I’m Mark Ronson and this is The FADER Uncovered Podcast. In this interview series, I’ll be speaking with some of the most influential and groundbreaking musicians in the world, from genre-defining stars to avant-garde trailblazers about their lives and careers. Each episode will be rooted in these musicians’ iconic FADER cover stories, an institution that over the past two decades has told artists’ stories like no other. The podcast is the chance for us to talk about the past, present, and future, reflecting on their breakthroughs, diving into their lives when their covers hit shelves, and discussing what the future might hold now. It’s an opportunity for me to speak to some of the artists I most admire.
Today, I'm chatting with Rico Nasty, a unique voice in rap music, and one of the most exciting artists working right now. Rico graced the cover The FADER in the summer of 2018 shortly after the release of her incendiary and game-changing mixtape Nasty. She was still 21 years old, newly signed to Atlantic Records, and coming to grips with a career that had volted her from PG County, Maryland to the edges of stardom all while raising her son Cameron. Since then she's distilled her music and aesthetic down to something even more potent. Her debut studio album Nightmare Vacation released late last year was her most fun and thrillingly abrasive project yet. A combination of punk rap and hyper-pop that is simultaneously of its time and in its own universe.
Mark Ronson: I feel like you have such a nice backdrop and I just look like I’m just in Star Trek. Is that what you’ve been doing all your Zoom interviews and stuff. Would you change it up all the time?
Rico Nasty: I change it up pretty frequently, but today it’s raining. It’s really ugly.
Yeah. Congrats on the album, by the way. Is it weird to put out an album in the middle of this time? Because I watched your FADER doc that you did back when the article came out and the shows are just some of the most amazing crowds I honestly ever seen, just the energy and the moshing and I’ve never seen so many women moshing. I went to hardcore shows as a kid. You must sort of miss that I guess.
There’s definitely no sort of. I miss it every single day. The only thing that’s been keeping me going is what happens when we get to do shows again, what that’s going to be like, not only for me but for them. I truly cannot wait for it.
Yeah. It’s going to be amazing because all your super fans are just going to be like, yours will be the first show that they’ve gone to. You might actually have to be wearing a protective suit, shit flying from the stage, the crowd. I can imagine.
I definitely imagine the new fans and also a big mosh pit.
Oh, you think they’re going to be against each other, the new fans versus old fans?
Yeah. Pre pandemic fans versus after the pandemic. That’s how they’re going to be going. Toe to toe.
At the end of the doc, the one that you did the one for The FADER, where is that last hometown show? Because the energy is incredible and the venue is so cool. Do you remember?
Yeah. I believe it’s The Fillmore Silver Spring.
Yeah. I can’t wait to actually come to one of your shows now that I sort of met you or whatever this is.
Thank you. Well, if you ever go to the Fillmore for anyone else’s show, my picture is there in the dressing room.
I got to play once. I played at the 9:30 Club, do you ever play there? That’s DC, right?
Yeah. I played at the 9:30 Club. I went to a lot of concerts growing up at the 9:30 Club.
You did? Because you talk about all your influences and they’re so diverse from Bowie to Paramore. What shows did you see there?
I didn’t really go to a lot of actual, actual concerts of artists that I liked growing up, which is weird. I remember I went to a Chris Brown concert, I went to a Yung Gleesh concert. Other than that, it was a lot of underground shows. I never really went… I started going to shows when I got famous. When I started getting booked at shows is when I started going. I would go on my own like I remember I went to go see Tame Impala on my birthday in Miami and I was all the way in the back and nobody knew who I was and it felt so good because I finally have money to go and experience shows and stuff. I treat myself.
Did you say you went to some shows at 9:30?
Yeah, I think GoldLink was performing something very underground. It was before a lot of people knew about him.
I was playing bass with Jimmy Fallon and his band and we played at the 9:30 Club because he made this fake power pop kind of punk record. Not fake, it was actually really funny. It was a comedy album. I saw your performance on Fallon. That was incredible. How do they even do that right now? How are they making these performances? Were you in the studio? Do you just make it and send the video in?
Yeah, I actually just gathered up my team and we found a location, set up the cameras in the living room and then I got to do it as many times as I wanted to so I thought that was fine but it wasn’t actually live.
Yeah because it’s a mini music video or something.
Other than the fact that I’ve never been cool enough to be in the FADER, I did notice one thing that you and I had in common, it just made me laugh. You said that you always meant to change your name but you couldn’t because you just got famous and it was too long. First it’d be cool if you don’t mind just telling the story about how you got your name.
So I got my name basically from a friend we were outside. I would wear a lanyard, a keychain like this and they have my keys on it and it said Puerto Rico and I did something nasty. I still wish I could remember what I did but he just said Rico nasty, like “Rico, you nasty.” I don’t know what possessed me to go home, change my Twitter name to that but I literally did. And then after that I got locked out of my Instagram so I had to change my Instagram to that, too. And it was just so weird because when I started rapping and stuff, I always tell people, “Yeah, before I get my deal, I’m changing my name and before I sign anything, I’m changing this and changing that.” And I didn’t do any of that. I just never cared enough because I was like, well, “If they like it I don’t want to confuse the people.”
I have such a theory on that because I just go by my regular name, Mark Ronson which is just so boring. In some ways I could be literally an accountant. And I remember-
You don’t want to know my real name. You don’t want to know my real name. It’s so underwhelming.
