Welcome to Five Days of Rico Nasty

Welcome to Five Days of Rico Nasty

Story by Trey Alston / Photography by Brian Ziff / Styling by Haylee Ahumada

All of 2020 has felt like a bad dream, and the holiday season is especially grim. So this week we're leaning in to the terror and celebrating with Five Days of Rico Nasty, the rapper whose debut album, Nightmare Vacation, doesn't seek to comfort listeners so much as validate their anger and anxieties. We'll be talking to the rapper and her collaborators about the best and worst parts of an awful year... that just happened to have some pretty great music.

Fuck making sugary trap music to keep you in good spirits in the thick of the pandemic. With Nightmare Vacation, Rico Nasty wants you to punch a glass vase until your hand fucking bleeds.

Speaking to PAPER over the phone, the 23-year-old rapper is explaining the purpose of her recently released studio album. It isn't some cheery fortress for her fans to retreat to so they can escape COVID-19 hysteria. "I felt people needed music to get angry and blow some steam off to," she says. "Everything wasn't all great and merry this year."

2020 has been an incubus for us all. Thanks to COVID-19, millions have lost their lives, hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs, and the overall quality and structure of modern life has changed drastically. Eating in restaurants is like playing Russian Roulette. Going to concerts sounds like a fever dream. Buying a new console is next to impossible thanks to bots. And through it all, there's the fear that things may never go back to the way that they were — even with a vaccine for the virus around the corner.

Throughout this hellish year, Rico Nasty was hard at work on her official studio debut, which follows seven mixtapes (most recently her Anger Management collaboration with producer Kenny Beats) of candied flexing, hissing threats through clenched teeth, and emotional blood-letting. She's traditionally been known for wearing different masks on records that allow her to give each of her personalities a chance to speak to fans — whether it's her raging punk identity Trap Lavigne or the sweet and prickly Tacobella — but this time, she's brought them together on Nightmare Vacation as one individual with a message: that 2020 has been a nightmare that we all need to wake up from.

Rico Nasty best describes her year as "a very humbling experience."

"I thought I had this shit all figured out," she says. "I thought I had my life all mapped out. And there was this quote my mom says where she's like, "You tell God your plans and he'll laugh." Though nothing has gone as expected, it's all come together to form her long-awaited debut album that's been exhausting, overwhelming and exciting to make all at once.

Here's Rico Nasty on the shitty year that inspired Nightmare Vacation.

What kind of battles have you faced in 2020?

Well starting off, a financial one. I went through a slight depression because right before the pandemic hit because I was supposed to go on a college tour and make over half a million dollars, which is crazy, but not that crazy because I was already touring for a year straight.

So then, post-tour depression kicked in, aside from when you talk about financials, because I was constantly being reassured by my team and even just my financial advisor like, "Bro, your finances are good." I save my money. There's really nothing to be worried about for a year. So once that went away, then I really started missing my fans like crazy.

And then once that went away, it started becoming more serious and it just got super weird because I went from, "Okay, well, I'm home all the time, I could just go over to my mom's house." Go chill over there and shit. And then it's fucking a no-zone to go to my mom's house. She's like, "No, you're young. You're traveling. You can't come over here." And I was like, "Wait a minute, what? Mom. Mom. I'm your only child. Come on, now." And then, it's serious because my grandparents actually moved down from New York as well during the pandemic.

And then to top all of that off, last year, my aunt, she passed away in October or September, I really don't remember it because I don't try to. But she passed away last year and she had five kids, and my cousins, They all young as fuck, 13 and shit. So, they've been trying to do distant learning and all that shit without their mom, and it's just, I don't know. It was weird having to be there for them because I don't have any brothers and sisters.

So, I had really re-learned what family was a little bit and got to get back in touch with the people who I really was raised around. I used to be around my cousins all the time. And then, when I got to high school and I started making my own friends, everybody was like, "Oh, you want to go hang out with your cousins?" I'm like, "No, I want to hang out with my friends." On some weird shit, bro, and I never even noticed that shit.

Skirt: Hardeman, Jewelry: Shay Jewelry

Skirt: Hardeman, Jewelry: Shay Jewelry

It sounds like this year, for you, has been very humbling.

