Rico Nasty is one of the most unapologetic celebrities I’ve met. The artist, born Maria Kelly, starts our call with a blunt held between her index and forefinger, laughing in the passenger seat. “Have we met before?” she asks. I’m bewildered for a second; did she remember me screaming her name at Rolling Loud Miami in July last year? I doubted it, but I told her, “Yes, I’ve seen you at Rolling Loud.”
She inhales the joint for a moment, then rants about how hot the concert was. “What’s even more fucked up is that I had so many different things attached to my fucking outfit,” she says. “And I remember my leg warmers melting through my skin. I was like, Please get me out of here.” I’m nodding along, adding “mhms” every few seconds. Between her son, Sam, asking for chicken nuggets and her casual interruptions—to give her driver directions or call a security guard a “hot Cheeto”—our conversation felt more like a chat between friends than an interview.
By the end of our half-hour Zoom call, I learned the most important lesson from Rico: the art of not giving a fuck. It’s not an easy one, to be fair. Even the confident and self-assured artist still struggles with shrugging off the critics. (And she’s faced a lot.) Yes, she’s been in the hip-hop and alternative rock scene since her single “Smack a Bitch” went viral in 2018, and has been releasing music for even longer than that, but being one of the few Black female artists dominating alternative music is damn hard, no matter how long you’ve been in the game.
So, what does Rico do when her confidence wanes? “You fake it and act like everything is okay,” she says. “They’ll never see you cry.” She laughs but then turns somber for a moment. After a brief pause, she adds: “You don’t care. Because when you care, it hurts. It hurts to think about how many people think I am weird. Why would I want to think about that? I just try to think about how many people think I’m cool.” (I’ll admit: I’m one of them.)
Compared to popular Black female artists like Megan Thee Stallion or Doja Cat who are dominating the mainstream, Rico stands out with her ever-changing music and edgy style. But that’s part of her brand. She isn’t afraid to experiment; her artistry revolves around trying something new. Her 2020 debut album Nightmare Vacation delved into hyper-pop and was inspired by scary movies, while her 2019 mixtape Anger Management with Kenny Beats focused on “telling a story,” she says. She even read books about primal scream therapy for it. Her new mixtape, Las Ruinas, on the other hand, focuses more on Rico and her most intimate self.
Whether it’s because she’s an artist, a Black woman, or both, Rico related to the emotions invoked in Kahlo’s drawing. So much so that she tattooed it on her body and made a 16-track mixtape about their mutual struggle and pain. “I felt like that was what I was going through,” Rico says. “If it isn’t one thing, it’s a motherfucking other. If it’s not family shit, it’s work shit. If it’s not work shit, then it’s some internet shit. It doesn’t ever stop.”
This is what she hopes fans take from Las Ruinas. “I’m still here,” she proclaims. “This is what I’m going through because, a lot of times, I do shit and I say shit, and [my fans] don’t know why or the meaning behind it. And I think this project gives insights.”
Her single “Intrusive” certainly lives up to this message. Rico describes the song as “a bold in-your-face” tune where fans get an inside look into her deepest thoughts, including her hatred for racists. She thinks we shouldn’t be worried about saying or doing the right thing around them.
“Hip-hop makes a lot of these racist people polite-racist,” she says. “And when I’m on stage, I be looking at them sometimes. And I love my fans, like I don’t want to marginalize people and make people feel like they’re not welcome or they’re not appreciated, because I do appreciate all my fans. … But sometimes, I do feel like that you can get caught up in that, Oh, got to say what’s right. Don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. But I think that’s just the punk-rock aspect of everything. I don’t really care if I step on anyone’s toes. That’s the message. We should all spit on racist cunts instead of recording them. We should spit right in their fucking faces. And that’s not a sign of violence. That’s just the truth.”
And though she hates being called a trendsetter, she’s not afraid to be herself or start new trends either. “Black Punk,” her other single, explores what it’s like being a Black person in the alternative space and the struggle of being different from other Black people. “When you’re an alt Black person, you often grow up feeling like the black sheep, feeling like an outcast, feeling like people don’t get you, and nine times out of 10, that is the case,” she says. “With this song, I thought that it was really important that I gave my alt bitches something to blast.”
Truthfully, mastering the art of not giving a fuck is why Rico is at the top of her game. It’s why her discography is original, why she made her mixtape, and why she’s so different from other Black female rappers. Rico is not looking to be popular or famous (though she’s both); she’s aspiring to be relatable through the medium she knows best: her music.
“I finished this project with my hair in a mullet, and I was just embracing me and who I always wanted to be,” she says. “When you’re young, it’s hard to see how you’re gonna be in the future. So treat yourself and be proud of yourself.”
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