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A week’s worth of grousing between hit Houston rapper-singer Megan Thee Stallion and her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, over her right to release new music (and a Texas judge granting her a restraining order to do so) is a suitably dramatic setting for “Suga” to drop.

Add to that a Thursday post on her Hot Girl Meg Instragam site — a declaration of free commerce, “I will stand up for myself and won’t allow two men to bully me, I am NO ONES (sic) PROPERTY” —  and her unwavering sense of rough empowerment is front and center, doubling the fun and introducing the thrill of another set of Houston rap bangers with contagious, mellifluous melody as their guide.

Megan Thee Stallion is (or should be) as beloved for her hooks as she is the swagger of sensuality. The guttural confidence  that is her flagrant lyrical display is not explicit. This isn’t Millie Jackson we’re talking about. Rather, Meg is upfront, frank and meticulous about everything she has and wants — not just sex. As heard on such past tracks as “Big Ole Freak” and her new album’s slipperiest cut, “Savage,” she wants it all.

After calling herself “a hood Mona Lisa,” claiming herself as “way too exclusive, I don’t shop on Insta’ boutiques,” and giving her lady parts the loveliest of descriptions (“P–y like water, I’m unbothered and relaxing”), Stallion kicks into the catchiest declaration of self — a short-and-sweet anthem of a chorus:  “I’m a savage / Classy, bougie, ratchet / Sassy, moody, nasty / Acting stupid, what’s happening?”

That Meg is fantastically unique at setting up records with theatrical flourish and making viral catchphrases goes back to Tweeting out “hot girl summer” in April 2018, trademarking it, then dropping the track of the same name a year later — with a Nicki Minaj feature to boot, and boost it, to platinum certification. Crafting anthems around those same skills is her signature:  a talent not to be taken lightly considering how even and un-dramatic many hip-hop and pop hits have been since 2018. Megan Thee Stallion has a way with finding the histrionic within the deceptively simple. And on this newest album, she moves mountains through the aegis of “Suga” as something of an alter-ego, with the production aid of The Neptunes, Helluva, Lil Ju, Timbaland, J-White, Tommy Brown and more.

Take “B.I.T.CH.” for instance. Introduced by a sugar-laced breeze of strong cooing voices and sequenced, soft keyboards out of the ’70s soul songbook, Meg rides its quickly loping rhythm with a similarly galloping flow, a flinty rap and a mixed bag of pragmatism and self-pride. “I’d rather be your B-I-T-C-H / ‘Cause that’s what you gonna call me when I’m trippin’ anyway / You know you can’t control me baby.” She’s laid back and easy like a Sunday morning, but still doesn’t let up on reminding you who is boss.

Other highlights include her collaboration with nu-R&B goddess Kehlani on “Hit My Phone,” a track that nods sonically to vintage Dre and Snoop. Sticking with that galloping beat, “Ain’t Equal” is hard, fast and furious — literally and otherwise — while maintaining a delicate balance with deeply personal lyrical matter. “I lost my mommy and my granny in the same month,” she snaps, bringing the listener into months of her reality in 2019. It’s a talent worth noting as Meg is able to bring pain and the force of will into one stanza with elegance and swagger. “Captain Hook,” meanwhile, sticks to the face-punching force of her past records and grace and style play a big role on the album’s last three tracks.

Elsewhere, The Neptunes’ flair for woozy cinematic ambience and taut, clicking rhythm, help turn “Stop Playing” and “Crying In The Car” into something magical. The latter is playful and instantly hummable — specifically  the line “Please don’t give up on me, Lord, Lord.” Soaked in AutoTune and surrounded by gear-gargling percussive flips, “Crying” may be just about the nicest tune we’ve heard yet from Meg. As for “Stop Playing,” it’s Meg’s memorable vocal melody and her rap’s vocal fry that lifts the track beyond being merely filmic. It’s a love scene unto its self.

“What I Need” with Timbaland is sweeter still. Gently snapping its fingers with a cottony click (a very Nick Martinelli production snip), Meg lets her vocals soak up the cool AutoTune while managing a  warm and gorgeous humanity. Again comparing her lady parts to something tangible — a drug deal, in this instance — her rhymes focus on  staying a boss, but leaving space for romance. She needs her man, but on her terms — and that’s where strength come into play.

Indeed, on “Suga,” Megan Thee Stallion is mixing the cold hard steel of hip-hop power, with the teasing romanticism of mod R&B — and it looks great on her.

Megan Thee Stallion’s ‘Suga’: Album Review

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