Bullets ravage bodies, and often, the work to mend the injuries they cause are as destructive. Rib cages are cracked open. Victims are sometimes intubated without anesthesia. Limbs are amputated. The instruments surgeons use in the operating room look like they’re made for installing a hardwood floor, not fixing a body. If you’re fortunate enough to survive being shot, your body could be changed forever. You could be paralyzed. You could have to poop into a bag through a hole in your stomach for the rest of your life. One Philadelphia man had to live with a wide-open abdominal cavity, rendering his intestines visible for 11 months.
This says nothing of the emotional trauma of being shot, particularly as a 25-year-old Black woman with no parents but millions of people watching her, some of whom believe she lied about or instigated her attack. Considering the range of disabilities survivors can face, it’s a little miraculous that rapper Megan Thee Stallion could twerk through song after song at a live-streamed virtual concert 48 days after being shot in the foot, allegedly by rapper Tory Lanez.
So on her latest release Good News, after some scathing record-straightening on “Shots Fired” over the same sample Biggie used in his alleged Tupac taunt “Who Shot Ya?” and more nebulous grievance-airing (fake friends and pesky men) over the New Orleans bounce of “Circles,” Megan turns her attention to more pressing matters. She goes from reducing her assailant’s bullets to mere pellets to ribbing someone who she’s fucked so good he’ll want to wear her hoodie. Once she moves on from this summer’s shooting, she rarely looks back. Her beats are more playful and poppier than ever, but anchored in rap and R&B staples. Her rapping is still razor sharp, littered with punchlines and barbs that make your ears perk and jaw drop. Her disposition is unexpectedly chipper. In a year in which a virus, a man, and a cadre of misogynistic spectators could have killed her, Good News is a celebration of life.
When the album ends with the massively successful “Savage Remix,” plus singles “Girls in the Hood,” and “Don’t Stop,” it feels exultant, like confetti falling from the ceiling for an encore at Madison Square Garden. The 14 tracks that precede them are varied—slinky and sexy, dance-routine ready, or throbbing with 808s—which makes sense, given there are more than 14 producers helming Good News, compared to Megan’s usual two, Lil Ju and Juicy J. Here, the pair is joined by high profile beat-makers like Tay Keith and Mustard, as well as Dutch upstart Avedon, who comes out swinging on standout “What’s New.” The producers’ diverse approaches are unified by their optimism, a novel tone for Megan.
The pulse of the album is steadily upbeat, which might appeal to the casual hip-hop fans she’s collected through the viral “Savage Remix” more than those from Make It Hot, Tina Snow, and Fever. Smartly smuggled towards the end of the new releases (almost as if not to distract) is “Don’t Rock Me to Sleep,” a bold sing-along experiment with the same Day-Glo airy synths that Dua Lipa and The Weeknd use to evoke ’80s nostalgia. It’s the kind of song that any of today’s pop stars could make, and it’s ill-fitting on Megan. The similarly poppy follow-up “Outside” works better, maybe because it’s tougher, which feels like a more natural pose for her. “I ain’t for the streets, ’cause bitch, I am the street,” she huffs.
Even as Megan experiments with sounds that appeal to a wider audience, her hip-hop traditionalism remains undeniable. Webbie, Trina, Adina Howard, Juvenile, Naughty By Nature and Eazy-E are sampled throughout, and she does each one justice with her relentless rapping. Megan’s mythos as daughter of a Texas MC—conditioned for the game, and rising to prominence as a fierce freestyler—is now rap lore. She’s in her prime on Good News. “Freaky bitch, I do this/Suck it like I’m toothless,” she offers on one song. “Bitch, touch them toes/Bitch, get that dough/If you in love with your body, bitch, take off your clothes!” she spits in staccato on “Work That.” It’s not that Megan’s raps are profoundly intimate—on Fever, she reminded us that that’s not why she’s here. (“They wanna know ’bout me/They say, ‘Tell me your story’/Only thing you need to know is I’m in love with the money,” she says). It’s that after four years in the game, she can still make bars about good sex, hot girls, and unwaivering confidence sound new.
A handful of hooks scattered across Good News feel insidiously simple but strategic—they’ll stay in your head and roll off your tongue. “Body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody,” goes one. Her verses though, are like top-shelf spirits, smooth and biting. Whether she’s referencing island-exclusive cognac on a dancehall song with Popcaan (“Intercourse”) or trading disses with City Girls (“Do It on the Tip”), her wit and delivery is nonpareil. This album has the most features of her career and when she gets a rap assist—like on “Movie” with Lil Durk or “Cry Baby” with DaBaby—she does her hardest work, fueled by collaboration (or more likely, competition). In popularity and proficiency, Megan is ahead of her peers across gender.
Even with its smattering of stars, Megan Thee Stallion unequivocally decided her debut album would be hers. Two and a half months after the shooting, her alleged assailant dedicated a release bearing his name to slandering hers, his rage swallowing him whole. Good News, however, is about her own agency. “I still ain’t doing nothing I don’t wanna do!” she barks on “Sugar Baby.” “Don’t fuck me like that, fuck me like this!” she commands on “Cry Baby.” Like always, she locates her power in the bedroom, the mirror, and the recording booth. But unlike her previous works, with their dark and fiery undertones, what she has finally cemented as a studio album bears the victory of spars with death. Two years before Megan was born, Lucille Clifton penned a poem for this very triumph:
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.
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