It’s Maria Kelly, right? Yeah. It’s a beautiful name but it’s not Rico Nasty, I get it.
But I used to DJ in hip hop clubs in New York in the 90s and they put out a book of all these flyers and every month I was changing my DJ name. I looked like a schizophrenic DJ. One week I’m Spark Ronson on these flyers then I’m Mark The Spark, then I’m DJ old English because I was English and I thought that was funny. So anyway, I just stuck with my real name and I thought once I’m famous. But I think a name is as good as the person that has it so if you blow up and you make great shit then whatever that name is. And then if there was someone putting out shitty music named Rico Nasty then we wouldn’t care about that. So I kind of think it’s great.
I always envy the people that are able to make their name their name, you know what I’m saying? Like Rihanna, Beyonce, Mariah Carey. I think that is so cool. You’re like, “I’m so great. You will call me by my first name sweetie. Ain’t no alter ego. This is who I am.” I really love that.
So you have that. Your name is your name.
The only thing that’s good is it can sometimes help me get a table at a restaurant quicker if I just use my name but I guess-
It sounds like a wrestler name.
Yeah. It sounds like you could put somebody in a good choke hold.
I wish I could but I really can’t. I don’t even know if that I make music or if it’s even important or not. I’m just a journalist or something so I’m sorry if I keep talking about myself, but I want to ask you about a lot of shit, but on this record, did you make a lot of the record during the lockdown and during the pandemic?
Yeah. I feel like a good six of them were made during the pandemic.
Because you were putting out music before but then there’s this line in “iPhone” when you mentioned having the mask on.
That’s one of the songs that were made actually before the pandemic. I wish I could do a Jeopardy game and make people guess what songs you made before and after because a lot of the ones you think were made before were actually made after. It’s weird.
Because am I making this up that there’s a line like, “forgot to put my mask on” or something like that.
No, that’s real. I was referring to just a gas mask, talking so much gas. So many people were like, “Oh my gosh, this was perfect for the pandemic.” But really I was like, “Yeah, this was actually freakishly accurate.” I didn’t plan for that. And when I wrote it I had no idea, nobody was wearing masks. I was just trying to think about things that we did in 2012. I remember in 2012, all the cool kids had gas masks and there’s smoke sessions and Tamagotchis. I was thinking about that time. I was not at all thinking that we would eventually have to wear masks and that’s just crazy.
Yeah because I was listening to it and I was thinking, ‘God, I wonder what music we’re going to listen to.’ The album title Nightmare Vacation that you probably came up with during the pandemic. Is that referring to lockdown? No. So you really did just predict the whole shit.
In a very sinister way.
I didn’t mean to, but art imitates life a lot and you speak things into existence and I am definitely guilty of being a person who before this lockdown, I was on my last leg, I was exhausted, bags under my eyes, waking up, body sore. Just overall not feeling good but it’s like a fucking Amtrak train. You just got to keep going till you get to the destination. So I’m touring, touring, touring, no sleep, no sleep. And I just remember before the pandemic hit, the last place I went was Australia and I was there for a month. And I remember when I got home, I cried because when I left I had just got a house and when I got back… I didn’t even get to enjoy the house or let alone really remember what it felt like to be in a house or be home and I literally cried and I was so happy. And I remember saying I’m never, ever, ever leaving home for that long again and then this shit happened.
How long before lockdown did you actually get home?
Three days. Three days before lockdown.
Because my mom started freaking out. I was like, “Okay, okay. I’ll come home.”
Yeah. I’ve spoken to a lot of people who, same thing, the crazy touring life. You’re always on the road and everybody for the first few months just being home, it felt like its own high in a way. Everybody was just so excited. DJs I know, musicians, to wake up in the same bed every day. It was almost like being on ecstasy. Just the feeling of not having to travel. Did you feel that a little bit when you first got to just stay home?
Yeah, I felt like I finally had, like, stability for the first time in years. It also felt like for the first time I could actually sit back and see what I had done because I know that I was just moving around so much. When I finally got to sit down, I finally got to see, ‘Wow,’ I’m in a nice house and I drive nice cars and gained my confidence back because, don’t get me wrong. I love touring but that shit it does something to you mentally that a lot of people don’t talk about. It really does fuck you up mentally and I just felt like I was bad at everything and just very low and being home reminded me, wow, I’m doing so well for myself and self-reflecting. I definitely felt like, yeah, ecstasy is the best way to describe it. Just so euphoric, so, “Wow, look how far I’ve come. The last time I was bored like this, I was broke as fuck.”
I’m ordering endless stuff on Amazon and I’m just like, I’ve stopped because there’s such a thing as too much shit and we’ll get into that later. But having money does not mean you should buy stuff.
Right. Definitely. Well, certainly in that first interview and in the documentary because it is a tour doc, shit was just really first blowing up and you could play a festival in Australia and a club show in the States the next night. I’m sure there was no shortage of gigs. When you look back on that time, was that a pretty exhaustive rat race to be on?
I would be exhausted all day. Typical day on tour would be, wake up, leave the hotel, on the road to the next show pretty much all day or on the plane traveling. Get there, check in the hotel, get the clothes and make up together, go to venue. Notice I have not said eat, not once.