A very humbling experience. I thought I had this shit all figured out. I thought I had my life all mapped out. And there was this quote my mom says where she's like, "You tell God your plans and he'll laugh." And that's just how I feel about 2020.

How would you say that these experiences shaped Nightmare Vacation? I read that most of the album was recorded before quarantine. So, how did the pandemic actually shape the album afterwards?

I feel like quarantine, overall, has shaped me as an actual person, not really an artist. As an artist, creatively, it always told me like, "There are no boundaries." You could put a green screen in your fucking basement and shoot videos that way. But as a human being, it really taught me to be responsible, to have empathy, to have integrity. People say that you need to wash your fucking hands, so you actually wash your hands. Filling out all these forms saying if you traveled and you really have to tell them if you traveled. Just kind of like, I don't know, adult shit.

"I feel like quarantine, overall, has shaped me as an actual person, not really an artist... As a human being, it taught me to be responsible, to have empathy, to have integrity."

As a traveling artist, do you ever fear getting COVID?

Yeah, every fucking day. Every fucking time that I've been on the plane. I mean, normally, I would go to sleep on flights and shit like that, but I don't sleep on the plane anymore. That's how you get sick, I feel like. I mean, that's not how you get COVID, but sometimes when I'm traveling and I do a time zone flight, then I definitely catch a cold if I go to sleep on that flight. I wake up stuffy or a little bit congested. Once I land wherever I land, normally, we get the ball rolling as soon as we get there, so I can't have no stuffy nose because then it'll just get fucking worse. So, definitely, my anxiety goes crazy on the plane. I definitely don't travel unless I absolutely need to. So, the anxiety definitely balances out with excitement. I mean, the only times I traveled during quarantine was for a show, my best friend's birthday, to shoot the Wonderland cover and photos for this PAPER story.

Shoes: Dior, Jewelry: Martine Ali

Shoes: Dior, Jewelry: Martine Ali

What's in the name, Nightmare Vacation? It feels like the perfect name for these times.

When I think of what a "Nightmare Vacation" is, I imagine a warrior getting through it. I felt like the name kind of symbolized what this year was for a lot of people. When making the project, there were a lot of interviews with me talking about how many different routes that I would be taking. But when it kind of got down to sending Apple Music the track list, I felt people needed music to get angry and blow off some steam to. Everything wasn't all great and merry this year.

I've already wanted an album that was going to be full of, I don't know, melodic, happy songs. Wasn't happening this year. At all. And as much EDM and crazy shit I'm making with Dylan Brady, there was no place for that on this album. This album was to solidify what I stand for. And that is Nightmare Vacation. The good, the bad, the extreme. The ugly. The beautiful. The sunny, the stormy. I feel like that's everyday life for a lot of people. It's just ups and downs all the time.

In interviews during this press run for Nightmare Vacation, you've hinted that the process of making it was overwhelming. How so?

I mean, it's overwhelming being signed to a label, I feel like, in itself. You're kind of playing telephone with a lot of your ideas. It's like, you tell this person this, and you have to trust that they get that exact paraphrase to another person. Yada, yada, yada. By the time it gets back to you, that shit is nothing like what you said you want it to be. That got frustrating. But also, it was overwhelming because you look at all the greats that came before. You look at all the great musicians who came before you and what they did on their debut album. They moved the world and all that's fucking bullshit. People tell the story however they want to tell it when it's in the past. So, I just felt very overwhelmed to create this alternative, amazing, different album. And I kind of forgot that when I listen back to all my other projects, all of the music that I was making, that's not what they fell in love with. They fell in love with certain sounds that I've created and I felt like I should give them that.

And it was overwhelming to deal with that because it's like, is this shit — how do I say this? Is this shit — is this mainstream enough? Is this radio enough? And then that kind of fucked me up, too, because I don't make music like that. And I don't think any artist should make music like that. Thinking about where their music should be marketed. You should just make music and see what happens. So, it was a lot of different pockets of shit that was kind of overwhelming and just overall learning about an album, about how you have to turn that shit in three months before it's actually turned in and just all this shit.

Shoes: Love, Chidozie, Necklace: Martine Ali, Earrings: Shay Jewelry

Shoes: Love, Chidozie, Necklace: Martine Ali, Earrings: Shay Jewelry

Which would you say was heavier for you? Was there internal or external pressure?

