The Thrill of Megan Thee Stallion’s Real-Time Rise
The women saunter into frame, one foot daintily placed before the other. “We at the stationnn,” they call out, in accents of all kinds. And then, when the beat drops, so do they, dipping and twerking and clapping ass cheeks in videos posted across Instagram.
This is the general premise of #BigOleFreakChallenge, a new dance challenge in support of Megan Thee Stallion’s buzzing single of the same name. The Houston rapper, beloved by a growing fanbase dubbed the Hotties, introduced the challenge a couple of weeks ago, inspired by a gas-station twerk video posted by the DJ and influencer DJ Duffey. Megan quickly bested it with her own clip, in which she dances at a gas station in a cropped white tee and biology-defying short-shorts. Her joy is palpable and contagious, and it can be felt in so many #BigOleFreakChallenge clips. “I love seeing women do what they do,” Megan said in a recent interview. That sentiment feels like the driving force of much of her current upswing.
In late February, Megan released the official video for “Big Ole Freak,” a bombastic single from last June’s Tina Snow mixtape. The appropriately glossy and technicolor video shows Megan at her best: surrounded by women, dressed for maximum sexiness, and shaking her butt miraculously. It’s gotta be a fortuitous combination of careful engineering and pure luck that the week of the video’s release was when things started to ramp up for her, with a lot more chatter and the beginnings of a steep incline in interest. Across the web, new fans expressed awe, old fans doubled-down on devotion, and haters offered misogyny-tinged questions about her skill. There was even the telltale sign of imminent success: rumors of a beef, quickly quashed, with Cardi B.
It’s exhilarating to watch an artist’s rise in real time, especially during this era, when so many appear as if they’re airlifted from a label conference room directly to the front page of Apple Music, or are vaulted from a TikTok meme to the Billboard charts. Megan progressed from a slow build into a crescendo over the last couple of years, thanks to the grind of social media and radio station freestyles, two projects (2017’s Make It Hot and 2018’s Tina Snow), and a record deal with a Houston label, 1501 Certified Entertainment. Her success was local first—so much so that, as recently as last month, she told an interviewer she was surprised to learn that anyone outside of Texas had even heard of her. Late last year, she announced that she’d signed with hip-hop powerhouse 300 Entertainment as the label’s first woman rapper. This spring, she will release Fever, a release perfectly timed to build on her momentum.
Her music is both lustful and menacing, presenting a world in which women’s pleasure and ambition are paramount and inextricable, where men can either get with the program or “hit that door, go ahead, leave,” as she raps on her new single “Sex Talk.” But, as she said in a recent radio interview, “It’s not just about being sexy, it’s about being confident and me being confident in my sexuality.” One of the show’s hosts, maybe a little condescendingly, suggests this answer might be the result of media training. And while Megan’s emphasis on confidence could sound embarrassingly cliché coming from someone else, there’s something especially appealing about her brand of feminism, which takes misandry to its logical conclusion: the utter irrelevance of men outside the bedroom. “Men are objects to me,” she continued. “[Men’s] opinions, it’s not even the icing, it’s the sprinkle on the cake.” Listening to her rap feels a little like that old self-help practice: figure out what you want and then perform the action that will lead to that outcome.
There’ve been plenty of other women who rap in this vein—the Miami breeze of Trina, the candor of Cardi, the controversial feminism of City Girls—but Meg attributes her inspiration directly to the city of Houston, to the sedated, slab-rattling boom of Three 6 Mafia and Pimp C. You can hear it in her selection of sparse, sturdy beats, and in the Herculean flows she delivers, effortlessly. In interviews, she often says that when she was coming of age in the 2000s, she’d listen to her favorite rap songs and think, How good would this sound if a girl did it?
There were, of course, some women who rapped in the unique styles of the South, including Megan’s own mom. The late Holly Thomas rapped under the name Holly-wood, and had some success in the 1980s with airplay on a local radio station, according to Megan. It’s impossible to find any of her music on the internet—she never uploaded anything online, instead distributing mixtapes via CD—but it’s easy to imagine her impact on her daughter’s work. She’s often referenced in Megan’s interviews, a warm, supportive, pragmatic momager who lurked from a safe distance. Days after her mom’s death last week, Megan tweeted that she plans to stick to her current show schedule because “Holly would not want me to stop.”
Megan’s story is as compelling as her music. As a child, she spent a lot of time in recording studios with her mom. But when Megan realized she had inherited the gift and love of rapping, her mom put a wise, strict plan into place: Her daughter would only be allowed to pursue a music career after she turned 21, and she’d have to finish her degree. Endearingly, Megan obeyed. She’s now 24 and in her last year at Texas Southern University, where she’s studying health administration. She now has what she refers to as two Plan As: becoming an “icon” through rap and opening assisted-living facilities throughout Houston.
That second plan is admirable, and also understandable. As a genre, rap has proven itself to be inhospitable to most artists expecting longevity, often for reasons beyond their own control. But with the increased overlap between hip-hop and pop—Cardi B, for example, has gone from rapper to bona fide household name in just a couple of years—it’s becoming easier to imagine a future in which fans could actually get to watch more than just a handful of male rappers age and grow and experiment with their art. That’s a scenario that seems deliciously within reach for Megan Thee Stallion, one twerk at a time.