanting to please that base — the followers who helped elevate the carnal slow-burn “Huge Ole Freak,” from her 2018 EP Tina Snow, into her first bona fide hit — that she continued to carry out because the good-time gal that they had come to like at the same time as she entered what could be essentially the most traumatizing years of her life. The place her debut studio album, 2020’s Good Information, clanged towards the general public consciousness of that turmoil, Traumazine leans into it: making house for ruminations and grief, managing the swirling feelings produced by years of acrimony and cathartically letting them rise to the floor. In reaching for a extra confessional mode, she reaffirms her dedication to speaking her speak.
At her greatest, Megan is a lyrical virtuoso who brings movement and menace to her self-reliant songs, crafting modern rhyme schemes that each thrill and tantalize after which coating them in her seductive Houston drawl. She bares her enamel on the opening observe, “NDA,” weaving out and in of Memphis producer Hitkidd’s hi-hat heavy manufacturing to make mincemeat of multi-syllabics: “They take all of the hate that they acquired for me they usually promote it / Once they shit ain’t poppin’, they usin’ Megan for advertising /They usually ain’t acquired sufficient in they finances for me to speak to them.” “Ungrateful,” that includes Memphis rapper Key Glock, is in dialog together with her cult-favorite “Nonetheless Tippin’ Freestyle” — doubling down on the whiplashing flows of that verse, she swings her bars across the highs and lows of the melody. The convenience with which Megan navigates collaborations with producers and rappers from Memphis solely reinforces the strains of the one-time Three 6 Mafia member Gangsta Boo in her DNA. On “Who Me,” she corrals Pooh Sheisty, one other Memphis native, into kind round skipping drums whereas she quips, “I really feel like Biggie, who shot you? However all people know who shot me, bitch.”
Trauma is cyclical, particularly when you’re pressured to course of it earlier than the world. Megan’s string of accomplishments — three Grammy wins, two chart-topping data and a university diploma — has been stymied by a collection of misfortunes. In 2019, her mom, a stabilizing determine in her life, died from mind most cancers. An ongoing dispute together with her label, 1501 Licensed Leisure, has sophisticated her profession. However most pressingly, in 2020, she was shot in an incident involving the rapper and singer Tory Lanez, and the near-constant refutation of her model of occasions, in each the courtroom and the court docket of public opinion, has been an apparent drain of her power. Within the songs of Traumazine, she reckons with these occasions by probing at her personal emotions, by returning to acquainted haunts, and by reaffirming her abilities as one in every of rap’s bar-for-bar heavyweights.
The extra introspective tracks, like “Anxiousness,” carry out a form of sleight of hand, expertly utilizing upbeat manufacturing to cowl darker materials: “If I may write a letter to Heaven / I might inform my mama that I shoulda been listenin’/ And I might inform her sorry that I actually been wildin’ / And ask her to forgive me, ‘trigger I actually been tryin’,” she raps. It is a courageous choice to reveal her wounds, metaphorically or in any other case, as she has skilled repeated recriminations for that selection. However on this occasion, she will not be looking for to exonerate herself, however providing perception, exhibiting that even one in every of rap’s most self-confident ladies will be affected by the deepest insecurities. “Not Good” and “Plan B” dispense with the pretense of easing a listener into her frustrations, launching instantly into the depths of what really feel like venting periods in a personal journal: expletive-laden, unrestrained and uncouth.
For individuals who have lengthy clamored for Meg to return to the charmingly commanding Cunning Brown-meets-Pimp C character work of Tina Snow, there may be loads of the sample-heavy, raunchy and nonchalant music that outlined that period. This reset is exemplified by “Consistency,” which makes use of a pattern of The Isley Brothers’ “Between the Sheets” as cushion for breezy, brazen raps tailored for a late-night Instagram Tales caption. “Ms. Nasty” is a brief and pithy return to erotic kind, whipping her phrases round with the power of a lyrical domme. She playfully takes the reins of the beat, which bucks like a mechanical bull, as a transparent demonstration of her simple management: “P-I-M-P, put it in my pocket / If it ain’t ’bout my cash or me nuttin’, we ain’t talkin’.”
At a prolonged 18 tracks, a few of the album’s efficiency will get diluted by extra inert moments. Its formulaic and unmemorable lead single, “Pressurelicious,” showcases Future at his most asynchronous. “Sweetest Pie,” which caps the album, is an abrupt tonal shift, and appears to serve little goal past guaranteeing a streaming-inflated RIAA certification on the expense of cohesion. Equally, “Star” is an surprising and awkward intermission from Megan’s extra aggressively raunchy melodies.
However for each swing and miss, there may be additionally an announcement. Regardless of Meg’s speedy ascent into popstar standing, she at all times roars the loudest for the hometown that molded her, helped craft her sound, and continues to face beside her. The Juicy J-produced “Southside Royalty Freestyle” stands out as an ode to the Third Coast, inserting Megan amongst Houston mainstays Sauce Walka, Lil’ Keke and Screwed Up Click on’s Huge Pokey. “It takes 10 feminine artists to make a Megan Thee Stallion,” Sauce Walka boasts on his outro, earlier than reminding everybody of Lil Keke’s heralded opening bars on the DJ Screw Houston traditional “Pimp tha Pen“: “I am draped up and dripped out.” The posse lower once more reconnects Megan with the hometown sound, in what appears like a seek for consolation. The reminder is important as a result of she has grown right into a pop-rap luminary, and elsewhere on the album, she stands resolutely in her popularity, as if posing for the cameras. “Her,” a paint-by-numbers dance single that beats the Azealia Bankses of the world at their very own sport, performs like an announcement of renewed goal. In its verses, Megan slyly addresses any barb or insult that may very well be lobbied at her earlier than the mud-slingers may even trouble to hit ship: “It doesn’t matter what they do or say, it ain’t no gettin’ rid of me.”
Megan joins an extended line of girls looking for company by way of music — manifesting her anger, her resentment, and her full-bodied sexuality — trying to outline herself on her personal phrases after watching the general public wrestle her story away from her, leaving her with the carnage. Listening to Traumazine brings to thoughts one other time when one of many world’s largest pop darlings tried to reclaim her energy after a high-profile abuse scandal. For Rihanna, then a celebrity within the making, the daring Rated R helped redefine her, altering her picture and setting the tone for the remainder of her profession. Whereas Traumazine will not be the transformative pop revelation that Rated R was, it’s completely a declaration, and at instances, a provocation, one in step with her freestyle breakthrough. It’s a testomony to her talent that she shows such command; it’s a disgrace that she even feels the necessity to show herself as soon as once more.