When Megan Thee Stallion first exploded into mainstream popularity in 2018, fans were enamored with her straightforward, chatterbox flow and an alchemic blend of gritty delivery and sexy subject matter. Songs like “Big Ole Freak” harkened back to the raunchy raps of predecessors like Trina and Foxy Brown, but her style and mode were undeniably Texan, referencing hometown Houston heroes like Pimp C in everything from her sample choices to the title of her breakout EP, Tina Snow.
Her 2019 follow-up, Fever, certified her skills and stoked fan anticipation for yet another full-length project. Suga would have been Megan’s final coronation, the confirmation of her stardom and the justification for the hype surrounding her. Unfortunately, its release was marred by legal drama, a messy back-and-forth between Megan, her new management team at Roc Nation, her former mentor Carl Crawford (owner of 1501 Certified Entertainment, the label that launched her career in the first place), and, unnervingly, Houston rap impresario and rumored strongman J. Prince. Suga arrived beset by obstructions and distractions, but through it all, it remains a prime example of what Megan does best.
Of course, Megan shows off impressive bar work and maintains her gift for colorful, salacious imagery. “I love n****s with conversation that find the clit with no navigation,” she quips on standout “Captain Hook,” “I need a Mr. Clean, make that pussy beam.” While lines like these boldly flexed Meg’s incomparable confidence and made her a fantasy figure for both men and women on her previous work, here they display a sharpness, polish, and creativity that marks her improvement as a rapper. Likewise, her actual songwriting improves here as well. While “B.I.T.C.H.” sounds like most of her catalog at first blush, it also displays her progression in cooking up song concepts and sticking to them, along with some subtle commentary on gender politics.
But where the album truly shines is in getting Meg out of her trunk thump comfort zone and expanding the range of her musical palette. “B.I.T.C.H.” is another ’90s throwback deep cut, sampling Booty Collins’ “I’d Rather Be With You” and its mid-90s hip-hop counterpart “Ratha Be Ya N****” by Tupac, but that interpolation cleverly calls back to Megan’s Houston roots — Big Hawk, Big Cease, and Kyle Lee also sampled Bootsy for their song “I’d Rather Bang Screw,” a lyrical homage to “screwed up” pioneer DJ Screw. “Hit My Phone” with Kehlani smoothly transplants Meg’s brash, methodical Houston flow onto a breezy, Bay Area post-hyphy house party beat, proving that Meg can not only rap to a broader range of sounds but also own them as she does her home-brewed Texas trap.
Unfortunately, part of trying to demonstrate growth means trying things that just won’t work. It’s a mixed blessing that Megan manages to group all the misses together at the end of the album. “Stop Playing” featuring Gunna, “Crying In The Car,” and “What I Need” all provide examples of the sort of thing Meg shouldn’t do. She’s beloved precisely because she offers a solid alternative to the preponderance of woozy, SoundCloud-inspired sing-rap that has saturated the rap game lately. Meg’s latest gets her out of her comfort zone enough to show that she can be comfortable almost anywhere, but there’s still some territory she may want to avoid.
Gunna’s guest spot — a classic example of that sort of flow and one of his great performances in that vein — only highlights how awkward Megan sounds when she adopts this contemporary approach. Her normal self-possession falters here and for the remainder of the project, she never really gets it back. But because that run constitutes the back third of the album, it’s easy enough to skip. While no one should want listeners bypassing the last impression of a project, at least this trio of missteps doesn’t greatly affect the rhythm of the album as a whole.
Clocking in at only nine tracks, Suga may well disappoint some fans who hoped for a more substantial release from the Houston Hottie, but with her label situation in flux, it’s impressive that she was able to put out an album at all. As solid as the first two-thirds of the project are, Suga should be enough of an appetizer to hold those fans over until Megan is able to resolve the peripheral issues that held Suga back with a forced rollout and less-polished back end. Fortunately, Megan shows enough growth and remains a solid enough spitter to warrant at least a little more time. Hot Girl Summer may be over, but she’s given us plenty more to look forward to.
Suga is out now on 1501 Certified Entertainment. Get it here.