Against all odds, Megan Thee Stallion is readying herself for a new phase. After a messy two-year legal battle with her current record label, 1501 Certified Entertainment, the Houston rapper could soon be emancipated from what she considers an “unconscionable” contract, freeing her up to sign with a major label more suited for her level of stardom—possibly Roc Nation, with whom she already has a management deal.
This all depends on whether her latest lawsuit against 1501—disputing the label’s claim that her 2021 release Something for Thee Hotties is technically not an album and, therefore, doesn’t meet the quota necessary to fulfill her contract—swings her way. If not, Megan owes another album to the Houston-based label, which collects an absurd amount of royalties from practically all her business ventures. As of this past week, however, the 27-year-old seemed optimistic if not assured about what the future holds, tweeting this message to her fans on Wednesday.
“Y’all know I always have problems with dropping my music under this label, all these games and having to go to court just to put out my art has been so stressful. Thank you hotties for rocking with me through the bullshit WE ALMOST OUT. LETS STAY FOCUSED AND RUN THIS LAST ONE UP.”
Y’all know I always have problems with dropping my music under this label,all these games and having to go to court just to put out my art has been so stressful. Thank you hotties for rocking with me through the bullshit WE ALMOST OUT 👏🏾 LETS STAY FOCUSED AND RUN THIS LAST ONE UP
— TINA SNOW (@theestallion) August 11, 2022
That “last one” (fingers crossed) refers to Megan Thee Stallion’s latest album, Traumazine, which arrived auspiciously at midnight on Friday. Very little preceded the rapper announcing her second studio album earlier that morning, aside from the singles “Plan B” and “Pressurelicious” and a visual teaser posted to Instagram earlier this week—all making the album rollout seem rushed as opposed to a more strategically planned surprise. Likewise, you may be wondering: What’s the value of an album that’s being openly presented to listeners as a check off of a to-do list? And how much should fans account for this body of work in Megan’s catalog and her larger narrative as an artist?
Luckily for all the Hotties out there, Megan Thee Stallion rarely does anything in vain (aside from twerking videos, maybe). Whether she’s spitting potent bars or creating lavish, high-concept music videos, the rapper is never not working out a muscle that will ultimately help turn her into a formidable hip-hop icon. In the case of Traumazine, her latest musical feat is a delightful step forward from a rather disappointing debut album and string of lackluster singles. More importantly, it’s an exciting glimpse of what her future may look like once she’s granted the resources she deserves.
By now, Megan has given fans and critics enough music to understand her strengths and weaknesses as an emcee. And on Traumazine, you can tell she’s taken a few notes. For one thing, the beat selection on this record is a major upgrade from the half-cooked and frankly goofy production on her first studio album, Good News, which elicited lukewarm reactions from fans and only spawned one certified hit, “Body.” (The “Savage Remix” featuring Beyoncé was added to the album only after it went to No. 1.) Where that project was brash and energetic, Traumazine—in line with its dire title but not necessarily its themes—is more minor key; a bit darker and looser. Much of the album has the ease and confidence of her beloved 2018 mixtape Tina Snow.
Traumazine opens with the ferocious “NDA,” a title that implies some urgent tea-spilling. The track is more so an opportunity for Megan to talk shit and issue threats to folks spreading gossip: “And the next one of y’all hoes wanna get bold / I’m gon’ check that / And the next one of y’all blogs wanna spread lies, I’m gon’ sue you.” (By “blogs,” the rapper is likely referring to social media accounts for The Shade Room and HipHopDX, which were criticized for spreading propaganda in favor of rapper Tory Lanez, who Megan alleges shot her in the foot in 2020. His trial is slated for next month.)
Speaking of that Keebler elf, some listeners might be surprised at how little Megan addresses Lanez throughout the album, given how much the incident has cast a shadow over her career. But why should she, given that she already devoted an entire diss track to him on her first album and his alleged crimes are widely known at this point? There are still plenty of enemies for Megan to verbally assassinate, including the “fake-ass, snake-ass, backstabbin’, hatin’-ass, no money-gettin’-ass bitches” she calls out on “Ungrateful,” which features fellow Southern rapper Key Glock.
On “Not Nice,” which has one of the best delivered hooks on the album, she incisively nails the intersecting realities that have made her a target of people’s hatred and apathy. “I guess my skin not light enough,” she raps matter-of-factly. “My dialect not white enough / Or maybe I’m just not shaped the way to make these n----s givе a fuck.”
Between the more frustrated confessionals scattered throughout the record, Megan still finds time to have fun and get freaky with songs like “Budget,” which features a fun guest verse from Latto, “Ms. Nasty,” and “Her,” which folks can add to their Renaissance-inspired dance playlists. The 10th track, “Scary,” featuring the criminally underrated Rico Nasty, is clearly Megan’s bid to usurp pop singer Kim Petras as the Queen of Halloween, with references to R.L. Stine, Candyman, and Bloody Mary; not to mention, it’s humorously set to the kind of generically spooky music you would hear at a haunted house.
The very horny “Red Wine,” where Megan invites someone to slap their dick on her forehead, would be just as fun as its lyrics if not for her shaky vocals on the hook. Indeed, Megan’s singing ability is once again a roadblock on this record, as she continues to wade into R&B, slow-jam territory but clearly hasn’t been instructed on how to properly utilize her voice or when to rely on contributions from actual singers. This problem shows up again on the subpar disco duet “Star” with R&B artist Lucky Daye, and on “Flip Flop,” in which Megan’s attempt to deliver an evocative chorus ends up sounding like a pathetic nursery rhyme.
Traumazine doesn’t really deliver on a particular concept, despite the title and corresponding visuals hinting at something more concrete and cohesive. The curation of the tracklist proves as much—why Megan chose to close this album with “Sweetest Pie,” her mediocre, pop-friendly collaboration with Dua Lipa, after a notable freestyle with Houston legends Sauce Walka and original members of the Screwed Up Click, Lil’ Keke and Big Pokey, makes no sense.
Despite these flaws, Traumazine signals growth from an artist who could easily get comfortable simply by being the one of the most popular women on the planet. Even when the production isn’t perfect, you’re reminded that no mainstream rapper is delivering such intimidating bars and witty one-liners as consistently as Megan. It’s almost frightening to think about the type of records she’ll be making in a few years’ time.