Rico Nasty On Gender Fluidity, Punk Music & Nasty Moments

Rico Nasty’s a distinctive character in the world of hip hop. Over the past year and some change, it feels like we’ve seen much more female emcees emerge onto the scene and Rico is one of the ladies at the forefront. She built a dedicated following through the years with the six projects she’s released, including her major label debut, Nasty.

Nasty, much like her last two projects, shows a different side of her artistry. Her sound’s refined and her punk-rock influence is as evident as ever. We recently got on the phone with Rico Nasty and she got in-depth with us about motherhood, alter-egosJoan Jett’s impact and the nastiest thing she’s ever done.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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HNHH: Congratulations on signing to Atlantic and releasing your new mixtape. How does it feel to finally release Nasty?

Rico Nasty: I was actually just watching Teyana Taylor’s interview where she’s talking about listening to the debut version of shit. Like listening to the unmixed shit and I was really excited for this project to drop because I had bonded with a lot of the songs that were like the unmixed versions. It was really cool to seeing [Kenny Beats] go back in there and perfect all the shit that I was like, shaky about. It was my first project where I was like, where I felt like one of my fans. I didn’t want to listen to the tape until everything was completely done. It was so weird, I was always like okay, checking back with everybody. It was cool, though.

You have Tacobella that’s your more melodic side and then you have Rico Nasty, who’s the rapper. How did you approach Nasty while bringing out both alter-egos throughout the project? 

I feel like the songs came out at different times. Like, “Bitch I’m Nasty” had came out around “Smack A Bitch” era. Like when I recorded, “Smack A Bitch,” that’s around the time I made “Bitch I’m Nasty.” And a lot of the other songs like “Hockey” was made in like April, around like 4/20 and shit. I feel like the balance was being patient and allowing myself to go through different phases and go through different periods of time and kind of mesh together. Instead of having a project built over like… I usually work on a project for like three months. That’s how long it took me to do Tales Of Tacobella and Sugar Trap 2. But with [Nasty] it took like, damn near like more than half a year. I fuck with that because you could hear the growth alone on the tape.

So you work fast in the studio?

Yeah, I could make like eight songs a night. There not all like bangers. You know, it takes me like two songs to actually warm up and get my voice up to, you know, growling like that. It’s really crazy how I have to develop myself in the studio in order to get that raspy voice and get that party tone that I guess everyone fucks with. Like I never get it on the first song. First song is usually like the singing song, for some reason. I don’t know, I’m weird as fuck! I’ll go through three different genres and then I’ll be like “yo, let me do a Chingy beat, real quick.”

Even with your fashion and your vocal tone, there’s that intensity and that raspiness that you often times hear in punk music. Where does that influence come from?

For real, for real. It came from Joan Jett. I remember, the first time I had heard her song or a remake by her, because it was in a movie, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t her actual song. I heard her song, I loved it, made my mom buy me the soundtrack and I just remember like Joan Jett. I remember Joan Jett and like [thinking] that’s a guy. I remember thinking that shit and then YouTube came around, I was like “Aw yeah, I’mma listen to Joan Jett.” And I was fucking flabbergasted to find out it was a girl. I think I was a superfan. That’s when I started learning about the Sex Pistols, David Bowie and like, The Smith’s. I just went full-fledged because I had never heard nobody do that.

