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We’re at the point where it’s both reductive and inadequate to call Rico Nasty just a rapper. And Rico’s new mixtape, Las Ruinas, is exhibit A in the argument that what the Maryland artist does is way too expansive, creative, and intriguing to be constrained to the labels it has been given so far. Some of those labels include punk-rap, emo-trap, scream-rap, and sugar trap – the last term Rico’s own, coined on one of her first mixtapes. Las Ruinas explodes those paradigms, throwing Paramore, Run-DMC, Lil Uzi Vert, and Nicki Minaj into a blender and letting it rip, creating something entirely different from any of its influences.
In the run-up to the release, Rico insinuated that the tape would show a softer side of the brash, ‘80s-inspired artist than her debut album, Nightmare Vacation. Insomuch as it accomplishes this mission, there’s still a lot of yelling – which is actually a good thing. When artists try to get confessional, they can sometimes lean too heavily into the emotion, making for a mawkish, melodramatic affair. Rather than getting bogged down by maudlin ballads, Las Ruinas opts to expand the sonic palette of its predecessor, which in turn allows Rico to try new things without really leaving her lane. It’s a neat trick.
Part of it is that Rico’s lane is really wide. She’s already established herself in the hyperpop lane, where plenty of these new tracks reside. The album opens with “Intrusive,” all warped-synths and overblown bass kicks, with Rico rasping her way through the uptempo track, occasionally embellished with spacey vocal effects. “Black Punk,” meanwhile, takes the tempo down a tick and adds some Korn-ish guitar – it’s not exactly punk, or nu-metal, but it’s clearly influenced by both. The flavor of Rico’s own secret sauce is what ties it all together and keeps any single element from dominating the mix.
The closest she comes to a recognizable, single genre effort is the emphatic “Blow Me,” which borrows the thumping drums of Memphis trap with a hypnotic instrumental loop from the Atlanta strain, then finds Rico splitting the difference between her “Own It” flow and the one from “Fashion Week” for a cavalier call-out to challengers. It’s an impressive show of her improvement since Nightmare Vacation, as she mocks, “Your bitch ain’t bad, she a eyesore / Truth hurts, baby, you should lie more.” It’s just one of a litany of guffaw-worthy rhymes on the album, and you can almost hear her snickering as she says them.
Rico even manages to put her own specific twist on a rising trend with “Jungle,” Rico’s remix of Fred Again..’s pulse-pounding house jam. Remember when I said Black people were coming back to reclaim dance music? Rico definitely got the memo. What’s truly awesome about the confidence and comfort she displays on this track is that she appears just as cozy on Nirvana-esque ballad “Easy,” the dreamy “Focus On Me,” and the album’s closer, “Chicken Nugget.”
The latter, an ode to her son Cameron, is a true triumph; in it, Rico opens up about how Cam opened up her own world. “Now I see why my mama yelled at me,” she reflects. “I can see how she was obsessed with me.” It’s exactly the sort of vulnerability peeking out of the thrash-rapper facade that strengthens her image as a badass. There’s real passion and heartache – the kind born of the implied and well-known struggles of motherhood, highlighted by the usual teenage angst – fueling her outbursts. At the same time, by pulling off the mask, even slightly, Rico makes herself more relatable, more endearing, and more human than many of her peers in the SoundCloud-bred, screamo-rap scene, whose “rage” has always struck me as at least a little bit manufactured.
The eclecticism displayed on Las Ruinas might leech some of its replay value or turn off listeners looking for a more consistent listening experience. It’s cohesive but chaotic, so throwing it on when you’re in one mood might mean you have to skip around to find the tracks that suit that mood. While it’s far from a road trip staple or a surefire party starter, there’s lots here to love – most of all, its star, who proudly made this album for herself, doing exactly what she wanted to do. Its real value might be in once again pushing open the boundaries for the next weird little kid who doesn’t want to stick to one thing but take up every available inch of whatever lane they drive in.
Las Ruinas is out now on Atlantic Records. Get it here.
Rico Nasty is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.