Genre-bending rapper Rico Nasty is unapologetically herself

Rico Nasty raps to the beat of her own drum. The 23-year-old combines hip-hop with punk, pop, metal or whatever else she feels like. 

The Maryland rapper, born Maria Kelly to Puerto Rican and African American parents, has steadily dropped self-released mixtapes like Nasty and Anger Management since 2014. But her recent collaborations have further catapulted her into the limelight, like her punchy makeup palette with Il Makiage and the slinky bilingual, Latin trap song “Aquí Yo Mando” with Colombian-American singer Kali Uchis. The artist is slated to drop her debut album Nightmare Vacation on Dec. 4, featuring the singles “iPhone” and “OHFR.”

“I never think about the genre when I’m making the music. I always mix it with who I am. There is no, like, one side of me. I try to give y’all f****** everything, OK?” Rico told In The Know. 

While Rico admitted her eclectic style — which combines aesthetics from internet culturehip-hop and punk rock — has been imitated into ubiquity, she took comparisons to other women artists as a compliment. 

“I see so many people that compare me to other female artists because they’re just carefree. And they’re just fun. So if sounding like me means being fun, then I definitely take pride in that,” she said. 

But Rico wasn’t always as bold as she is today where being herself seems to be the central ethos of her artistry. 

“I feel like I got comfortable being myself towards the end of high school,” Rico said. “After that phase, it kind of like stuck with me. It was just like a part of me like, ‘just keeping being yourself.’ It gets rocky though. I have days where I’m like, ‘maybe I’m not the coolest.'”

It’s easy to lose your resolve in an industry where women face a plethora of double standards. 

“The expectations that people have on women are very dated,” Rico explained. “If you don’t give a certain thing, which you know what I’m talking about, it’s like nothing that you work and create matters. Then turn around, and when you base your career off of that, then they bash you for that. They’re never gonna be happy.” 

For Rico, it’s clear that no matter what choice a woman is given, she’s not given any good options — at least any that will allow her to avert sexism. 

“They wouldn’t be happy if you worked at Walmart,” Rico said. “They’d call you a bum b****. And they wouldn’t be happy if you worked at the strip club. They’d call you a ho a** b****. They wouldn’t be happy if you worked at the hospital. They’d call you a nerdy a** b****.” 

Rico notably quit her job as a hospital receptionist when her career started to take off. However, despite the inevitable hurdles, she still believes it’s important for women to pursue careers in hip-hop. 

“If there’s a young Black woman watching this and you’re a rapper, you have to go in the studio and write if you wanna,” Rico urged. “Let it out. Feel what you feel. Don’t sell yourself short, ever.” 

If you liked this story, check out this article on this Boston-area rapper using his “mobile studio” to give a voice to at-risk youth.

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