You know, at that time — the time when YouTube really came out — that’s when Nicki started popping and shit. And I remember feeling like I’m not girly enough to listen to her. Eventually, when I was like 15, of course I’m listening to “Itty Bitty Piggy” and shit like that. When I was younger, like 13, [I was listening to] Joan Jett, Blondie, it was all about the dark girls. I listened to Paramore, I listened to Avril Lavigne, but it was really [Joan Jett] that put me onto that shit. And it’s another reason why I embrace being as androgynous as I am. ‘Cause I’ve always been there. I’ve always been a Tom Boy, a girly girl, whenever I want to be. It’s really important that I represent that because I feel like there’s a lot of girls that’s like that too. And when you hear Rico Nasty, like bruh, I see mothafuckas like, “That’s a girl? That’s a fuckin’ girl?” That shit is lit to me. Being fluid like that in the rap game right now is fucking crazy because a lot of people are like you could only be a girly girl or you could only be like, you know, full fledged “I want to be a guy.” That’s how they be treating us. And we’re all different. We all be having days when we want to be a tomboy or be a tomgirl. And rough bitches, they that. They go fuckin’ hard. And then they’ll be like sexy and like, I don’t know, serious. It’s just something about them. I fuck with it.

I was wondering with the alter-egos that you have, Rico Nasty and Tacobella, how does that impact your perspective while you’re in your creative zone?

To me, it’s really good as an artist to have alter-egos. I don’t want to say that everyone gotta build [one] but I see a lot of girls tryna build up their alter personalities and shit like that but for me, it was like a coping mechanism to get over writers block in the studio. Because, you can’t always write from one perspective. I can’t always write from the heavy metal, “Rage,” “Trust Issues” type perspective because I’m not in that mood everyday. That’s why I give my fans songs like “Rojo” and tapes like Tales Of Tacobella because I know that no one that’s healthy is in that state of mind all day. Unless they crazy, that’s some party animal shit [laughs]. They want to hear that range and a lot of times, to do that, I have to speak from a more girly perspective. I have to like dig deep, I have to call her out like “Okay, Tacobella,” like really dig deep and really be like, “This is what I’m going for in the studio.” When I want to rage and be upset and do all that other shit, that’s more like Rico Nasty. That’s more like when my session is at like 3 a.m. and I haven’t slept because I’ve been doing press all day. Or like, when I’m fuckin’ like beefin’ on Twitter. Like the goofy shit, you know what I’m saying? I guess they like that shit ‘cause it gets you fuckin’ going. But the other shit is far more easier to make.

You have a very unique creative process. I haven’t heard of a whole lot of people who channel different personalities to tap into different perspectives. It’s almost like performance art to an extent.

Yeah, my momma always told me I live like three lives. I’m 21 now, shit but I got a baby, you know, I done lived through like some fucked up shit so you know, for me, it’s like a coping mechanism too to not like, get stuck on one thing. ‘Cause you know, when you listen to songs like “Smack A Bitch,” and like “Poppin,” and “Key Lime OG,” like those songs came from a place of freedom. Like that shit came from a place of like something that I haven’t felt in so long. I don’t know, I think that just being yourself, for real, wanting to know about yourself and wanting to remember like “Damn, who was the first guy I had a crush on,” you know what I’m sayin’? “Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about how I felt about that. Or let’s talk about the first time I ever got money. What did I buy? I bought a car. Okay. Rojo.”

I really do plan it. Sometimes, I feel like a lot of artists nowadays don’t like plan their shit. And put the hidden messages in their to, you know, be like cliffhangers for the next song and shit like that. I don’t think they do that. I look at this shit like a story. Like one day, twenty years from now, some woman gon’ have the new iPod, the new iPhone, whatever, and they gon’ listen to my whole discography. I want it to be somethin’ that they like “wow, she talked about this and then she mentioned it again and then…” you know what I’m sayin’? ‘Cause that’s how I look at the greats. That’s how we all look at the greats, if you could look at they shit like, “Wow, they really gave you the same thing in different ways most the times.” Fuckin’ legendary.

How did you dial into that more grungy/punk sound as opposed to the sugar trap sound you had on the previous two projects?