So you keep going, meet and greet, eat a snack or something so you don’t pass out during the show, after the show you feast. But what I’m saying is I literally would physically, emotionally, mentally everything get my energy from my fans from seeing them. I would be exhausted, tired, moody, bitchy, not want to talk to anybody, my voice is sore. But then when I saw them and just would actually talk to them, it’s like, “Damn, they waited all this time for me?” I don’t know. It just made me feel so special. They always put me number one. I feel like I haven’t had a lot of people do that until I met them. They’re not just fans to me. They always bring these special gifts and things that they’ve made. You could have a horrible day but the shows would make up for it so I wouldn’t take back anything. I love the tour life. But after is when that mental shit starts happening because on tour you feel so needed. You feel like everybody needs you because they do need you. If you don’t get on stage, what happens?
They need you.
Yeah. And you need them.
Yeah. You need them and you go home and nobody needs you. There’s no DJ. On tour you got your friends, a party all the time.
It’s so fun. Without that there’s nothing. It’s mom life which I’m doing now. It’s very eventful in its own way. But it’s really crazy when you go from fast, fast, fast, fast, fast to extremely slow and you almost feel non-existent.
There's so many things that happen to your body and your mindset when you're on the road. You have all that adulation and love every night from a crowd, you have the adrenaline rush of the performance itself, you have the partying after and the sobering 6:00 AM lobby call where you sleep walk your way through an airport, fly to another town and somehow mustered the strength to do it all again times 100. For someone who loves the road life and lives to perform, the readjustment to home is intense, sometimes devastating. Then at a pandemic to which you've got no idea when you might be able to perform ever again, that's a lot. Yet with all those things going on, somehow Rico found motivation to make a new record.
It's amazing that energy that you get when you walk on stage, it's like you said, you need them and it's not like they're just fans, what they give you because it's true, you suddenly leave that stage with a power and an energy that you did not have when you went on. So the things that happen in your body and the physiology just from what that crowd is giving you and then what you're giving them is such an intense thing. I always feel like that's the reason that people have to drink or party or do anything after the show because you come off stage and you just have this giant drop in all your serotonin and all the levels that the only way to keep that going is to ingest something or do something.
Yeah. It's tour drugs.
Yeah because it's such a crash and I would have these crazy crashes too. I would think that we had the worst show ever when I realized, “Oh no, that's just a serotonin crash. That was actually a great show but I'm just confusing this depression from this feeling with thinking that it was shitty.”
Yeah, I'm so guilty of that. I know that there's a lot of young women that look up to me. So I don't really like to talk about drugs, but when you're talking 48 hours of just pure adrenaline [and] excitement, you've never experienced this before, the come down will make you feel almost like you're playing a show to five people. And that's why I stopped because I felt like, “Why would I feel like that?” This is so intense. And sometimes, like I said before the pandemic, when you're in the moment, when you're on the stage… This is crazy. I've never talked about this before, but when you're on the stage or at the festival and people are taking pictures of you and they get the ugliest pictures ever. I don't have these cute ass performances. I'm looking crazy and I'm just on the comedown, leaving the city, looking at my pictures on Getty images like, what is happening to me? I look crazy and everyone's lying to me and everyone's just in my comments like, “You're so cool, you're a fucking rock star.” And that's where you start feeling like everyone's lying to you.
Yeah. I think you're especially harsh. I think we all see each of ourselves through the harshest lens because I've seen a lot of pictures of you and footage of you playing shows and you always look amazing. It looks like every hair is perfectly in place. The energy is just raw. I think we're just all so harsh on ourselves.
I used to have a rule that somehow justified it, that I wouldn't get messed up when I was on stage or kind of. I would take it easy. But then afterwards, anything goes and somehow that's what made me think that I was all right but it's still before the show, during the show, after the show, you're so fucking up your body.
You still wait so you're never like, come on, I don't want to be the one to say anything, but you never did it pre-show? I feel like doing drugs pre-show was, don't get me wrong. There's no footage but there were a couple shows that I threw up at. I remember a New York show in particular. I don't remember where it was but I remember I ran behind the little projector screen and I fucking hurled. And then when I got back on stage, before I got back, I literally took my fucking pants off and everyone thought it was a wardrobe change.
That's why you're a true fucking rock star and I'm like, “I might forget the third chord if I get too fucked up or say something stupid.”
It's fun when you fuck up on stage. I think that's when you get to see your fans.
You don't know your fans until you fuck up on stage. You don't know how hard they're rocking with you because I fucked up, I've got lyrics wrong on stage. They laugh and then they keep singing it word for word. They're like, “Bitch, how you don't…” It helps. It just helps to build that relationship because then later on you and that person's like, “I saw Rico, didn't even know the words but I did bitch, because she's seen me.” You're like, “Yes, thank you.”
Your fans sing the words very loud at your shows, it's amazing. I imagine there's some shows where they're louder than you are.
Some shows I don't even have to perform.
Right. That's a good deal.
Where were some of the places then on that tour when Nasty was really starting to blow up? Where were some of the countries that you're playing or a festival, it doesn't matter if it's in Poland or somewhere in Australia that you didn't know anything about this place you showed up and then you just see these fans going crazy for your shit. Do you remember a couple of places that really stuck out in your mind?
Canada, Toronto, China, and Germany.
You played in China?
Wow. I don't know anyone that's played in China. That's amazing.
