STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
Just a quick heads up - this podcast contains explicit language.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE")
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) ...Bougie...
THOMPSON: Rapper Megan Thee Stallion has had a massive year. Her song with Cardi B, "WAP," topped the Billboard Hot 100, as did, of course, her remix of "Savage" with Beyonce.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE")
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I'm a savage.
BEYONCE: (Singing) OK.
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Classy, bougie, ratchet.
BEYONCE: (Singing) OK.
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Sassy, moody, nasty. Acting stupid. What's happening? Bitch, what's happening? Bitch, I'm a savage.
THOMPSON: On Friday, Megan Thee Stallion dropped her first official full-length album, called "Good News." "Good News" is stuffed with explicit sex and raunchy confidence, with features from fellow stars like SZA, Young Thug, 2 Chainz and DaBaby. But it also opens with "Shots Fired," in which Meg bluntly addresses the July shooting that led to bullet wounds in her feet and the arrest of rapper Tory Lanez.
I'm Stephen Thompson. Today, we are talking about Megan Thee Stallion's "Good News" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR, so don't go away.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE")
BEYONCE: (Rapping) ...Jump to put jeans on, baby you don't feel my pain. Hol' up. Please don't get me hype. Write my name in ice.
THOMPSON: Welcome back. Joining me from her home in San Antonio, Texas, we have writer Kiana Fitzgerald. Hi, Kiana.
KIANA FITZGERALD: Hey, Stephen.
THOMPSON: It's great to have you. Also here, joining us from Dallas, Texas, is culture critic and writer Taylor Crumpton. Hello, Taylor.
TAYLOR CRUMPTON: Hey, y'all.
THOMPSON: It's great to have you here. So "Good News" is officially billed as Megan Thee Stallion's debut album, but it follows several years full of EPs, singles and mixtapes. The rapper came up in Houston and has showcased several sides of her persona, even adopting alter egos like Tina Snow and Hot Girl Meg. And in 2019, she presided over what was called Hot Girl Summer, a season of celebration that marked Meg's passage into superstardom. And doesn't Hot Girl Summer seem so long ago?
THOMPSON: Kiana, you wrote a cover story on Megan Thee Stallion for Paper during Hot Girl Summer last year. What do you think of "Good News"?
FITZGERALD: Well, I think she's a long way from that era. "Fever" was her debut of Hot Girl Meg. That was her carefree, like, won't-take-shit attitude. It was her really just stepping into her own fulfillment. And I think "Good News" is a progression. But I think that she's trying to figure out what she wants to be as a pop star. I think that there are some elements here that are still like reminiscent of "Fever," of "Tina Snow," of "Suga." I think there are some places where she tries to go in a different direction.
But overall, I think that she's still spitting. She's still writing really tight rhymes. But I'm still sitting with it, obviously, and I'm trying to figure out how this is going to stand the test of time as opposed to "Fever." "Fever," for me, was very, very fun. I lived with it. I loved it. And it represented, like, Hot Girl Summer. It was truly a moment in time. And I feel like this project may not live as long as "Fever." But only time will tell.
THOMPSON: Taylor Crumpton, you also wrote a great piece about Megan Thee Stallion for Harper's Bazaar. We'll put links to both of those articles in our newsletter, but I highly, highly recommend both of them. Taylor, give us your thoughts on "Good News."
CRUMPTON: Yeah. I think I was one of the multiple people who stayed up until its official release. And as I was processing it in real time, it made me reminisce on Megan's early beginnings, her YouTube freestyles, which really solidified her fan base on social media 'cause as you said, she already had a physical fanbase in Texas and across the southern United States.
But after the, you know, billboard success of "Hot Girl Summer," followed by the TikTok success of "Savage," I think right now what we are witnessing in "Good News" is her kind of encapsulating (ph) that over wide - worldwide success and making her debut as a pop star on this album. There are so many singles that I can already see being mentioned on Instagram captions and TikTok dance challenges. And this catapulted with the release of her GQ cover for Rapper of the Year.
I think this album is a testament to her overall star power and what she means to be in pop culture. But it is a distinct difference than her earlier works, than "Fever" and "Suga." And I'm trying to process if that distinction is due to the overwhelming success that she's had in recent years and how those singles have been, you know, popularized and charted compared to more of the deep cuts on the albums, which I enjoy. So I think we're seeing Megan Thee Stallion the pop star, but I'm still trying to figure out when we are going to hear "Megan Pete." I think that's the album I'm really looking forward to - is the one that's going to be released with Q-Tip in 2021.
THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, it's fascinating to listen to her progression over the years. I mean, I remember pulling tracks on SoundCloud in, like, late 2018. And, like, I was putting together a playlist. And I was like, well, I probably shouldn't pull anything too explicit. And I could not...
THOMPSON: I couldn't find a 20-second excerpt from any one of her songs that I could've played. And then you listen to this record. It's still blunt. It's still sexually explicit. It's still, you know, filthy in spots. But it is definitely - I think that side of her does feel dialed back. And it does feel more like a pop star record. And as a pop star record, it's very overstuffed. Like, it's 17 tracks. It's got "Savage Remix" with Beyonce. It's got these features from Young Thug and SZA and DaBaby and just, like, big name after big name. It feels very much like a big, big swing, like, for world domination.
FITZGERALD: Yeah, absolutely. And I do want to kind of just, like, backtrack and set the scene of me listening to this project for the first time. I kind of timed it out with my sister that we would be in the car at 11 p.m. Central, like, be able to hit the road and listen to this full project. And she doesn't know this, but I recorded my sister's reaction just because I was like...
FITZGERALD: ...I know this is going to be a moment. And she was screaming. Like, she was really, really feeling it. And I think that really sets, like, a foundation of understanding. Like, this project will mean something to different people. Like, "What's New" is my favorite song. I think it's super fun. I think it's her new "Cash Shit" - even though she has a song with DaBaby on this project - which was her previous collaboration. But I think, like, this is her talking, like, her mess, like, saying what she's going to do and when she's going to do it. Let's hear a clip of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S NEW")
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Look, badder than your favorite bad bitch. Turned the whole world into a savage. Middle finger in all of my pictures just to remind y'all I ain't having it. I'm the baddest bitch. Who want to fight about it? Put them in the booth. I bet I'll take the title. All of these hoes my sheep. Mary had a little lamb - they was talking about me. Switched sides, so I switched back. Lot of IOUs I ain't getting back. Lot of shit I should have walked away from, but the hood bitch in me kept pulling me back. Wish I would let a hoe in my business. Quit asking about these niggas. Look, you don't want...
FITZGERALD: Yeah, that line where she says, all of these hoes my sheep. Mary had a little lamb - they was talking about me. I was like, oh, yeah, that's the Megan I love.
FITZGERALD: Like, so there are definitely elements of this project that, like, screamed out at me and jumped out and just, like, grabbed onto my heart. I don't know. There are - like, there are some moments where I feel like she's just doing what she wants to do for herself. And I respect that.
THOMPSON: Well, I wanted to talk about the song "Shots Fired." I had this reaction going into this record like, well, you know, I don't know if she's going to address, you know, this shooting from over the summer where she was shot in both of her feet. The rapper Tory Lanez was arrested in relation to that. I'm like, is she even going to touch on it? The very first track on this record is called "Shots Fired." And it is very, very blunt and pretty specific. And, man, if you are ever going to cross Megan Thee Stallion, I highly recommend not being 5-foot-3.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOTS FIRED")
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Imagine niggas lying about shooting a real bitch just to save face for rapper niggas you chill with. Imagine me giving a fuck it was your fucking birthday. You in your feelings, I just thought it was another Thursday. Now imagine me cockblocking niggas on some dry shit. I don't want you on the bench, believe you wouldn't have been invited. And if it weren't for me, same week you'd have been indicted. You offered M's not to talk, I guess that made my friend excited. Now y'all in cahoots. You a puss in boots.
THOMPSON: What did you guys think of that song?
FITZGERALD: Well, I mean, like I said, we were in the car. And we were just kind of sitting there ready to hit the road. And my sister and I heard the first couple of bars, and our jaws dropped. We just looked at each other like, oh, she's doing it. She's going there. I think that it's very bold of her to flip a Biggie beat. And not only that - to directly address exactly the situation that she kind of danced around for a while and eventually came forward and said, hey, this is what happened. Like, in so many words, please believe me. I'm the victim here. I think with this song, she kind of flipped it on its head and said, yeah, I was a person involved in this situation, but I'm not a victim. I'm taking my voice back. I'm taking this situation, and I'm controlling the narrative.
THOMPSON: Taylor, you wrote in Harper's Bazaar about the relation of Megan Thee Stallion to the phenomenon of kind of misogynoir, the treatment of women in music and kind of relating it to this shooting. What did you think of "Shots Fired" as a response to that situation?
