Rico Nasty has been rediscovering who she is as an artist. Now, she’s ready to show the world what she discovered.
Interview: Bianca Torres
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Rico Nasty is not the typical female rapper. The 23-year-old artist, born Maria Kelly, doesn’t follow rules; she breaks them. With her rocker flare, brash attitude and explosive music, Rico moves to her own beat. On this early November evening in New York City, the Largo, Md. native has just wrapped a day of promo for her debut album, Nightmare Vacation, and now unwinds on a luxurious bed in her 6 Columbus Central Park hotel room. Her look is subtle: two pigtails, minimal makeup and a gray, lacey outfit, but Rico always exudes a rock star. That’s her aesthetic and she carries it to her core. It’s what makes the rhyme-slinger look and feel original and authentic and has helped her recently snag collabo deals with makeup brands Il Makiage and Rihanna’s Fenty.
While busy locking down business partnerships, the Atlantic Records star has also spent 2020 playing the role of teacher to her 5-year-old son during the coronavirus pandemic and in the studio cooking up some new music. Over the past few months, Rico dropped videos for “OHFR?,” “Own It” and “iPhone,” all songs featured on the recently released Nightmare Vacation.
Here, Rico chats it up with XXL via Zoom about finding her lane in rap, studio dedication and becoming the next Martha Stewart.
XXL: The name of your album is Nightmare Vacation. What does that mean?
Rico Nasty: Nightmare Vacation means to me, just overcoming moments of your life where it just seemed like you couldn’t get over. I found out throughout this album, I did a lot of growing. I did a lot of, like, not soul-searching, because that just sounds like a bunch of bullshit, but really getting to know myself better. I went through a lot of stuff where I felt like, back to square one, almost.
That’s why I called it Nightmare Vacation because in going through all this shit, I just felt like I had become a person that I never thought I could be. I’ve heard so many people like, “I don’t like this music” and “I don’t like her music.” This album is just a product of getting back up. This [is the] product [of] so many people telling you [what you] should be doing, and this project is just what I am.
Who is Rico Nasty right now?
There’s no more personas. There’s no more alter egos. I just am who I am. There is no hard Rico. There is no soft Rico. I feel like [I] just kind of broke those barriers. I’ve finally found my niche tone. I guess, from a melodic sense that I really, really like and it blends well with other artists. I don’t know, I feel like I’ve given my fans too many groups. This is this Rico and that Rico and everything is just, at the end of the day, it’s just me. There is no other personality and all this shit that I would have tried to hide behind a couple years ago.
You wanted this album to be like Kanye’s Yeezus. Why that comparison?
I just mean the way it was, because I didn’t like Yeezus at first. It was something that had to grow on me. It was a project that when I listened to it, I made time to listen to it. I had made time for that shit, when I knew Yeezus was dropping, I remember Kanye dropped. I was like, OK, when this comes out, I’m going to clean my room to it and I’m going to just listen to it. I’m not going to let nobody’s opinion [affect mine]. I’m going to appreciate this art.
And that’s what I did. I appreciated it. Like, every song, I sat down and I was like, play that back. What did he say? I feel like a lot of times when my fans listen to my music, it’s a party time. It’s girl time. It’s like, we’re about to go beat a bitch ass. It’s group activities, bro. And with this project, I want them to make time for me, go in your fucking room.
How has life changed over the last year?
I had so much confidence going into [XXL] Freshman and then after it, it just kind of, I don’t know what happened. I felt like I had no place. I had no acceptance, whatsoever. I felt like everything else is getting accepted and I was just like getting blown off or put off to be some type of like, “She’s this type of this girl.” And it was like, I had never been this type of anything. I’m just me. And it just started fucking with me.
At the time, [my mixtape] Anger Management is out and everybody was, “Oh my God!” But at the time I’m like, no, actually no, fuck you, because now you’re all trying to make me seem like I’m this bitch that can only do that.
I felt very alone, especially watching it be like, a Hot Girl summer. And that’s weird, because I’m like, I wouldn’t consider myself a Hot Girl and I’m crying about it. Then months later, I’m the Hot Girl, so I’m in a video, which is just crazy, because like, I’m not a Hot Girl. I’m dorky. I’m weird. I live up in a loft.