Everyone says that to me and I'm just like, I'm destined for greatness and I love China. Everything about it was something that I felt like if I didn't experience this before I died, what did I live for? Honestly, it was beautiful. The people were amazing. The food was amazing. The only thing bad was how far it was from America. And I feel like I also had such a good time because you can't smoke weed out there so I remember going out there and I was so irritated. The whole flight I was just like, “What the fuck am I going to do? I can't do this.” And then I got out there and it was so welcoming and so nice. When I left the airport, it was all these stores that I was like, oh my God. I want to go there. I want to go there. I want to go there. I felt like a kid in a candy store so I didn't even want to smoke or nothing because I felt it was going to take my time away from doing fun stuff.
It was really weird. I love China. And the first time I went to London was also an experience because the floor almost caved in. And I remember I was tripping acid for that show and a girl fucked up her back, really bad in the mosh pit and they carried her to the stage. And she's laying on the stage and all of the people that work at the venue, they're about to call the ambulance, and I'm telling people, I'm like, "Yeah, the show is about to end. She's fucked up really bad. I don't even know what to do." I'd never dealt with nothing like that. And she literally looks at me. I go back there to check on her and she's like, "If you stop the show, I will kill you."
So I just kept performing. I was like, okay. London is my favorite place in the world.
Canada, I was expecting such snooty prissiness, preppy. They get down. It's crazy out there.
That's crazy that on acid you were able to deal with all that like some emergency medic that London show as well. That's very impressive.
It was really weird because that show, it's a fever dream every time I think about it. We got there. The venue was at 500 cap. It was way over cap. There was people outside. My DJ was doing a set and girls started fighting and it broke the DJ table and my DJ had to, I never forget this shit, real rockstar shit though. My DJ had a hole in his laptop and put his DJ thing on a smaller table but literally hole in his laptop table during the show because they broke the table fighting.
Right. So he's just holding the laptop in one hand while he's doing the show?
Yeah. And I remember he came back and he was like, "They fucked up my stuff." And I ran out there and I was trying to, I don't know, I was just trying to get to the mic and just tell them, "Get the fuck out. Don't do that. Don't disrespect." And then it was so weird. I opened the door and I'm tripping balls so I like forget that. I can't just go out there. They're freaking out. I remember I opened the door and it was just [screams], it was 20 minutes before I was supposed to go on. It was so intense. It was really crazy. But I remember that show so clearly. I remember getting on stage like, “Whoever fucked up the DJ booth, I don't like you, you need to leave, jump them in their mosh pit and they still here.” It was just really just intense. London is a beautiful place. Rihanna lives there.
Yeah. I was born there. Actually my parents are English. I'm from there.
Oh my God. Fire.
I don't know if you remember because you were on acid but do you remember the venue in London? Because I want to picture it in my head.
I don't, but I know it's closed down now.
It's closed down now and it was open for a very, very long time.
Can I ask? So I know it depends on the strength of the acid and this isn't the Joe Rogan LSD show. I can't count to five on acid because I just get so distracted because there's shapes and things are morphing in front of my eyes. It's just amazing that you're just able to go on there and just do that.
I'm not going to lie, I was scared at first because the first time I was echoing and I felt like I wasn't on beat and then after the song went off, I was just saying, "Can y'all hear me alright? Am I on beat?" And they were like, "Yeah." And I was like, okay. So this is what it's supposed to sound like. I guess it's fucking with you. I feel like it taught me to trust myself on stage because I would always be so afraid like, oh, I'm going to fuck up. I'm going to fall. And there's performances of me falling but it looks like I threw myself on the floor and there's videos of me skipping around and it looks like I did something like that but I'm about to fall.
It just teaches you how to trust yourself and how to know your limits too because there's always this point in the show where you feel like, "Okay, I'm exhausted and I need to take five." But when I would do that, it would feel like the energy would dwindle. It's just me up there. I don't have dancers or nothing so this needs to be 10 all across the board. There's no time to make small talk. But bringing the rage element into it, control and telling them, go and really... It's almost like you're in the crowd with them. I feel like that really helped to bring the crowd alive and teach me. I don't necessarily have to rap every single word just as long as they feel me. They have to feel me.
When I was coming up, acid and shrooms were for kids who wore paisley hoodies, hung in sheep's meadow, partied at wetlands and listened to Blues Traveler. Most of my rap friends smoked weed and never the twain shall meet. I was kind of in shock even when I first heard Wale talk about Molly in the mid 2000s. I was sort of ignorant and was like, "Wait, you do rave drugs?" Now. I love that everyone does everything. I'm certainly not condoning or encouraging but mind expanding drugs shouldn't belong to one genre of music. In the ‘60s. John Lennon dropped acid but so did Sly. I'd like to thank Tame Impala and Tyler, The Creator for this new wave of psychedelia that we're currently in the midst of.
There's definitely such a rock and roll, I don't even know if that work is now there's genres, everything's just all one and your music is an example of that, but there's such a rock energy at the shows. And there is in the music. You've talked a lot about the fact that you want to bring the rock energy and make this hybrid. And it's very hard to make this hybrid of rock and rap so it's not corny.
I could count on one hand the amount of people who've done it, but you really managed to pull it off. Is it just something that comes out of you because those are all your loves and influences or is it something more thought out?
I think it's my loves and my influences and I also think it is something that kind of just comes out. I will do songs in my regular voice and I will add some Rico Nasty to it. So it's a technique that I've developed over time. It's something that started by me being very angry in the studio while having to record and turning it into my power. I work with or worked with my boyfriend who was my manager for a very long time. And it was a lot of times I would get into arguments before the studio. I always had to go in there and record, or I get into beef with bitches or rap bitches online and I'm upset and I would still have to go to the studio and record because I'm paying for this time or this time is being paid for by somebody else, I don't want to piss them off.