Definitely internal. I guess I do talk about anxiety and I talk about all this low, low shit in the interviews now because, I guess, that's the frequency that's being fed. That's what it is right now. Everybody's sad. It fucking sucks. But a lot of this shit has been internal because you don't want to tell nobody your fears. You'll tell them what you're scared of, but you're not going to tell them what you're actually scared of.

What do you do to cope with the anxiety when it comes on?

I smoke a lot of weed. And what's even weirder, speaking of anxiety, last night I went to hang out with a friend and she gave me a rose quartz worry stone. I rub my thumb on it when I get worried. I guess that's been helping with my anxiety a little bit. I smoke a lot of weed, if I didn't already say that [laughs]. And I kind of just think myself to death. I just think, think, think, think, think. When I get anxiety, I just think. And sometimes I think through that shit. And sometimes I just keep thinking.

"And as much EDM and crazy shit I'm making with Dylan Brady, there was no place for that on this album. This album was to solidify what I stand for."

So with so many emotions swirling around during the creation of the album, what kind of growth would you say you saw as you were finishing it up?

That's a really good question. Shit I saw that growth. N*ggas was telling me, "Hey, can you get this back to us?" And the voiceover for the album trailer. I don't know. It was just, instead of me being like, "Oh, I got to do this." I just kind of started doing shit. Even doing shit that they didn't even ask me to do. Just getting better with content, posting more, keep talking, shit like that. I don't know. I definitely grew as an influencer, I feel. That was a very small part of what I do, being an influencer. Some artists are natural at it. But when the makeup check came out, it kind of showed me that I definitely had that side. That was really cool to see because I watch YouTube all the time. I'm like, "Damn. Now I have YouTube videos." And now, actually, I even know how to shoot tutorials and shit like that. So, that's hella crazy. And music videos, too. I learned how to shoot music videos, how to read a shot list, how to fucking work a green screen. I don't know, just a bunch of different technical shit.

Clothing: Hardeman

Clothing: Hardeman

How does it feel to finally have Nightmare Vacation out? Does it arriving during the pandemic change the weight of its impact for you?

It's definitely an even blend of sweet and, "I wish it didn't happen like this." I wish it didn't happen like this because touring is a big part of my music and being around my fans is a big part of the experience in general. So, it fucking sucks and I hate that shit. But I definitely think it's sweet because there's so many people who need music right now. There's so many people who are actually listening.

It's really been a rough year. We're both Black. The publicized deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black citizens have been extremely taxing on us collectively as we fight for change. How did these traumas impact you? Did they have any effect on trying to get this album together?

Well, Ahmaud Arbery was one that I can say honestly made me cry. It made me take all the social media off my phone. Even hearing his name, sometimes I feel like crying because I just feel like I knew him. Social media has a really weird way of bringing these people to us. They don't just be people anymore that get shot. They find all these videos of them alive and as humans and living, beautiful people. And it's just hard to just imagine that somebody could see the color of their skin and feel so afraid and intimidated that they kill them. [Arbery] was such a sweetheart. I have a son so that story in particular kind of stuck with me because I felt like I'm raising a gentle, amazing, sweet, kind, beautiful, Black boy.

I made a post saying, "At what age is he a threat or a scary person?" That shit is weird because Ahmaud didn't look scary. He didn't sound scary. And just constantly having to open my phone and see that shit. You get all this money and you make these tweets, you're making donations, whoopty fucking do. But, bro, we were screaming Black Lives Matter all summer. And I live in the DMV. And I woke up and when they painted that shit on the cement, Black Lives Matter, I just felt like what does this mean? I'm from the DMV, bro. There's people getting beat the fuck out of by police all the time. And it's just like, "Don't y'all put this shit so everybody in the world can see it. To make it seem like you're all with this shit."

Virginia has a no faith case law or some shit like that, where if there's not a crime that has a bunch of traction on it, they don't even report the shit ever to you. My cousins I just talked about, they live in the trenches. People be dying every day, that shit don't make the news. So for them to make such a public fucking statement like that, like, "Black Lives Matter." And if you look at the DMV, so many Black people be dying from police, too. It's just like, "Really?" It's just a smack in the face, almost. And, obviously, I wanted to make music about it and I wanted to put that shit in music. But there's enough music for that, bro. We need music to fucking break shit to, bro. I'm getting tired of this passive aggression that we have. I'm not telling nobody to go out and do no wild shit, but if you know what's right, then do that.