CRUMPTON: Yes. I think "Shots Fired" is Meghan's assertive and directness energy that we've all fallen in love with over the years. I think for her fans, she very much embodies walking with that aura of confidence. And especially for her to be a young Black woman with the eyes of the entire world upon her after she has endured a very publicized, traumatic incident. You know, and we're thinking about this in her timeline. Only a year passed - her mother, her last living parent being taken from her. And I think I remember in her Instagram post - her saying that she gave credit to her mother and her deceased relatives because if that bullet had hit maybe, like, an inch closer, she wouldn't have been able to dance, right? That would've been, like, a career-altering incident. So we see on "Shots Fired" this resurgence of this fieriness, of her taking this space as this powerful Black woman and kind of directly addressing those falsehoods and those mythologies that were being produced about her, right?
There is an - there's an aura (ph) in pop culture and music this year when people were just trying to fulfill the gaps in their own personal understandings, relationships. There were podcast appearances. There were songs. There was kind of a little own industry built off of this falsehood. And we see her coming very directly, telling the truth, speaking this truth to power. And I think really gave me hope or what gives me hope for her follow-up album after this is her just annihilating people.
I love Megan because she is a student, a tutelage of what hip-hop means in its purest form in the battle rap origins, beginnings. And though I wouldn't classify Tory Lanez as a rapper - I would classify him as a singer - she took direct, career-ending shots. It reminds me of like a Muhammad Ali. She was in the ring boxing him and also boxing the people that supported him, the people who did buy his album, the people in the industry that still support him, right?
There's so much of a web and a nuance in hip hop. And for her to say, if you supported Tory, you indirectly don't support me. And I think that's powerful 'cause she understands her status as a celebrity and the world's biggest pop star. And for her to put that on her debut album I think was her warning a shot to a lot of people in the industry. Like, you may have sided with him and been against me, but I'm coming to let you know I keep my receipts. I have a record, and I will not forget that.
THOMPSON: Yeah. It is a very visceral and powerful song. And it really does - like, within, like, 45 seconds of the start of this record, you already have this (vocalizing)...
THOMPSON: ...Like, that is really, really potent. And I think the visceral quality of not only that song but just her delivery in general, her subject matter, her whole stance and approach is just so blunt all the time. And that's really, really satisfying, even on a record where she is staking a place as a more mainstream figure.
CRUMPTON: Yeah, I think for me it's funny 'cause I know she already had, like, some existing singles on here. But there was such a critique of "Girls In The Hood," and I don't know if it's because - that she had sampled such an iconic, like, hip-hop song as Eazy E's "Boyz-N-The-Hood." But when we compare it to the album's beginning, "Shots Fired," you see it's kind of this continuation of this energy - right? - where those first lines of "Girls In The Hood", that I cannot repeat on NPR...
CRUMPTON: ...Are very much, like, these defining moments. And I think, for me, this feels like a very pop album, and those tracks still feel like rapper Megan to me. Like, they feel very bold, and they take up space because that is what she does. And I think she is this 25-year-old Black woman from the South who - you know, one of my favorite lyrics from her is, bitch, I'm from Texas - we get rowdy.
CRUMPTON: And she carries energy that lives within me, in Kiana and a lot of our Black women from Texas in which we explicitly take up space, and we do not ask for your permission to be ourselves. And I think those few songs in the album where I hear Megan Pete - and I think that's the distinct difference - Megan Pete, her legal name, compared to Megan Thee Stallion, which is this pop culture we know today - is what kept me rooted in such a 17-track album, right?
"Girls In The Hood" was - I think the video was supposed to be recorded in Houston. And there was, like, allegedly leaked photos of Bun B being there and Paul Wall. And for even her to interpolate such a West Coast classic and, like, make that, like, a very Houston-centered idea, she has this history and understanding of hip-hop and knows when to slice and interpolate it into her own classes, which I think speaks to, like, a testament of her being a student of the genre outside of just, like, the regional limits. It's a good pop album. I'll say that. It is a good pop album. But I want a rap album. I want, like, a real in-your-face album.
THOMPSON: (Laughter). Yeah. I mean, I think for me, in terms of the guests on this album, I felt like, understandably, the women outshone the men. I mean, everybody knows the "Savage Remix" with Beyonce. I thought as soon as I heard SZA's voice swoop in - even though it is a more of a pop and R&D sound, I just so welcomed her voice. And often, when they would bring in kind of some dude to rap a few bars, men in a Megan Thee Stallion song are just kind of standing around a little bit...
THOMPSON: ...And trying to keep up...
THOMPSON: ...Which I think is part of the point.