Yeah, that was a really weird time in my life. Especially like, just the whole XXL scene, the hard hip-hop people, like, this bitch is not real hip-hop. She’s trying to be White. She’s trying to be a rock star. And I’m like, if I’m not hip-hop, what the fuck is hip-hop?
If you look at artists like Lil Uzi Vert, he popped up on the rap scene like a rock star. He was completely different.
Yeah, but even now, Uzi, I always consider him a rock star because of his attitude. The way he dresses, the way he carries himself. His music is rap. That’s rap music. And I think that those had hip-hop hits. Like, if I don’t look like Noname or J. Cole, I’m not real hip-hop to them. It blows my mind.
You can see yourself as a trailblazer and they never have it easy. They’re always scrutinized.
It’s very lonely because they’re intimidated. Trailblazers, they are weird. I can’t name a trailblazer that’s not a little bit weird. Just because we make great music doesn’t make us great human beings or completely geniuses at social skills. When I make my music, nine times out of 10, I make my music, I’m in the studio for 72 hours. Any person that stays in a room and doesn’t wash their ass or brush their teeth for 72 hours to make a song is not right in the head. Like, we’re not all the way there, bro. We’re just here for the music.
You’ve got to respect someone who doesn’t wash their ass for three days to do music.
Being a girl is different. I probably shouldn’t have said that. People are going to be like, “Wait a minute.” My boyfriend be in the studio with me, though. Like, why can’t women, why can’t we go as hard as the men? Do you know how many men would say the same thing? “I’ve been in the studio eight days straight, man. I took like two or three showers. I ain’t changed my clothes.” They rhyme about that shit. That’s really my life. I go in the studio and lock in.
How do you feel about the status of female rappers? You see more support amongst female rappers.
I felt like I would have fucking hated to be late to the party because that would have made me really sad, to be missing out on all this love. Our game has never felt like this. It’s never been so warm. You have friends and you get to watch people literally get rich together.
How do you feel about politics and the big Biden-Harris win?
I feel great. Well, let me not say great. Alright. Let me not do this, because…it doesn’t make me feel great. Like, I could sleep at night, it makes me feel better, you know? I feel reassured. I don’t feel reassured in our government, but I feel reassured in our people because we’ve seen, as a group, it was a problem. And regardless of how close [President Trump] came to winning or whatever the fuck he keeps talking about, we came together as a people to make a difference.
Do you have any specific goals for 2021?
We got to get rid of this corona bitch ’cause this bitch needs to go. I don’t know if I might have to jump her or what’s about to happen, but we need to all go outside one day and beat her ass. I need to go on a vacation that’s what I want to do next year. I wanna take a vacation and I want to go scuba diving.
What’s your ultimate goal in life, in general?
I want to be able to be heard not seen. I want to be one of those people that my song is on a game. You get off the game, watching a commercial, I’m on a fucking commercial. You get in the bed, my brand of sheets are on the bed and I got slippers. I just want to become, not only a household name, but a household item. Off some Martha Stewart shit. I love interior design. I love vases and desks and chairs and bed frames and shit like that. Sheets, shower curtains, rugs.
I feel like everybody idolizes the rapper’s house anyway. Everybody wants the rapper’s house. So, why not actually have a place that you could buy shit that rapper’s have had in their house or things that make your house look hella rich without being rich. A lot of people not rich and home decor is expensive. So, I need that Target collab A.S.A.P.
Check out more from XXL’s Winter 2020 issue including our DaBaby cover story, an introduction to DaBaby’s Billion Dollar Baby Entertainment label roster, an interview with South Coast Music Group founder Arnold Taylor, who discovered and signed DaBaby, one of King Von’s last interviews, The Kid Laroi’s move from rookie rapper to streaming success, how the coronavirus changed hip-hop, our interview with actress, writer and producer Issa Rae about her label Raedio, Marshmello talks about rappers he wants to work with and more.
See Photos of XXL Magazine’s Winter 2020 Cover Shoot With DaBaby