July 24, 2021

Megan Thee Stallion Can Do Better Than Good

It’s been a wild, lopsided year for Megan Thee Stallion. Last winter, tensions between the Houston rapper and her record label, former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Carl Crawford’s 1501 Certified Entertainment, came to a head in court proceedings alleging unfair treatment and work stoppage. In the spring, Beyoncé added verses to “Savage,” from Stallion’s Suga EP, giving the single the bump it needed to land Meg her first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. But just as her summer victory lap was getting under way, Stallion was shot in the feet in a Los Angeles incident she maintains is the fault of Toronto singer-rapper Tory Lanez. Meg swiftly rebounded from the shooting with the Cardi B team-up, “WAP,” earning her second career chart-topper (and Cardi’s fourth). This fall, amid great praise from fans and complaints from critics, Megan Thee Stallion released Good News, her debut album. A cursory glance at the cover, a patchwork of excerpts from news items and editorials about the artist mirroring the artwork from Prince’s 1981 album, Controversy, suggests that it’s finally time for Stallion to address her detractors, but outside of the album opener, “Shots Fired,” a diss track for Lanez that samples the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Who Shot Ya?,” it seems the objective of Good News is to leave the bad news behind. She wastes no time spelling it out succinctly in the chorus of the album’s second song, “Circles”: “We ain’t going back and forth with the little boys.”

Megan Thee Stallion’s debut album follows three years of mixtape and EP releases that proved what she is (and isn’t) capable of bringing to a record. Early official releases like 2017’s Make It Hot succeeded on trash talk and empowerment anthems. On 2018’s Tina Snow and last year’s Fever, cuts like “Big Drank” and “Big Ole Freak” showed Stallion’s flair for a throwback jam, adding her stamp to samples of ’80s and ’00s hits by Three 6 Mafia and Al B. Sure!, as she had attempted on scrappy early cuts like “Come Get Me,” a spin on Biggie’s “Fuck You Tonight,” and “Get It Girl,” which repurposed lines from Too $hort and Lil Jon’s “Shake That Monkey.” Suga attempted a new evolution, doubling down on the R&B hooks Stallion dabbled in years earlier on “Crazy” and “Good At,” but dedicating a third of the EP’s running time to that style exposed the fact that her singing isn’t anywhere near as confident and effortless as her rapping (the tenderness she brought to “Crying in the Car” was welcome, even if its Auto-Tune fell flat). The gap between the airtight raps and the imperfect pop gestures evoked Nicki Minaj’s Pink Friday … Roman Reloaded, an album whose quality sometimes suffered from its wide-ranging tastes. Would Meg follow this path?

Good News is a grab bag, full of reasons to love Megan Thee Stallion but also areas where she could use a little more refinement. She proves to be as good of a rapper as any of the year’s MVPs, outshining the City Girls at bratty misandry on “Do It on the Tip” and stir-frying DaBaby (again) on “Cry Baby.” She goes bar for bar with 2 Chainz and Big Sean on “Go Crazy,” another feisty addition to the list of great 2020 rap songs with Michael Jackson samples (also see Sean’s “Don Life”; Busta Rhymes and Kendrick Lamar’s “Look Over Your Shoulder”), and matches Beyoncé on “Savage.” On solo songs, she’s a joy. “Circles” strikes the perfect balance between condescension and wounded emotional honesty, like Cardi B’s “Be Careful,” at the end of the first verse: “Bullet wounds, backstabs, mama died, still sad / At war with myself in my head, bitch, it’s Baghdad / New n – – – – trying to come around and play clean / My clothes fit tight, but my heart need a seamstress.” This kind of clarity comes and goes on Good News, though. At 50 minutes, it’s Stallion’s longest solo project, and what was true of the 24-minute Suga, which was easily three songs too long, holds here: Not every idea feels cooked all the way through.

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