So either way you look at it, it just came out because it always felt like if I went to the studio and I was in a bad and bad mood and I was trying to act happy, I feel like when I listened back to it, I could hear myself faking and I don't like that. When I'm feeling myself or I'm feeling mad, I feel that's where people can hear it and it sounds so real and authentic because it's really that. It's not me going in the studio and acting like I'm mad. I'm literally mad. I got some shit to get off my chest. And I think that's why I also walk around with such a bubbly attitude, because for the most part, anything that has to get said gets said and sells. So I'll keep my mouth shut until I get a beat.
You talk about that actually in that article too. You said that you loved going to the studio and in the beginning nobody took you seriously because you're a girl and you'd show up to the studio and people would try and basically play it off. Can you talk about that?
It's more prominent now that we hear this type of stories because there's so many female rappers now. Every girl has been there. You get invited to the studio, you get there and nobody says a word to you or the guy that invited you is trying to hit on you. I don't know. It's just weird. I don't pay too much attention to that shit because when you're young, it definitely do bother you because you start feeling like, “Damn, I got to fuck to get a feature.” But then you start realizing respect is just what it is. It's respect. And if you don't got no respect for me then I don't have no respect for you.
I'm not about to spend my night trying to win over respect from somebody who don't even have respect for themselves because if they did, they wouldn't treat a woman like this. At the end of the day, you have to assert yourself. I am a very nice person. So yes, there would be times I get in the studio and I get a little bit walked on because they're just like, “This should go here. This should go here.” And I'm like, "Oh, well maybe, just no." It goes from that to. "No. Stop. Don't touch my song. Leave me alone. Get out, get out, get out." And if that makes me a bitch, that's fine but you're not about to...
Yeah. I grew up with a lot of sisters, my mom. Some of this shit doesn't even occur to me, but when I worked with Lady Gaga, she was like, "I like working with you because you actually listen." And this is the Lady Gaga who's sold 50 million records. She's done The Fame Monster, the whole thing, or the Monster's ball. And I just couldn't believe. I was like, wait. So you still are in the studio with X producer and they're like, "No, I kind of like this part here. I'd rather not change it." And she'd be like, "Well I think maybe we could change a cord." And he’d be like, "This is the way the label likes it." And it was blowing my fucking mind because of course we know misogyny exists and these things happen in the studio and producers have typically for the most part been men but it did blow my mind when she said that.
You are a great listener but I will say that I think that's why me and Kenny [Beats]'s relationship is so talked about, idolized, I see people trying to imitate it but it was what it was. When he met me I was a little, "I don't know what kind of beat I want." And Kenny is very much, we're both Taurus’, he's very much like, "Why are you acting that? Just say it. What you want? What do you want? And get right to it. Why are you wasting time? Why are you afraid to be yourself? You're getting paid to be yourself. Be your best self that you can be.” And it would be so weird. Working with him was always one of those things where I beat around the bush and he'd be like, "I don't have time for this. You're not about to be at around the bush. What do you want? Stop being afraid."
I was so conditioned to be like, "Whatever you guys. I don't know." And it's like, "You're the star of the show. You make the choices." You like that beat and you're going around asking, “You like this? You like this?” Everybody's not going to like it. You have to like it because then you'll kill it. And then you worry about what they say after you kill that shit. They probably won't have nothing to say. Kenny definitely taught me how to not be afraid of getting told “no” and not being afraid of telling a motherfucker how this really about to go. You about to do it the way I'm asking you. I'm not about to sit up here and do some SWOT talk. I'm in there sweating bullets, screaming at the top of my lungs, "You better put this where I asked you."
Right. It sometimes baffles me but it's real. People see a man's name and a woman's name on a production credit on a song and they might assume the man did most of the "real work". I'll work with an artist like King Princess on a track. She might do the beat, play most of the instruments, do some sound design and they'll see my name on it as well and guess that most of that was me. I see firsthand how she has to fight even harder to be taken seriously. Missy Elliott, Danielle Haim, Lady Gaga, Solange. These are some of the great producers of our time. We don't always think of them in this way but it's our obligation to give them the credit they deserve.
On the new album, there's a lot more producers, different producers on different tracks, but it all still very much sounds like you so it sounds like no matter who's doing the beat or this thing, you found this way to make it all your sound.
Yeah, definitely. I don't get to work with Kenny all the time as much as we did a lot of work together. I remember when Anger Management was done, I looked at him and I was like, "Kenny, this is it. It's been a long road. Until I see you again brother." But I was getting tired of people, “oh, she's only good with Kenny or, oh, she's only good…” Because I guess at that point where you want to spread your wings as an artist and he also wanted to see, young grasshopper take these skills I've taught you and go into these sessions and be yourself and be assertive and make the magic that I know you can make. And now through this pandemic though, shout out to my anxiety. I actually haven't been in the studio with a lot of people.
You know what? I met Kenny in the middle of the pandemic and I went over to his place in LA because we had been talking, DMing or whatever about dumb music, technical shit. I said, "I'm in LA for a week. I'll come and see you." I think he was the first new person I met. I think he came to the door without a mask and I was so shocked to see anybody's full face. I hadn't seen anybody's full face in about five months. That's the thing I really remember. And he just built his studio and it looked great. And I think he's a fucking fantastic producer and I love all the shit you've done on the new record. Daytrip are friends of mine. I love that track that you guys did together.
