Lil Rap Column: Megan Thee Stallion and Slowthai | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Lil Rap Column: Megan Thee Stallion and Slowthai

With Two Fearless Debuts, Megan Thee Stallion and Slowthai Show They Are Artists Worth Believing In

May 23, 2019 By Conrad Duncan
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There was an embarrassment of riches for hip-hop fans last week-from Injury Reserve's reference-heavy Internet rap to Tyler, the Creator's auteurish "not a rap album" rap album. But it was two debuts that caught and held my attention most powerfully-both of which are fearless statements of intent from artists proudly representing their local communities.

Megan Thee Stallion and Slowthai do not immediately appear to share much in common. One produces feverish southern sex bangers, while the other explores British nationalism and working class identity. Yet, beyond their distinct contexts, both their debuts succeed for the same reason. Fever and Nothing Great About Britain are exercises in meticulous control and precise rage, defined by a local pride that brings heartfelt warmth to an otherwise intimidating collection of songs.

Megan Thee Stallion's star has been rising for a while now, partly due to a wave of sexually-explicit female rappers (CupcaKkKe, Cardi B, City Girls, etc.) and America's current obsession with southern "Yee Haw" culture. But Fever's 14 whip-smart tracks show that Megan is more than a meme or novelty star. Across these songs, it is clear that she fits into a long tradition of dirty south rappers, raised on Houston hip-hop and southern club rap.

Megan is self-aware enough to know when to not take herself too seriously, but she is undoubtedly a thoughtful student of hip-hop. If you need proof that she is more than just another Internet rapper, look to the videos of her freestyling over classic hip-hop beats, from "Big Poppa" to "Still Tippin." The sense that Megan has done her research and understands her genre is crucial to Fever's credibility. It means that when Memphis legend Juicy J appears for one of only two features on the album, it doesn't feel like a formality. Instead, it feels like her inauguration into southern hip-hop's canon.

Fever doesn't attempt to expand on the bad bitch persona Megan has created for herself over the past few years because there is no need to yet. In the same way Pusha T has built a 20+ year career by rapping almost exclusively about drug dealing, Megan consistenly finds fresh ways to turn sex raps into an artform. "N****s get stiff, they call me Medusa" and "P*ssy finger lickin' good like I mixed it with Old Bay" are a few highlights from the album. Her flow is sharp and thrilling straightforward, and perhaps most importantly, Fever's brisk 40-minute runtime is a welcome break from the never-ending rap blockbusters of recent years. As an example of a party rap album, constructed with heart and skill, it's damn-near flawless.

Northampton, England's Slowthai has a much more conflicted affection for his home and no musical legacy to uphold-there is no Northampton sound. His Britain is a dirty unfair country, filled with chancers and miserable bastards, but the title of Nothing Great About Britain is less scathing than it first appears. Slowthai's songs tell stories from a country that has lost its way and the local people who uphold its best values-its warmth, integrity, and honesty.

His affection for his country comes through in the album's reference-heavy lyrics sheet. Slowthai has no problem getting esoteric, so much so that the album's title track will be a bewildering first listen for most people outside of the UK. "Bottle of Bucky in Buckingham Palace/There's coppers from Scotland all the way down to Dagenham" is how he sets the scene. And while his persona is aggressive and mischievously villainous, he irreverently punches up and saves his most vicious attacks for the UK's Conservative government and monarchy.

Musically too, Slowthai represents a history of British music that has been often devalued by the "establishment." His reference points are early grime and garage records, with his high-pitched delivery recalling early Dizzee Rascal and his conversational style hinting at The Streets' Original Pirate Material. The result is an invigorating reinterpretation of Britishness that is forward-thinking and iconoclastic. It's a refreshing change from the thinly veiled colonial nostalgia of the leading architects of Brexit and the performatively polite centrism of the UK's pro-EU activists.

Sooner than later, the Drake era of hip-hop will come to a close. What will replace its slick PR-focused homogeneity? My hope is it will be more artists like these. Megan Thee Stallion and Slowthai may not share clear aesthetic qualities, but they do share basic values. Both artists have a strong admiration for their local community, understand the meticulous skill required to make great rap music, and value irreverence over commercial conformity. Are Fever and Nothing Great About Britain obvious smash hits? No. They are both too strange and personal for that. But they are the sort of records that will inspire adulation from fans because they generously welcome the listener into their world. With honesty and heartfelt authenticity, they are artists who create worlds that are worth believing in.

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