rapper rico nasty is the invincible role model she never had
"Some days I wake up and want to fucking die, but if you want to get your prophecy, you have to work for it."
Photography Roberto Brundo
This article originally appeared on i-D DE.
Rico Nasty has lived a tumultuous life -- and she’s still only 21. After getting kicked out of school, she ended up selling drugs and then becoming a mother when she was still a teen. But despite potential obstacles, she has managed to take a fast lane to success, touring the world and playing sold-out concerts along the way.
Her audiences are typically full of women, with whom she connects as she urges them to form circle pits, screaming the lyrics of her underground hits like Smack A Bitch and Rage. With her dark eyeliner and ever-changing hairstyles — sometimes long and pink, then in spikes, next a green bob — she could be the frontwoman of a punk band, her uncompromising attitude only justifying the comparison.
And then, all of a sudden, her character changes. In the middle of the stage she shows her vulnerable side, rapping about trust issues and her late baby-daddy. Maria Kelly, who was given her stage name Rico Nasty by a school bully, embodies three alter egos across her work that reveal various stories and attitudes. She has given herself the freedom to be the person she wants to be in the moment, without ever having to deny her roots.
Four years ago, the Maryland-based rapper released her first mixtape. Today, she's working with Lil Yachty, signing a deal with Atlantic Records, gracing international magazine covers, and will soon have half a million followers on Instagram. But most importantly, Rico Nasty became the empowering role model she so desperately wanted back when she was growing up.
Hi Rico! Let's skip the small talk: what mistake would you make over and over again?
My child. People often think that my pregnancy was a mistake, but I would make it over and over again. I love him so much. Besides, my labour only lasted four hours. That's really the only 'mistake' I would repeat.
You’re raising the next generation of game changers! Not just your son, but your young fans that you're empowering to be themselves.
When I was growing up I always wished for someone to just fall out of the sky and show me how to be badass. Then I got Avril Lavigne, but where did she go? There was a point in time where she was running shit. We needed her and she left us. We all need someone who doesn’t give a fuck but still is nice. For my son it’s really important that I set an example and chase my dreams.
Before all the music shit went off I remember coming back home from work, holding him in my arms, saying: “Bro, do you know how disrespectful men are? Do you know how hard it is to tell a man what to do when you don’t set an example?” If you’re not living and breathing that shit no man’s going to listen to you. If my son watched me growing up living that fast life, selling drugs and all that shit, how is he going to learn any different? Of course, some days I wake up and I want to fucking die. But if you want to get your prophecy, you need to work for it.
Not only on an artistic level, but on a personal level too. You once said that growing up, you always felt like an outcast, a weirdo. What would you like to tell your younger self?
Oh my God. If I could talk to my younger self right now I would be like, “Bitch, stop wanting to kill yourself. Your life is going to be lit. Stop downing yourself, stop doubting yourself, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Own that shit bro.” If I would have owned that shit at 13, I would have been famous at 15. If I would have just been comfortable with myself, but I feel like that's always a part of growing up. You need to learn to love yourself.
An important lesson, just like in your lyrics when you reclaim female sexuality and the word bitch — why do you feel it's so important to do that today?
That’s a question I always wanted someone to ask! I have like ten different bitches. If I ever call somebody a bitch, 9 times out of 10 it’s just another word for girl. And sometimes it could be a word for a guy, for a hook-up. A bitch doesn’t have a sex, a bitch doesn’t have a gender. Sometimes people take that shit as disrespect, but whatever. It’s 2018, it’s just a word.
I especially like listening to your music when I'm on my way home. In the middle of the night, alone in the street. It makes me feel fearless .
Yes, I really want my audience to feel indestructible. As a woman someone’s always trying to talk you down, so I want them to turn those insults into some kind of challenge. When someone talks down at you, take it like a challenge and be like, “Oh really? You don’t think I can do that?” and then show them. Not some kind of revenge shit, but make-yourself-better type of shit.
Do you feel indestructible yourself?
Pretty much. People took a lot of shots at me, but they don’t have a lot of ammunition. I'm still here. And I'm getting louder.
As loud as all the women standing front row at your sold-out concerts. You've succeeded in creating a supportive culture around you and among your fans.
Support has to start somewhere. People love the support they get from their fans, but I don’t know how many people actually support their fans back. I’m actually friends with some of them! They saw my talent — not a lot of people saw it when I first started. They didn’t know if I was going to be big, they were visionaries in a way. In the beginning, people would just DM me and I would respond, sometimes we'd even Facetime, those relationships just stuck. When I’m home and I go shopping and wear sweatpants and sunnies and spy at people in the supermarket, I can tell when girls are my fans just by the way they’re dressed! It’s so crazy. I just look at them and be like, “Look at my babies. You got the sauce”. I’m proud of them.
If it’s fans, that's cool, but with other artists that must get annoying. How do you deal with copycats?
I think it’s really important that you understand that when you put your art out, it’s like food. People are digesting it — you’re feeding people inspiration. I realised that in being an artist and an influencer, part of your wave beginning is people copying you. That’s just the way the world works. Everybody thinks the stuff they do is new. I could tie my shoe in a certain way and be like “Yo, I ain’t never see a bitch tying her shoes like this, I made this”. This is how people act nowadays. But do you know how big this world is? I had to just accept that. You can’t be mad about people trying to copy you when you want to be famous.
You have various alter egos, which makes it even harder to copy you. Why do you need these different personalities?
They are all connected. When you put on a wig or wear an outfit, you feel like another person. I use that for myself. It’s like acting. It's cool to see in how many different characters I can create; finding different parts of myself.
With Tacobella… I don’t really share that side of me with many people anymore, it’s a part of me that I have outgrown. Trap Lavigne doesn’t give a fuck — she's just pure energy. Then there’s Rico. My name’s been Rico Nasty since school, and I’ve always had Rico’s energy, but when you compare my first tape to my most recent one, you realise that she had to grow up. Tacobella didn’t grow up, she just talked about how she got where she got.
So for example, if you're talking about trust issues, which character is talking?
With songs like Trust Issues where I'm talking about shit I'm really going through, but I don’t use a girly voice, so people don’t think it's Tacobella. But any time I’m talking about real life situations and how I feel like I’m going to crash, it’s her. That line in particular — “Rich bitch in the passenger/ I hope I don’t fucking crash”. I’m the rich bitch and I hope that I don’t fuck everything up from having trust issues, from not being able to trust all these new people. I signed a deal, so I have to be around people I’ve never met before. I really love that song, it’s my favourite.
Talking about cars, your song Smack A Bitch is about your Audi and a quarrel that started because of it. How much do you place importance on materialistic things?
People were really mad about the car thing because when I first got it, that was all I talked about. One thing I learned about myself is in order to get more good shit to happen to you, you can not rub the good shit you get in other people’s faces. When I first started getting money, it was really important to me. But it doesn’t matter how much it cost, in the end it still breaks. I don’t care about it anymore.