Maria Kelly, also known by her stage name Rico Nasty, is a 20-year-old rapper from the DMV who, over the past year, has taken the bubblegum rap scene by storm. With her eccentric mohawks, braids, wigs, and pastel goth fashion, she is unapologetically herself.
Rico has released six mixtapes in total–Summer’s Eve, The Rico Story, Sugar Trap, Life of a Rockstar, Tales of Tacobella, and her most recent project, Sugar Trap 2. She has also released two collabs with Lil Yachty, which have accelerated her career and expanded her fanbase. Rico describes her musical style as Sugar Trap, which is a blend of cartoon sing-songy melodies and beats and trap rap.
In terms of style and personality, Rico is a happy savage.
What stands out the most about the Maryland artist is her confidence, which blends seamlessly into her style. In response to Twitter backlash regarding her bold hairstyle, Rico Nasty responded with, “BLACK GIRLS WEAR THEY HAIR HOW THEY WANT BITCH,” which, really, is representative of her response to any and all online hate.
Despite her colorful aura and overall positive outlook, Rico is often referred to as rude, angry, and aggressive. Some critics have even gone as far to say she sounds like a boy, an unwarranted criticism she has been forced to address in interviews. In response to a tweet that asked, “Why does she seem angry?” Rico wrote, “Is it because I’m Black,” a retort that proves she is painfully aware of a perception that is driven by race and gender.
Just as Princess Nokia once described in an interview with VFiles, Black women are often seen as angry and coarse (and rightfully so). Comparing Black women to having man-like mannerisms, or coding them as angry, aggressive, and conceited is misogynoir, a term coined by Black feminist scholar Moya Bailey to describe the unique experiences Black women face with misogyny and anti-Black racism. The idea that Rico is perpetually an angry and aggressive person, despite all the positivity she’s displayed in her music and in interviews, plays right into the “angry Black woman” or “Sapphire” trope.
The notion that Black women were angry and violent by nature—that there was a need to control them—was used to justify the enslavement of Black women. In actuality, Black women were expressing indignation, an emotion that was justified but ultimately disregarded because of their status as non-humans. Even today, Black women are often taught to suppress their emotions as a means to avoid falling into these tropes.
Rico doesn’t suppress her emotions, though. Quite the opposite; her openness and vulnerability have become part of her brand. What’s so insubordinate about her embracing these tropes is that, by ex-appropriating identities used to invalidate Black women’s emotions, Rico has shown that it’s okay to be angry and aggressive as a Black woman because those feelings and expressions are valid.
She addresses this topic in her song “Moves” by asserting:
“Pussy niggas tryna fuck up my groove / People be calling me rude, yeah / I don’t care yeah”
Rico acknowledges that some people might perceive her as rude, but she seems unbothered by it and is comfortable continuing to follow her own lead. This behavior, naturally, has led to criticisms about her being conceited, but rather than viewing her artistic expression as bravado, Rico has pushed forward a narrative of self-love on records like “Poppin’.”
On top of melodic production, nursery rhyme tunes, and coarse rapping, Rico reminds her critics:
“I’m a poppin’ ass bitch let me remind ya / Don’t hide I can always come and find ya / Ain’t no bitch in me, bitch come proper / And the Audi movin’ fast you behind me”
Rico also embraced the Sapphire trope on “Smack a Bitch,” a record that combines heavy guitar riffs and screamo style rapping. In the background, Rico can be heard yelling ad-libs like “Shut the f*ck up!” or “Oh my f*cking god,” which, for most artists might be shocking, but for Rico, is a tactic that has helped her to solidify her brand.
Aggression might be her musical calling card, but Rico has shown a softer side through her alter-ego, Tacobella, for whom her fifth mixtape is named after. On “Brandon,” she samples Vanessa Carlton’s hit single “A Thousand Miles” and sings about her best friend and the father of her son, who has sadly passed away. Even if she does embrace them, Rico’s range is proof positive she can exist outside the tropes that serve as the foundation of her music.
By being unapologetically herself, Rico Nasty is proving to the world that Black women are as complex a segment of the population as anyone else and should be allowed to experience a full range of emotions without labels or repercussion.
Black girls wear their hair how they want, bitch.