FITZGERALD: Yeah. And in a lot of ways, I think, as you said, like the women do on this project, she just outshines them, like, bar none. Like, she is absolutely incredible at taking, like, the Lil Durk collaboration, for example - like, the ad libs that they do at the beginning of the song, just saying yeah over and over again. Like, he opens the song singing, and then she does it. And I'm like, oh, no, now I'm listening, like...
THOMPSON: Yeah (laughter).
FITZGERALD: You know, it's like something is different when she does it. And I think that really speaks to who she is. Like, she can just breathe on a track, and it's compelling. But just to kind of bring this full circle, I agree with Taylor that this is a strong pop album. And I think there are moments where Megan is, like, doing her thing and, like, going hard. But I am looking forward to, like, a straight up, like, hip-hop, this is who I am. This is what I brought to the table from day one. This is who I want to present to you here.
THOMPSON: Well, let's pick a song to go out on. Kiana, what do you got?
FITZGERALD: I would love to talk about "Freaky Girls," the track featuring SZA. There is a very subtle hat tip that Megan presents to Houston. There's a song called "25 Lighters," which is by DJ DMD featuring Lil' Keke and Fat Pat. It's a very, very renowned Houston classic. And Fat Pat says, at the end of his verse, love it, man. But they put that at the top of "25 Lighters," and it kind of, like, sets the tone for the song. So with "Freaky Girls," Megan takes that ad lib, and she kind of puts it in consistently in the song. So we can always remember that she may not be making a Houston-specific song, but she's damn sure going to remind you that she's from Texas.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREAKY GIRLS")
SZA: (Singing) I will be your freak any time or place, any day of the week. I'ma let you hit it. I ain't scared. I ain't shy. It's cool with me. I'm looking for a thug who ain't scared of the pussy with a gangster lean. If you pull up and a nigga talking tough, better freak like me.
MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Freaky bitch, I do this. Suck it like I'm toothless. Your old bitch can't fuck with me.
CRUMPTON: Twenty-five years ago, infamously, we all heard, the South got something to say from Andre 3000 at the 1995 Source Awards. And Kiana and I were both contributors to NPR's Southern hip-hop project. So to contextualize Megan's historic rise and ascension, no one in hip-hop would have thought that in 1995, the hottest rapper in the world is from Houston, Texas, right?
I think the reason why she will be forever loved in the South is that she was able to, I want to say, defeat the originators of hip-hop at their own game 'cause for a long time the South was not recognized nor honored in the hip-hop lexicon nor anthology. And at this current moment, NPR, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar, W magazine, all of these notable publications that very much did not accept hip-hop in its early beginnings - and especially not Southern hip hop whenever our region kind of ascended to mainstream. And right now we have this woman who inspires so many young Black girls from Texas to be themselves.
So just to kind of close off on that "Savage Remix" with Beyonce, I know it is over-said that it's the passing of a torch. But I think there is that shared sister and that kinship - right? - as we see in Beyonce's latest interview with British Vogue that she is taking the time to be a mother. She has given her whole entire life to pop culture and music. In this kind of tutelage, this mentorship of Megan, I think we're seeing that she is trying to figure out what her legacy and her lineage is going to be at such a young age. And that allows us critics and, I think, journalists to offer valid critiques because we do love her and inherently see her and want to grow.
And I think this is something that could be said with Kiana - is, you know, Black people from Texas were the first ones to really love and embrace her and fight for her to be covered in national publications. So it's such a full-circle moment to witness her, to critique her and offer her, you know, feedback for her rise because we've only seen the beginnings of Megan Thee stallion. And I'm really excited to finally be hear Megan Pete one day.
THOMPSON: Nice. Thank you so much to you both. I do want to shout out a couple of links to coverage at NPR Music. Taylor mentioned "The South Got Something To Say," this amazing Southern hip-hop playlist that both Taylor and Kiana contributed to. It is fantastic. I could not recommend it more highly. Also, we did a Megan Thee Stallion Tiny Desk concert as part of the Tiny Desk Fest, in which she brought so much...
THOMPSON: ...Absolutely awesome star power. I got to stand in the crowd and gawk at the - just the intensity and power and majesty of that performance. I really, really highly recommend both of those. Well, we want to know what you think about Megan Thee Stallion's new album. Find us at facebook.com/pchh and on Twitter at @pchh. That brings us to the end of our show. Thanks so much to you both for being here.
CRUMPTON: Thank you.
FITZGERALD: Thank y'all.
THOMPSON: And of course, thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. If you have a second and you're so inclined, please subscribe to our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. We'll see you all right back here tomorrow when we'll be talking about the film "Hillbilly Elegy."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.