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Rico Nasty, Nightmare Vacation

Five things that inspired Rico Nasty’s debut album Nightmare Vacation

The punk rock renegade reflects on how female rap, mosh pits, and Rihanna shaped her stellar new record

Listening to Rico Nasty’s debut album, Nightmare Vacation, feels like an adrenaline rush of sound. Though just 23-years-old, the Maryland rapper holds an astonishing seven mixtapes under her belt. She’s garnered a strong cult following since 2018’s Nasty certified her status as a punk rap renegade, while smash hits like “Smack a Bitch” and “Poppin” doubled down on her distinct style of “sugar trap” – a mix of raspy, crushing vocals and grungy hooks with softer, computerised beats.

Nightmare Vacation expands the rapper’s high-voltage sound with the genre-hopping futurism of 100 gec’s Dylan Brady, who produced the hyperpop-infused tracks “OHFR?” and “iPhone”. “Sometimes she would have a vibe she wanted to work off of – an energy,” explains Brady over email. He references the guttural guitar sounds of Van Halen, the 70s Californian rock band, as a main reference point. “For ‘OHFR?’, we used found audio from the depths of the internet. Archeology and national treasure-type vibes,” he adds.

Elsewhere, “Don’t Like Me”, a collaboration with Don Toliver and Gucci Mane, sees a return to the rapper’s softer side with her alter-ego Tacobella, while “Pussy Poppin” and “Back & Forth” are sensual bops about “coochie”. Alternatively, the frenetic “Let it Out” provides some of her gnarliest moments of catharsis yet, as she encourages us, “If you wanna rage, let it out”, before letting out a throaty rawr to a loud, lurching beat.

“I feel like people like my super dark side. And they're just now getting familiar with the hyperpop and like more of the singing side,” Rico tells me over Zoom. She’s wearing a Rihanna t-shirt and holding a joint in hand, which she puffs on intermittently. “I just tried to put that all in this album and give them a ride.”

Rico says that accepting her fear surrounding fame and success was key to shaping the sound of her new record. The same goes for embracing her femininity and experimenting with ‘female’ rap. Below, she tells us how they ended up shaping the sound and sensibility of Nightmare Vacation.


Rico Nasty: I feel like the internet makes it so that all us rappers appear like a forcefield, like we’re all connected in some way, and have respect for one another’s craft. But that shit wasn’t an initial thing. When I came into the game, everybody was afraid that their time would run out and that we’d move onto the new next thing. That’s why I talk about feeling all this pressure to be seen.

For this album, it was important to acknowledge that pressure, because whenever I acknowledge some shit that I was afraid to admit, it helps so many people to feel like, ‘oh shit, I’m not alone. I’m not crazy, or I’m not by myself’.


Rico Nasty: I definitely fall into the category of Rihanna stans. She makes me feel like I’m cool. A lot of celebrities, you get into a room with them, and it be like, ‘I’m poor!’; but with Rihanna, it doesn’t feel like that. It’s like we’ve known each other our whole lives, probably because I’ve known her my whole life (laughs). Meeting her (at the Savage Fenty show) was the biggest form of validation, because I look up to her like a sister – and that’s how people see me, too. 

She doesn’t know how much she’s helped me personally as an artist. But everything she’s done is something I keep in the back of my mind. She puts her own touch on things, like even when she’s featuring on someone else’s song, she makes it hers.


Rico Nasty: I have a group chat with my fans and they had me dying last night, because they kept asking me, ‘who’s the new character?’ Because I know that there’s a new character, but I don’t know her name. I know that she’s sexy – like not fucking Rihanna sexy but Rico Nasty sexy. 

We have “Back and Forth” and “Pussy Poppin” that I wouldn’t consider Rico Nasty-style music, but I wouldn’t consider it Tacobella either, because it’s not soft or melodic like in “Don’t Like Me”. I was surprised at myself, finding this whole other side to myself. I feel like she’s the Nasty side of Rico. 

I feel like I focus all my energy on this rockstar shit that I’ve lost my feminine touch, and that whole feminine vibe of being a female rapper. Sometimes we’d go to the studio and I don’t want to be hard. I just want to be a regular girl who everyone thinks is a hoe because she raps about coochie. I wanted to feel what people felt and why they’re so obsessed with making those types of songs. Because I don’t make that type of music, when I see songs like that catching traction, I’m like, why don’t they just rap about weed and clothes and fashion and money? Why do they rap about sex and raunchy shit?


Rico Nasty: I’ve realised that I don’t have to talk about shit that’s gender neutral, even though that’s what I was doing for a really long time. Like I would write my stuff and be like, ‘no, I can’t say that, because guys can’t sing along’. But the older I get, I just realised that maybe I need to do it for the girls, because I don’t think guys will ever get female rap, unfortunately. My fans do, but (normally) guys don’t let us be who we want to be. Also, the standards of women are so dated, and that’s another reason why female rap needs to happen, because y’all need to see how girls really are now. 

My boyfriend and I got drunk as shit. We went to the studio and named the song “Pussy Poppin” after that part in 21 Jump Street. It’s so goofy. I wanted to make it for the girls who, when you mention sex, are like (makes mhmm noise). That’s the type of girl I am, so I wanted to make that song to tell y’all that I’m a freak bitch too. 

After it was finished, I got why there’s power in those types of songs. Like, wow, it’s actually really fun to pop my pussy and talk about everyday shit like this. Only females can relate to that. We all know what it’s like to get some good D. But when you’re around guys, they don’t know what it feels like and I think that’s why they get so weirded out when we rap about it.


Rico Nasty: I like proving my strength, especially as a female. Some people have mosh pit etiquette when a girl gets in the pit or whatever, but I feel like I don’t ask for that. The girls I would moshpit with when we were in high school, we never asked for special treatment, because we was terrible (laughs). 

Things went how they went –  busted lip, nose, whatever the case may be. And when it was all said and done, it didn’t make me feel like going out and finding somebody (to fight) and really getting locked up. Or finding somebody who didn’t want to fight, or fighting somebody who probably said some shady shit because their life at home sucks. I hated taking my anger out on people that I knew genuinely didn’t want that.

Nightmare Vacation is out now via Atlantic Records