The maestro Leonard Cohen used to describe his ballads as little things designed to help “get you through the dishes.” Rico Nasty, a 20-year-old rapper raised in Prince George’s County, approaches her craft with the same sense of utility. “Whenever I make a song, I think about the scenario where somebody would hear it — in a store shopping, or smoking with their friends, or in the club when you want to turn up, or in the car when you want something slow,” she says. “I always think, ‘What setting does this song belong in?’ ”
This thoughtful new tack might come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the relentless, electric sneer she’s honed on her first two mix tapes, 2016’s “Sugar Trap” and 2017’s “Tales of Tacobella.” But Rico promises that she’s already on to the next sound, working to broaden her aesthetic “so they can’t box me in.” Her career is barely underway, but she’s tired of being dismissed as a “cartoon rapper” (her lyrics cite Nickelodeon’s “Blue’s Clues” and “Hey, Arnold!”), a “mumble rapper” (she prizes playful melodies over lyrical gymnastics), or perhaps worst of all, a “female rapper” (she’s a woman, therefore must fight for legitimacy from some imaginary sub-tier).
“That’s why I always talk about being comfortable with yourself and who you are,” she says. “Your life is what you make it.” She seems poised, perceptive and wise beyond her years — and if you can’t hear it in the rhymes she’s penned so far, listen to her explain how the birth of her son intensified her confidence, her self-awareness and her creative impulse:
“When you’re 18, you’re not planning your life through a child. You want to travel, you want to go to school, you want to be in the club, living this amazing life. A baby is a blessing, but it shows you a whole other side of things. It shows you where life began, and it rewinds everything you just learned. Like, at 18 you remember being 5! I had my child straight out of high school and it grew me up, and it made me see that life is amazing, but that there’s a dark twist to everything, too — from nursery rhymes to the stories we tell them. That’s why I call my music ‘sugar trap.’ It’s trap music, but there’s still happiness in there. And once you get that happiness, you can get trapped in that energy. My son is that energy. He keeps me going and wanting to learn new stuff because he’s learning new [stuff] every day.”
I didn’t hear any mumbling there. Did you?
Show: With D$G Dae and O Slice on Friday at Songbyrd Music House. Show starts at 8 p.m.
202-450-2917. songbyrddc.com. $10 in advance, $12 at the door.