Rico Nasty dives into her complexities on Las Ruinas

The rapper’s emotional and musical versatility continues to blossom on her latest mixtape.

TONSBERG, NORWAY - JULY 13: Rico Nasty performs on stage at the Slottsfjell festival on July 13, 202...
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ByJayson Buford
Originally Published: 

“Intrusive,” the first song on Rico Nasty’s new mixtape Las Ruinas, reverberates like neon lights on a sweaty dance floor. But while the dance floor is steamy and sensual, Rico’s presence is rigid and pulsating. Her voice, screeching and ironclad, has become the cathartic calling card to Rico’s self-described “sugar trap music.” Her screaming flow is maximalist and polarizing, but it cuts through like glass, emitting pain and euphoria with equal conviction: whether it’s the angst in “Black Punk” or the unabashed joy in a song like “Gotsa Get Paid” where she screams “you bitches suck,” the emotion is always undeniable. That’s part of Rico’s charm: She can morph into different characters, either the rap rager Trap Lavigne role or the Tacobella persona, persistently delivering the humanity and longing for love.

Rico’s prolific catalog may make it feel like she’s been around for longer than she actually has. After dropping nearly a half dozen mixtapes on Soundcloud over three years, Rico signed a record deal with Atlantic Records in 2018 and dropped the mixtape Nasty shortly thereafter. Nasty garnered acclaim for its riot girl freakouts, headbanging delivery, and musical versatility, flexing legitimate rap skills with syrupy pop vocals and punk rock sensibilities. But with her official debut album, Nightmare Vacation, she began to move beyond her signature rage. Songs like “Smack A Bitch” saw her pinning her feminine aggression against herself, while “IPHONE” uses carnival-sounding production and a metaphor of social media to give a tender recollection of a toxic relationship.

If Nightmare Vacation showcased a thunderbolt of a woman who realized that she deserved love, then Las Ruinas is what happens when 2022 hits and that love still hasn’t arrived. The primal screams that Rico exhibits on this record are a form of self-medication. The mixtape is at its best when it embraces Rico’s complexities, both emotionally and sonically.

The mixtape suffers when it leans into dance without the proper balance. “One on 5” is a banal refusal to let herself be dragged down by ain’t-shit men, with its house-tinged production washing away all of her eccentricities. But “Phuckin Lady” does a better job at this, using her vocals as a buffer for the hyperpop production. She’s given a dignified entrance, writing a note to an ex-lover: “I ain’t sorry that I’m not basic/I ain’t sorry that I’m high maintenance.” For Rico, being all of her has its side effects — but she unapologetically loves herself, flaws and all. “Not so good at communication,” she admits, “but I’m good at makin’ money.”

Love is one of her many brushstrokes, and Rico Nasty keeps a multifaceted musical palette of production. For an artist who is still undoubtedly rooted in hip-hop, Rico Nasty’s music embraces hyperpop, nü metal, dance, and noise. She likes to jarringly switch things up. After the first three songs that make you want to yell at her therapist like a possessed teenager, the Tezzo Touchdown-featured “Messy,” a song about embracing one’s own imperfections, changes the riot vibe into something more singalong and gospel-like. “Skullflower” sounds like she is rapping after inhaling laughing gas before; it’s a disorienting meeting of hyperpop and dance. But Rico spends as much time with one style as she does on a song itself, as most records on Las Ruinas don’t last beyond the four-minute mark. In fact, she is most comfortable on a song like the pounding “Vaderz” with Atlanta rapper Bktherula, which ends after less than two minutes. Rico doesn’t waste time getting to the point.

Don’t take that to mean that Rico rushing through her artistic growth. Her persona is ironclad but when she cracks, she reveals the fragility of a heart-wrenching songwriter. Over the pop-punk drums of “Into the Dark,” she gets as deep in her feelings as any emo rapper out there. “Mess up my makeup so my fans don’t think I was crying before I got on stage,” she laments. “I find the ugly things beautiful, guess that explains what I am.” Meanwhile, “Easy” shows Rico being disappointed in herself for letting a lover have power over her. “Love’s supposed to be easy,” she says. To see Rico is to see a riot girl long for love. When the softer core becomes too intense to ignore and the elbow-throwing doesn’t match what you feel on the inside, all that is left is for your vocals to flutter like a paper plane going through the Baltimore harbor.