Shout out my producer, man. Shout out Kenny Beats. Shout out to Kenny for bringing that shit out. And shout out to my manager. It was a lot of testosterone in the room when this tape was made. I had a lot of guys around me being like “GO THE FUCK OFF, BITCH! YOU BETTER GO CRAZY. YOU BETTER EAT THESE BITCHES ALIVE.” Like, that’s what they’re telling me as I’m trying to write my verse. So like, that shit really helped to egg me on. The other tape, I was a younger artist so when people wanted to come to the studio, I be like, “Nooo, I want to be in here by myself.” I was weird as fuck. And this tape, I feel like I had more guidance. I had an A&R. Shout out Eli. He helped me find beats and he helped me set up these things with producers and stuff like that. That shit really helped like a lot with getting that full blown Nasty sound.

It was so crazy because I thought people were going to expect it to be nasty like I’m talkin’ about sex. But it was really about explaining me. I was just explaining myself throughout that whole tape.

Were there any particular artists you were listening to while you made Nasty? I know you mentioned that Joan Jett introduced you to punk but were you revisiting these artists while you were making the project?

I listened to a lot of Toro Y Moi when I made Nasty. I listened to a lot of like the drums and really nothing that had to do with rock, like hard rock, or hip hop. Honestly, for this tape, I was listening to the different edits of the songs that are on the tape or I wasn’t listening to music at all. When I’m in tape mode, I try to limit the other music I’m listening to because you know, there’s times I go into the studio and I’m tired as fuck and I make a song and I’m like, “Oh shit, this sounds like melody from like a rock song I listened to.” I’m like, “Okay bitch, you bitin’.” So I like to keep my mind clean and try not to listen to anyone other than like my older stuff, I guess.

So you don’t let anything influence the sound your aiming for, right?

Yeah, ‘cause my dad is a musician. He was a rapper. He always told me that it’s not good to consume everyone elses work ‘cause then you won’t be able to appreciate your own. That’s just artist cocky ass shit that he told me when I first started rapping [laugh]. ‘Cause when I first started rapping, he’s like I sound like you know, young n***as and I used to curse hella so you know, he used to give me wise words on that shit and it stuck with me. Like, that’s just my creative process. In order to keep this sound the way it is and authentic and not really change it with all that’s changing around me, I really do gotta sit down and be in my head.

I’ve heard you mention your dad in previous interviews and said that he was a rapper that went on tour with Jadakiss. What was his reaction when you first told him about your deal with Atlantic and all your success?

Before I signed to Atlantic, I had other deals. So I was kind of like going up to my dad like “Hey like what the fuck does this mean? What does that mean?” And he an old head, so he was like “Iight, I’m about to plug you.” And he gave me this lit ass lawyer. He just be dealin’ with some chill shit. I don’t really like to involve him too much in my music shit ‘cause like, that’s my dad. And if I ever wanted to like, pick a term for the worst and started rapping about poppin’ my pussy, I don’t really want his hands in that. I don’t really want him to have nothin’ to do with that [Laughs]. I don’t want his friends like, “Ummm… that’s your daughter?” That’s just weird, in a sense. I don’t know, I’m pretty weird when it comes to my dad and the music. Like, he’ll hear a few songs but he’s only come to like two shows, I think. I don’t really involve my parents.

My mom is funny. She’s like really in the motions of what’s going on right now. Everytime some cool shit happens, she’s the first one to call me. Always. It’s fuckin’ weird. Like it’s so weird. She called me when Wiz Khalifa followed me and posted me on his story at like 2 in the morning. I’m like, “How the fuck?!” She fuckin’ called me when Rihanna liked my picture. Like she be in the shit. She be like, “Oh my Gawwd!” and be so excited for every little thing. When she found out I was going to the BET Awards, she was like ‘WHAT?!’ She’s like super dramatic. I love my mom.

Your family seems super lit.

I feel like the baby made them lit. They got a grandchild so they’re content right now. They got a grandchild, I’m doing my thing. I’m not out here wildin’ out. Makin’ my own money, I don’t gotta worry about me. You know, shit like that. I feel like its a load off they back. It kind of allows them to like me ‘cause in high school, they did not like me. My parents were like, “GET THE FUCK OUT! GET OUT!”