It's a whole lot of shit out there that people don't talk about and it's going on all the time. They're literally trying to make their state look good for political reasons, so they don't report all the crimes. They call them petty crimes. That's what they call them. Virginia is so fucking racist, bro. They call them petty crimes and petty theft when people get robbed and killed. That shit is ridiculous.

Shoes: Dior, Jewelry: Martine Ali

Shoes: Dior, Jewelry: Martine Ali

At some point amidst this traumatic year, you wrapped up Nightmare Vacation. What was going through your mind?

I was freaking out. "OHFR?" was the last one that we made on the album. When I left the studio, it was just a very dramatic moment listening back to the bounces. And it was just like, "Yep, this is it. This is the end." It just felt like weight lifted off of me. Honestly, I've been talking about a new project in every interview since this shit came out. I'm already working on Sugar Trap 3. This album was definitely label-driven, I guess. The label wants me to put out an album, so I'm putting out the album.

Do you have any plans to release a deluxe?

I don't know. I'm kind of 50/50 on a deluxe. I see a lot of people say dumb shit about it and I don't want to make the album weird for anybody. I made it for a purpose. It serves its purpose. And I don't want to ruin the track list just to get more streams. It's great. Obviously, everybody wants streams, but when people look back on Nightmare Vacation, I kind of want them to just remember it as Nightmare Vacation. That exact reaction when it first came out, not like, "Oh, is that the deluxe?" I don't do that shit. I think we should just move forward.

"There's so many people who need music right now. There's so many people who are actually listening."

How did the "Smack A Bitch" Remix come about?

During quarantine, ppcocaine, Sukihana, and Rubi Rose were people who I would see on my page a lot. I was just like, "Damn. They're cool as fuck." So, I started paying more attention to what they do, paying more attention to their message and just everything about them. And I spoke with them and I think more than mutual followers, we kind of just became mutual friends. Any time we see each other post, some funny shit, some wild shit, we laugh at it and shit. So, when it came time to do the remix or just to put "Smack A Bitch" on there, I sat with Kenny (Beats) and we made a long ass list of a bunch of female rappers, actually. And it was kind of eye-opening how many of us there are. It was like 50 plus. And the original inspiration behind the revamp was Odd Future's "Oldie." I wanted to make a safe space for us to get out our rage, saying whatever we wanted to say.

Clothing: Hardeman, Jewelry: On Aura Tout Vu

Clothing: Hardeman, Jewelry: On Aura Tout Vu

Is there any chance that you'll make more versions of it?

Shit. More versions of "Smack A Bitch"? Bro, this is an open call. If you're a female rapper and you want to get on "Smack A Bitch," just say so.

Which track do you think brought out the strongest emotions in you when you recorded it?

I want to say "Girl Scouts," because I just remember doing the hook for it and it being so big. A lot of time when I want it to sound big like that, I have to stack my vocals like eight times, but with just two vocals it sounded so big. I got chills, bruh, and I didn't even know we were going hard as fuck. I was just like, "All right. We'll bring this shit to life."

Now that Nightmare Vacation is out and the vaccine is on the way, what are you looking forward to next year when, presumably, this pandemic is over?

Well, shit, I don't know. Earlier in this call, I said "If you tell God your plans, he'll laugh at them." So, I don't really want to make any plans. I don't really want to, "This will happen and that will happen." But I will say that I promised myself to be more optimistic moving forward after this album. Not just when next year hits, but just every day after the album dropped. To be more optimistic, to be more open-minded, to continue to try new things. The older that you get, I feel like you've seen more people die, so you get more scared to live. And I just don't ever want to be like that. I want to always be as free as I am at 23, at 33, 43, 53. I just want to be forever young. That's the only goal that I'm going to set for myself. As far as music, that's in God's hands and I'm very blessed to have gotten this far so I can't imagine what he's got in store for me.

Stream Rico Nasty's Nightmare Vacation, below.

Photography: Brian Ziff
Styling: Haylee Ahumada
Hair: Preston Wada
Makeup: David Velasquez
Nails: Yvett Garcia
Set design and props: James Rene