Megan Thee Stallion has had eeeenough to last her a rap lifetime, judging from the tone of “Traumazine,” her best, most fully realized recorded work to date.
Megan records usually drop with spirited, humorous displays of sensuality, assuredness and empowerment, with the twists in their sobriety coming exclusively as the Houston rapper takes time-outs to come down on those who’ve made life hard for her or bad for her #Hotties.
“Traumazine,” however, is made of sterner, more serious stuff — a sound of release, of letting go, of dealing with rage – with its callouts coming quicker, often subtly and ringed with tinges of sadness and disgust. On this, her official sophomore album release, Megan lets loose the tension built up from having been in a forever-seeming contract struggle with her longtime label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, to say nothing of the ongoing court case with her alleged assailant, Tory Lanez.
And yet for all of Megan’s piss-and-vinegar raps, she adds a surprisingly reserved measure of humility, isolation and dejection, too, to the ire-filled tales, deliciously contagious melodies and throbbing rhythms on “Traumazine.”
“Y’all know I always have problems with dropping my music under this label, all these games and having to go to court just to put out my art has been so stressful,” MTS wrote on Twitter as part of her new album’s announcement. “Thank you hotties for rocking with me through the bullshit WE ALMOST OUT … LETS STAY FOCUSED AND RUN THIS LAST ONE UP.”
When she’s feeling righteous indignation on songs such as the Hitkidd-produced, piano-heavy “NDA” (with lines such as “I ain’t perfect, but anything I did to any of you [N-word], y’all deserved it / You see me in that mode, don’t disturb me when I’m working”), you get hit with resentment’s every nuance. Megan is not reining in the acrimony.
Nor is Megan afraid to “get into my feelings,” put mental health first and reveal the chinks in her armor. On the pulsating “Anxiety,” after calling herself “a bad bitch” with “bad anxiety,” Megan goes on to describe the rainbow’s wealth of shades (and shadiness) that color her life.
People call me rude because I ain’t letting them try me
Saying I’m a ho ‘cause I’m in love with my body
Issues, but nobody I could talk to about it
They keep saying I should get help but I don’t even know what I need
They keep saying “speak your truth”
And at the same time saying they don’t believe
Not everything on “Traumazine” goes to the extremes of red or black.
On the house music uplift of “Her,” Megan wastes no time graphically displaying the full range of her feminine wiles with sensitive delicacy (“everything natural, actual, factual”) and raw power (“Prissy in the streets, but I fuck like an animal”).
MTS and guest rapper Key Glock make “Ungrateful” into a dramatic dialog on a concept as oblique as thanklessness with one smartly, spiteful line sticking out (“You would never be you if I wasn’t your muse”) before going for the throats of “fake-ass, snake-ass, cake-ass, hating-ass, no money getting-ass” former associates. When Megan cuts you out of her life, you’re done with no second chances, muse or not.
Name features such as those from punk-rock princess Rico Nasty (“Scare“), Dua Lipa (“Sweetest Pie”) and Future (“Pressurelicious”) are solid and impactful. But having guests don’t help settle the scores that Megan Thee Stallion has to settle, let alone raise the blood pressure on the passions she needs to expel.
These tensions are best and most brutally displayed by MTS alone, on everything from the confident, piano-plinking sensuality of “Gift & a Curse” (“A bitch like me, yeah, I know my worth”) to the ladies-love-yourself anthem of “Plan B” (with smooth-and-salty jazz licks courtesy producers Shawn “Source” Jarrett and Hitmaka) to the take-no-prisoners rant of “Ms. Nasty.”
If Megan Thee Stallion is making “Traumazine,” as she suggests, as the last effort in her long, messy label battle, she’s leaving 1501 with an epic final work, an emotional goodbye that’ll leave them (and her happy #Hotties) dumbstruck for some time to come. Even without that particular drama as text or subtext, she’s made a forward stride with a story of indignation and despondence like little else we’ve heard in hip-hop.