I feel like most parents are like that when their kids are in their teenage years. But despite the adversities you’ve faced, you really made it.

I don’t even like to be like “I really made it” but like compared to the people in my family, I feel like I’m starting something. I’m inspiring a lot of my cousins, a lot of my family, even my friends, like everyone around me just trying to go and get it ‘cause this shit happened out of nowhere. This shit happened out of like just wanting to find yourself. I was so lost when I had my son like bro, this shit is crazy. Like you know, I’ve talked shit about bitches getting pregnant all the through high school, haven’t we all? And I’m just like “are you fucking serious?” Like this is like the worst thing that could happen and then, it literally turned into the best thing that could’ve happened because I’m not… Before I was pregnant and when I was in high school, I was a wild bitch. I was selling drugs like I was just a wild ass lil’ girl. I was fuckin’ skippin’ school like my mother was always getting phone calls like “she didn’t come to school for two weeks.” I was wild as shit. So havin’ my son really showed me like, for one, this shit ain’t a game. This life shit ain’t a game. You can’t be playin’ with no life. You shouldn’t be playing with your life, you should take care of yourself. You should want to fuckin’ know yourself the best so that when your kid want to know you, you’re not like a fuckin’ weirdo and shit like all closed in ‘cause of the world. Like, that’s how most parents are. They like mentally fucked up and they don’t even know how to love they kids ‘cause of all the shit they done seen. That shit was very important to me and I’m very blessed that I get to be like one of the few female rappers doing this shit with a kid. Shout out to all the ones doing this shit with a kid or kids. It’s hard and it sucks leaving them but this shit lit. They be lookin’ at your videos like “Mommy, mommy!” Shit be lit.

In an interview with Fader, you said that the same people that told you to dream big told you to settle after the birth of your child. What do you imagine your life being like if you didn’t pursue music?

Well, I was working at the hospital so I would’ve just been a nurse. I would’ve just been a nurse or a pediatrician, went back to school, whatever. But, I know for a fact that rapping was what I wanted to do ‘cause I’ve always done music. When I was in high school, when I was in 10th grade, I was the only girl in Prince George — shit, I was the only bitch in Maryland who had a fuckin’ tape out. Fuck all that, I was the only bitch. And people used to come up to me and my 15-year-old ass like “Yo! You was going dumb!” N****s tryna book me for shows. I’m 15, my mom’s like “girl, get the fuck on like you already out here not going to school, you got this lil’ mixtape out.” My father [was] in jail so it’s just like… You either do the right thing, you do nothing or you do what the fuck you want. That’s my choices, that’s all I had. Do the right thing, do what you want or don’t do nothin’ at all just sit here and let this shit ruin you, take you wherever the fuck it wanna take you. And do that right thing. It’s cool like you could always do the right thing and go to college and be with that for the rest of your life but I just, I couldn’t do that shit. I couldn’t do it. Now, with having a kid and going to school, it’s like being in high school and being a fuckin’ mom like I’m good. I’ma really make everybody regret talkin’ down about anything. ‘Cause there were so many people like, “Oh my goodness! Sucks to be you.” And these are people that you think are friends. Like sayin’ stuff like, “Oh, you’re going to get fat. Your titties are going to sag.” My bounce back was legendary.

How is balancing having a two year old child with a music career? Does you son come with you on the road?

Well, like I always tell people when they ask me this: you gotta pick and choose what’s important enough to leave your house. That’s why my prices the way it is ‘cause you ain’t just taking me out the house, away from comfort, just ‘cause I’m a lazy bitch and I don’t wanna go nowhere. You’re taking me out of my house from my son, we’re watching TV, this n***a learning how to read. This is a moment I can’t miss.

As far as touring goes, my last tour was eleven days long and I’ve had recording trips longer than that. Sometimes, he comes with me. He don’t like hotels, though. That shit be funny. Sometimes, he be in the hotel tryna like leave out like, “where’s the kitchen?” We’d be like in the one bedroom hotels. He be funny as shit.