I love working with Daytrip. They always made me feel like I got to bring it. I love Daytrip.
And I like that they gave you, they would always be the same with Missy and great artists that were different from everybody else that everybody would save their best weird shit for that person. I like that Daytrip when they come to you, they give you this thing that's just got a little bit of acid in it.
Definitely. I feel like the shit that they gave me was very U.K. grime. They knew at the time that I was traveling so much and the beats that they were sending me were just... I love Daytrip. Dylan Brady too, 100 Gecs. I love them.
Yeah. Also in that FADER doc, I wonder if you feel differently about this now, because it stood out that you said you're always constantly changing it out because so many people are copying their style or copying certain things that you do, whether it's visually or in the music and you just felt this need to constantly reinvent yourself so basically they can't catch you.
That sounds like something a 19 year old would say.
Okay. I imagine you feel a little more calm and like in your spot like I'm here. Nobody can take this thing from me. Do you feel a little bit less manic in that way?
I feel that way because of Flo Milli and PP Cocaine. I feel like both of those women, young ladies coming out right when they were getting all their recognition, both of them came to me personally to my face and were like, "You inspire me. I watched you." It makes me feel like, “Why the would I sit here and be mad about copying when these are two girls who came from nothing and look at what they've made of their lives just from being inspired, sitting in the bed, watching a video of mine and saying, ‘This is it. Fuck it. I'm going to be a rapper. I don't give a fuck.’"
It makes me feel amazing. Shout out to Flo Milli and shout out to PP Cocaine because there's not so many girls who are honest enough to say something like that, because I feel like a lot of people feel like, “That’s copying and that's copying. Flo Milli does not rap like me but that bitch can rap. Okay. She can rap. It's beyond that. It's about my legacy. I don't want to be remembered as a time. I want to be remembered as an entire moment that happened because when I die, there's more. There's not just, oh, that was it. My cadences and things that I might've did in one song live on.
And that's another thing too. Back then I'd get so frustrated because now I'm looking back on it, it would only be one song where somebody sounded like me or someone said I sounded like them. It would be one song and then after that we would just never sound like that. It was just weird because as a female artist, I feel like we don't give each other enough space to grow. I feel like all girls sound the same with Auto-Tune, and that is something that we should get over because all men sound the same with Auto-Tune, and it wasn't until Auto-Tune that people were like, "All these rappers sound the same." So I get it. They're doing it for the girls now, now all the girls doing melodic rap, but even before me doing melodic rap, there was Dej Loaf and before me doing weird ass videos, there were plenty of female rappers doing that. So even me, I had to bite the bullet and sit back like, “Bitch, even you're not the first to do a lot of things.” And they were talking about black rock stars, Tina Turner was the first. So when you're new, you just want so bad to get your respect and people can't take from me but you don't get respect like that. You get respect by working and you get respect by shutting people up and you get respect by letting them see what it comes from, not pointing it out. You got to let people see the shit for themselves.
Did you watch the Tina Turner documentary that was on the other night?
I did. That even proved my point even more. How she felt in the documentary is how I'm feeling now. She said something that really stuck with me. I don't remember the names but she was coming out with so many other women who were fire and beautiful and sexy and soft and just all these things that you want a woman to be and she was the opposite, hard, rough around the edges, raspy voice, strong. And when I think about that, I think about me immediately. I feel like that. I feel like right now, I might not be muscular, I'm a little bit skinny, but I'm the skinny one and everyone's so ba-da-bow. You always feel that way and it's so important that she said that because I felt so drawn to her even more.
Her voice and the boundaries of it were just crazy to me. People can't sing like that. And even me, my screaming is no match for that but I felt like her entire story was just crazy because she fought from beginning to end and most people make her fight about her man but her fight was her actual career because fuck him, after him she still had to keep on trying to do stuff and trying to do stuff when it should've been like, do y'all know who y'all even fucking with right now?
Yeah. She talks about that, doesn't she? She's like, even in this first stage of the comeback, they're like, "Oh, so where's Ike?" They still can't get it out of their head that she's this solo artist, but yeah shout out to Tina Turner. You said something in that article as well that I wonder if you feel any differently about that, they're talking about there was this Renaissance of a lot of female rappers getting signed and you're like, "Enjoy it while it lasts because they're going to decide which one of us gets to sit at the top of the charts." Which was always a thing that you would hear in music generally. There can be 80 big male rappers but there's only really ever one [woman] and if there's more then you get pitted against somebody. But it seems like there's a little bit more going on right now or is that just a typical male thing that I'm saying right now?
I feel like that statement in general, I've been asked about that before and I feel like it's always gotten twisted because I didn't never mean it like, “enjoy it now.” I meant it like, this is a time where we finally could see that labels were looking at women. We could see it with our own two eyes. There were women getting side left and right and it was like, make that shit last, have fun with it. Because when they do pick who they want to put their money behind, it's a whole other ball game, it's not just underground rap shit.
And I feel like so many people get caught up in just wanting to be a rapper that they forget that there's a certain threshold that you pass and then you become an artist. You're not just a rapper. You're on all types of different songs, doing all types of different things. And I really wanted to say that, “have fun because when the pressure gets on, a lot of our music that we sounded like when we first started is going to be completely different from a couple of years from now.” And I can also say that I've always felt like... [Rico is interrupted by the sound of a dog snowing] Chip, you are snoring. Stop. You are so loud.
