Last August, the Houston, Texas MC Megan Thee Stallion (aka Megan Pete) dropped what may be her most iconic hit, Hot Girl Summer. Megan recycled a phrase she'd previously tweeted for the Hotties, as her fans are known, which became a viral phenomenon. But, as she flexes in her carefree trap anthem, Megan is already destined to be a star for all szns. "Got a whole lot of options 'cause you know a bitch poppin'/I'm a hot girl, so you know ain't shit stoppin'."
In just four years, Megan has emerged as a hip-hop 'she-ro'. While airing bangers, twerking and inspiring memes, she's championing self-love, sex-positivity, education, financial autonomy and community activism. In fact, the Southern rapper is simultaneously honouring a long line of black female renegades and establishing her own legacy.
That provocateur Madonna is recognised for expressing a radical female carnality in pop culture, beginning in the '80s. She developed a feminism centred on the body, harnessing sexuality as a mode of empowerment and revelling in pleasure. However, Madonna defied one taboo too many. In 1992, she faced a massive backlash to her soft-porn book, Sex, and its companion album, Erotica. The Queen of Pop predictably engendered the moral outrage of conservatives, but she was also lambasted by second wave feminists. They argued that Madonna was complicit with the patriarchy in objectifying women and commodifying their sexuality.
But, well before Madonna, black women were claiming their sexual liberation through music. Betty Davis – who, as Miles Davis' wife, had encouraged the jazz legend's sonic and sartorial reinvention in the '70s – was herself a fierce and raunchy funk performer. In 1975 she released a major label debut, Nasty Gal. Alas, Davis' hypersexual image created unease within America's black communities, with religious and civil rights leaders alike protesting – and her art was effectively censored. More successful was Millie Jackson, who, pioneering explicit raps in the same decade, forged a cult R&B following.
Madonna's sexual politics did impact urban music trailblazers. Salt 'N Pepa's contemporary streetwise sass countered the hyper-masculinity of gangsta rap and New Jack Swing. Janet Jackson explored a latent sensuality on 1993's janet. Then Adina Howard trademarked the 'freak anthem' with Freak Like Me. Notably, in 1996, the Brooklyn MC Lil' Kim – discovered by The Notorious BIG – presented Hard Core, instilling the then dominant playa rap with a feminist consciousness. Kim rejected tokenism in the hip-hop game, instead asserting her agency via sexual freedom and entrepreneurialism. Controversy surrounding Kim's supposed indecency actually increased her cultural capital. Unfortunately, she was reductively described as 'the black Madonna' in the media. Still, Kim presaged the theatrical Nicki Minaj, idiosyncratic Azealia Banks, and omnipresent Cardi B.
Though only an infant when Hard Core materialised, Megan has similarly gravitated towards dirty rap. Again, beyond the sexual swagger, are themes of aspiration, self-actualisation and empowerment. Megan was raised on hip-hop, her late mother (and manager) Holly Thomas once active as the Houston MC Holly-Wood. Megan launched her career while in college. Initially, she experienced online fame as a freestyler. Like Nicki Minaj, she'd introduce various alter egos – the main one, Megan Thee Stallion, a colloquial reference to her stature. In mid-2018, Megan broke out with the raw Tina Snow EP – its titular alias a nod to the UGK rapper Pimp C and his Tony Snow persona, demonstrating her interest in switching gender roles. The booty-shaking Big Ole Freak would become Megan's earliest crossover hit, complete with dance challenge on social media. In 2019, Megan charted Stateside with her first official mixtape, Fever, formalising the festive 'Hot Girl Meg' guise. Recently, she's circulated Suga, another EP (and alter ego) – revealing a '90s R&B bent (input comes from Kehlani, The Neptunes and Timbaland). In the strident single BITCH, which samples Tupac Shakur, Megan calls for greater respect from a controlling boyfriend. But she's pure nasty gal on Captain Hook.
In many ways, Megan is a disrupter. She's the biggest female MC to emanate from Southern hip-hop since Miami's Trina in the late '90s. Yet, in the digital age, she's transcending regionalism. Megan linked with Chicago's Chance The Rapper, adding bars to Handsome off The Big Day.
And Megan values sisterhood. As a culture, hip-hop is predicated on competition, with MCs battling for supremacy. Inevitably, this rivalry has been exploited in promo campaigns. But such combative dynamics often heighten misogyny, as female rappers are relentlessly pitted against each other for toxic entertainment. Megan has rejected adversarial narratives by collaborating with her female peers. She jumped on a remix of Bhad Bhabie's Bestie. Monumentally, she featured the rap queen Nicki Minaj (and Ty Dolla $ign) on Hot Girl Summer – her Anaconda. In January, Megan partnered with the pop'n'B diva Normani on Diamonds, the lead single off the all-female blockbuster soundtrack Birds Of Prey. In a twist, both the Diamonds song and video borrow from Marilyn Monroe's cabaret number Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend (in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), which Madonna emulated for Material Girl. Regardless, Megan's clips are typically populated by black women.
Fun online presence aside, Megan has a strong social conscience. Somehow, she's continued her college studies in health administration. Megan has spoken of eventually operating assisted-living homes in Houston. In the interim, Megan, an environmentalist, has shared eco-lifestyle tips with the Hotties. She's used her platform for related communal projects, too. In 2019 Megan organised the inaugural Hottie Beach Clean Up in California.
Latterly, Megan, Normani and SZA graced the cover of Rolling Stone's special issue, Women Shaping The Future. Megan suggested that she's contemplating her next move. "When I started making music, I was making music that I liked. I'm making ratchet shit, turn up shit. I'm doing me. I wasn't thinking about anybody else in my music. I wasn't thinking about kids, and I'm not thinking about other races. I wasn't thinking about anybody but me and my brand, but when I go and I see these other artists, and when I go to some of my friends' shows, and I'm looking at who's in the crowd, and I'm looking at even my god-sister, they're six, seven, eight, and they're singing my songs. I'm like, 'Okay. Let me give y'all something a little deeper, because I definitely want to grow with my music. I want to grow up with my music. That was me making music as a freshman in college."
We await her evolution.