I don’t want to tell nobody that I’m taking him on the road because then people gon’ be on my chart, trying to find my baby or some weird shit. I don’t know. My fans really love him and they never get to see him so at this point, I rather just keep him away from them. [Laughs]

What was the most memorable studio session you had while working on Nasty?

RAGE!

How did that session come about?

Well with “Rage,” if I’m not mistaken, “Won’t Change” was made right before “Rage.” Like, imagine that shit happening in a session. That’s the one. “Won’t Change” was literally made like — when I walked in the studio, I was like, “What’s up, Kenny? Cool.” We started on “Won’t Change,” I finished it. I was like “Damn, this shit hard.” And then I was like in a mood because I feel like — let me try to really remember this shit.

I feel like I only had a couple days left in L.A. and sometimes, when I be gettin’ a couple days left, I start freaking out ‘cause I’m like, “I gotta make all the songs I could make!” Because when I’m home, I don’t record. I never record when I’m home, I just write. So I’m like, “Oh my fuckin’ god, we got three days left and I still don’t have that fucking song that I want.” You know, every artist got that song that they’re just like, “I gotta do this. It might look weird as fuck but I gotta do this. I gotta ask Kenny for this. I got to tell him what I want.” So I told him I want guitar and he was like “Rico, I’m trying to get you on some different shit.” And I’m like, “guitars please.” So he plays a little riff, like you know, the intro. And then he starts building up the beat. I start building up the chorus but he didn’t know it was going to be like that. So like, I got up and I fuckin’ freaked out because I deleted the second verse by accident. My A&R was in there and everybody was trying to Google how to get shit back on Notes ‘cause yo, that shit was so fuckin’ fire and I lost that shit and I had to re-write it. So the tone of the studio got like hella dark and everybody was just kind of listening to that dark ass beat. Like, “aww man, what the fuck? Is she gonna come back? Like what the fuck just happened?” ‘Cause they heard like a little bit of what I had ‘cause I was rappin’ out loud so then, I just get up and Kenny was like “You got it?” And I’m like, “I got it but how do you scream in the studio. I don’t want to break your mic.” So he’s like, “Alright, just scream like [imitates scream]” and my high-ass get in the studio and I scream, like — I didn’t scream like that. I screamed like I was really screaming and he was like, “Oh that’s what you’re doing?! Oh iight!” He chopped up the beat, then he started adding these wild ass drops. And I’m like, “Oh, yup! That’s perfect!” And then, that shit was that. I recorded that shit in like two takes. And then I listened to it and I was like I gotta add like screaming in the back. [Kenny Beats] is like, “you’re going dumb right now like what the fuck is happening?” [Laughs]

After this, listen to “Won’t Change” and then listen to “Rage” and be like, “this bitch is crazy. Why would she make these two songs in the same night.” Like that shit was litty. But yeah, he was like it sounds good. It came out good. And I went home happy.

Right before your album dropped, you asked your fans what the nastiest thing they’ve ever done. So I wanted to ask you the same. What’s the nastiest thing you’ve ever done?

What’s the nastiest thing I’ve ever done? Hmm… I don’t even know, I done some wild ass shit, man. Uhh… I don’t know, I just talked about my mom and my kid and my dad so I’mma just try and keep this as regular as I can. The nastiest thing I’ve ever done is like trying to throw up out a window and the fucking throw up hit me in my face and I kept throwing up. [Laughs] I was trying to throw up out the window of a moving car and that shit was so wild. Oh my god, it was everywhere, it was everywhere. And I was kind just like sitting there. I didn’t tell my friends. I was that drunk and then we all got out of the car and they was like, “What the fuck? I thought you were just sticking your head out the car. Like what the fuck?” It was so gross. That’s why I don’t drink.