Who is that?
Okay. Is that the dog from the movie, the cute little one?
That sounds like a bigger dog is what I'm trying to get at.
This is the fat one.
Oh, that's a snore from a bigger dog.
He does nothing but sleep all day. Here, take shifty. Hi there. That's Cameron. I'm sorry.
Okay. But it's really weird. I remember when I first signed, it was me, Cardi, it is a lot of people were getting signed and I just remember being so afraid. I was so afraid because I didn't know what that really meant. I just knew that I got a lot of money but I didn't really know about media and blogs and stuff. And I know I'm not the only girl who goes to this, but they always post my most raunchiest shit.
I remember my first post from The Shaderoom I think was me spitting in someone's mouth. And I don't think anybody warns the girls that no matter how hard you try to be a great role model, they'll always capture the worst thing you ever did and magnify it.
Yeah. It's true. I guess you don't see that as much with the male rappers maybe.
They'll post when a male rappers spends $80,000 on a watch or he bought a Maserati or a Lambo truck, but they won't post any guy's other fucked up shit. As soon as the girl post a video without her wig on, she's a fake human being and all this other shit. I don't even know what to do anymore.
I think that it's obviously super interesting. And I'm sure you get asked about it all the time, all the diverse rock influences in your music, but I've actually never heard you talk that much about who your rap influences were. And obviously you didn't start fronting a band, you made rap music and I'm wondering if you made that because those were the beats and that was the thing available or if that is your first love or how all these mixes came together, but it would be cool to hear you talk about some of the rappers that influenced you when you were starting out.
I think some of the rappers that influenced me when I was starting out were; Tyler, The Ceator, ASAP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug.
Could you see yourself doing a more rock based record or something that was even more of a departure I guess from hip hop and the beats and the drums and stuff like that?
I have a couple of actual rock songs.
Just you and guitar?
Yeah. Just me and guitar. I feel like this is going to be a very controversial statement so hear me out.
In order to make the type of rap music that I make, there isn't much vulnerability needed. All you need is a middle finger and some aggression, but to make rock music, you have to be more vulnerable because there's already enough songs about “break this, fuck this, fuck that” but what is the story behind why you wanted to say that? What did they do to you? And I feel like that's why I won't release that music because it really does tell what hurts me the most. What I hate the most about myself, what I hate the most about a lot of things and I don't think I'm ready to be vulnerable like that with my fans but there's definitely a couple of songs of me. I have two songs with Travis Barker on the drums.
When you do put it out, it's always the stuff that's absolutely the most vulnerable that gives people the most empowerment as well. Would you have a special name like how you had Tacobella or would you have another name? Have you thought about it for what your rock and roll name is? Even though Rico Nasty is pretty rock and roll.
I like Carmen Dioxide.
Carmen Dioxide? That's fucking incredible. Is that what you said? Yeah. That is really good.
Look forward to the reinvention. Coming soon.
Did you see this movie Promising Young Woman by the way?
Did you think that they borrowed some things aesthetically from you? I was watching some of your videos today and I was like, yo, did this movie kind of like... Have you heard anything? Has anyone ever made that movie told you that they were a fan or anything like that?
No, I haven't heard anything like that, but I fucked with them. I wish that it was done better though. I don't like how it makes us seem so bitter because when something like that happens, you're allowed to feel crazy and feel deranged, not necessarily bitter, but you're entitled to feel whatever you want to feel. And I feel that movie makes people who want to get revenge on people who do fucked up shit. It makes them look crazy and they're not crazy for wanting revenge. I felt like it's so weird for women. You're just supposed to get hit with a fucking semi-truck and say, "Well, I got to go cook dinner." I will fuck you up.
I'm tired of this. You get all these things done to you and the minute you at this nigga house or put a little sugar in his tank, it's like, "Oh my God, put her in a mental hospital." Men be doing some crazy stuff. I've literally seen a man take a woman's iPhone and throw it on the floor, smash it, break it and then just say, "I told you bitch." And just walk out and you can't do nothing because you're scared. Why are we living that? My phone is broken, you're paying for that. Do you want to get tased because I won't fight you. But every action has a consequence and I'm all for women finally giving people their consequences, whether it's a little bit of attitude or whatever it is. Stop letting people walk all over you.
I guess because shit is starting to open back up now and everything, do you have shows coming out to promote this record?
I have a show for Outside Lands. It's supposed to be the middle of this year, but I do a lot of virtual shows, a lot of college shows so I feel like I have a really good relationship with the colleges. I do a college show three times a month really.
That's amazing. So I think I know what it is but can you explain?
Well, it's just a livestream and basically I'd get on there. They might do the meeting group before and after but the students they get to come on meet and greet, ask me questions, share things with me, we talk and then the show is prerecorded. It's just me and some cameras on a stage, some cool lights and I literally just do my show but it's in front of cameras, and then the kids get to see it and sometimes they ask me about the show, ask me about my outfit. I like the live shows.
That's cool. The show that you do is only for that college so it really is like, do they get a show? That's cool.
Do you do it in venues that usually you would be doing a show at? Is that where they film it?
Yeah. Right now it's this place it's called Union Street and it's this venue, but obviously it's closed for COVID, but they let me do the live performances there so that it looks like a show.
That's so dope.
