Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Nightmare Vacation, the new album from Rico Nasty.
“But I don’t write reviews, that’s somethin’ y’all do, somethin’ y’all type!” - Rico Nasty, “Candy” (2020)
“Yes. It’s true, for now.” - Michael Penn II, after hearing “Candy” by Rico Nasty
As Rico Nasty clears the pylon of her retail debut, she’s emerged as the pop-punk empress of Black women’s mainstream rap renaissance. After an early career donning many skins too unfit, Rico clicked by leaning into everything she already was: loud, brash, raspy, PG County down. It’s giving charisma, character: she’s the unfriendly alt rager one hit away from a launch into the next echelon, should she desire it. She’s built a formidable name by cutting her teeth in the mosh pit, building on mixtapes and singles slowly scaling her up towards this precious pre-breakthrough moment. With a strong core already in tow, Rico’s teetering the borderline between a traditional pop-rap crossover and the still wildly-uncharted hyperpop territory slowly seeping into several strains of mainstream pop.
Nightmare Vacation, for all its steady progressive steps, sounds like a by-the-numbers mainstream rap debut: bigger (though not overpopulated) features, some production pushing closer to center, and a thrill ride approach shirking a grander theme for a good time. And it’s a damn good time the whole time, opting to play closer to Rico’s strengths without leaping too drastically in any direction. There’s a slice of every Rico to please everyone: provocateur, sweet melodic, strange melodic, all fluctuating in effectiveness while keeping an engaging baseline. Rico remains one of the most thrilling vocalists in rap, owning her abrasiveness whenever she rages and remaining charming when she plays it cooler. This prized asset continues to pay off, so we’ll never be bored even when her writing feels stale or too familiar to previous highs; that’s a more common occurrence on this album, arriving between the moments where she’s punchy and clever and firmly in her bag as a songwriter.
“While swinging more for the fences, the biggest connections come when she’s paired with 100 gecs on production. While hyperpop’s still an acquired taste for some, Rico’s natural adoption of this aesthetic plays perfectly into maxing out her best sensibilities. She was full-speed ahead of the curve of mainstream rap’s reacceptance of pop/punk and the guitar as a central instrument. Now, 100 gecs helped Rico craft records like “IPHONE” and “OHFR?,” which smash her comfort zone and push her versatility while granting her another angle of being unpredictable. Rico and Kenny Beats’s undeniable chemistry is sorely missed, but Rico finds worthy adversaries in tested hitmakers Take a Daytrip, helming off-kilter crowd-pleasers “STFU” and “Girl Scouts” which bring a new edge to old waves. Unfortunately, the rest of Nightmare Vacation’s production is more functional than refreshing, sounding either too attached to Rico’s legacy, or too safe to grant her radio appeals the legs they deserve. Though no beats are bad or misplaced on their own merits, the more regular moments do no justice next to the potential (and successes) of the more innovative choices on here, watering down what could’ve been a great next step if synthesized a little further down.
Nightmare Vacation proves she can rap-croon with her contemporaries, and rage all by herself while pulling a sleeper hit from nowhere with folks you wouldn’t expect. It’s even cool to see a “Smack a Bitch” remix that exists to draw the line of her impact on the generation moshing in her image. But there’s a nagging feeling that she’s still one hit away from launching ever further into her potential as the caliber of superstar she clearly is. Her light shouldn’t be dimmed by serviceable choices, and she can’t play it too safe even if we love her for it. Rico’s entertaining and sharp as ever, but the next steps will involve more growth towards rounding out her total package so her writing will be as consistent as her vocal performances. But with this entry, Rico’s no longer in a space where she can be whittled down to a passing fad: she’s cemented in the spotlight, charging the rap girls forward. Once the screaming ceases and the rap guitars get sat back on the rack, she’ll adapt.