Yeah. I think my favorite part of it is definitely, to perform, they always send me the merch of the school. So whenever I go to get my mail, you'd be surprised how many guys are like, "Oh, you went to SFU? Oh, you went to Berkeley?" I'm like, "No, I just perform there. Did you go to Berkeley?" It's such a conversation starter because I have UCLA, Berkeley, Nova, American University, Harvard.
You look like a high school player who's being recruited by every college. That's insane.
Oh yeah. I definitely look like a high school baller, but those guys used to be so cool just to have all the school stuff.
Well, especially because you said you grew up in PG County, right?
I know that's really obvious thing to say, but PG County when I think about it obviously I think of Kevin Durant and then the music scene now, it has such a vibrant scene. I don't know, do people hang out with each other in the music scene or is it pretty spread out? Do you feel like part of a scene?
Do we hang out? I feel like no and yes. We keep in touch with each other.
We love each other because we know what it takes to come from here like Ari Lennox, someone who checks up on me and I check up on her, I really fuck with her. We don't talk every day but we're from the same areas so we show love. Brent Faiyaz, oh my God, Kali Uchis, Jay IDK.
Kali Uchis is from that area as well?
I had no idea.
She's blowing the fuck up right now. That's amazing.
I love Kali.
I feel like when I first found out about her, I always felt like her voice is something that can't fuck with it. And like I said, I love Tyler. So as soon as she started working with Tyler, I was like “Oh my God.” And then when she was like, "Rico. I want to do a song with you." I have to make a voice like that because her voice is so soft. She's just so soft and nice. I literally freak out. I almost shit in my pants. And then when she wanted to do a Spanish song, I was like, “Oh my God, this is going to be so crazy.” I love Kali. She's amazing too. I feel like Jay IDK, I can honestly say he does a great job of leading us. Even Wale, these are people who I will honestly say they do more than me as far as keeping everybody in the DMV together. They do a great job knowing new artists, helping people. I know Jay IDK helped me get my first show at U Street Music Hall.
I actually opened up for him and he also got me a meeting with Sony. He was like, "Oh, I have somebody at Sony who is so fire." And we spent the day with him and he was very welcoming and very like, "If you need anything or have any questions, just let me know." And just an overall awesome as person. And I feel like also coming from the DMV, you have to be mean because if you're not mean then what we say around here is you sweet, you go for anything. Anybody can tell you anything. You're not going to do nothing.
So when I come out and I'm meeting so many people from where I'm from and they're actually nice and they're successful, they don't have to keep up this like, I want to go so hard. They're just genuinely cool-ass people it also helped me want to be myself more because I didn't feel like I had to be something that I wasn't. We all know the DMV is not the hardest place in the world, but it's fucked up. It's very fucked up. People think, oh, it's the DMV, it's probably DC, politics. No. It's a lot of dirty cops, a lot of crazy stuff going on out here that I guess they don't talk about because of all the politics. They sweep the real shit under the rug.
I remember when I first started working with Wale maybe 14 years ago and someone introduced us, he was in the city and he came to my studio and then we started working together. And then one night I watched the show, The Wire, do you know that show The Wire?
I binge watched the whole season and I called him in the middle of the night. Basically I was like, "Oh my God, I just watch The Wire. And I can't believe that's so fucked up. I'm so nervous for you where you live." And he's like, "That's Baltimore you idiot." I had no idea. I'm not the only person to get that confused. Obviously 15 years later, I know the difference.
Everyone always does that. And I'm like, "I'm from Maryland." They're like, "Oh, Baltimore?" I'm like, "No."
But I went to school in Baltimore so I fuck with Baltimore.
I love where I'm from.
You said that it was so different, you went to boarding school for a little while and then you came back and everybody said that you talk different, you dress different. It was, what? An hour away but it was so different culturally?
Yeah. I don't even have to defend this statement. Baltimore is completely different from DC, Maryland, Virginia. Their accent is different, the way they dress is different. And I will say I was going to a boarding school so I didn't go to school and have my mom to balance me out and come home and be like, "Why are you talking like that?"
So I'm literally just waking up and I'm talking like the people I'm around. I'm talking my teachers and just talking, I don't know.
Like very proper?
No. It's just different so when I got at to PG County and I'm slurring my words like that, it was just like, "Where are you from? Why do you talk like that?"
It would just always throw them off and always make me feel like I just never belonged I guess.
You're good at this and I want to hear your music now. I'm going to go look it up.
Okay. Well, I produced and co-wrote a lot of with Amy Winehouse so her album Back to Black. I don't know if you know that record but I produced a lot of that and “Valerie.”
I'm going to cry. That's crazy. No, that album is my entire adolescence. I just hear those songs, especially “Valerie,” especially “Tears Dry On Their Own.” So crazy. Wow.
Well, I love your music too. Maybe one day we'll get to do something.
Where are you?
I'm in New York.
Oh my God, yeah. You're not even that far from me actually.
I'm not even that far.
We've got to link up.
We've got to link up. Is there anything else? I feel like everything that you say is so fucking amazing. It sounds like a soundbite.
You're actually a good interviewer. You want to know why though?
Because you're not overbearing. This whole interview there wasn't one time where I was like, I need to smoke some weed. I'm feeling nervous. This is really chill. I fuck with it.
This is awesome.
I feel better about myself. This is my third one. Listen. Thank you so much. It's really been a pleasure.
Wow. Thank you. This is amazing.
I hope to see you soon.
All right. See you.