Who is this outspoken diva who has politicians seething and fans fawning over every line? We know you’ve seen her too—5 feet 10 inches tall, curvy and proud, acrylic nails clipped and filed into a would-be-square shape, but slanted. Does her sexiness offend you? Her weaves are bone-straight, waved, blunt cut, or curly, depending on her mood. She covers her fingers, wrists, and neck with VVS diamonds, ’cause hell, she’s earned ’em. Her outfits, thee outfits, are luxe and form-fitting, often with cutouts that show off her bronze legs and toned belly. “Megan from Houston, I’m naturally sexy,” she rapped in a 2019 freestyle. I’m talking top-of-the-dome, no-slip-ups, every-bar-is-a-bar freestyles, too.
“Being in Houston, in Texas in general, I feel like getting in a circle and freestyling is just what we do,” Megan says of the art form. “It doesn’t matter where you at, who you with, somebody is going to do a rap battle. I would see boys together and they would be rapping, so in my head, this is what you do. I wanted to make sure I was always sharp and I could do it.”
What brought attention to Megan was the fact that she could do it and hold her own. In fact, when many first spotted her rapping alongside 10 other artists as part of a cypher, Megan’s conviction and sex-positive lines stood out. (People still routinely search the Web for her first shining moments on the mic.) “I would be in my dorm room finding beats to rap over on YouTube,” the now 26-year-old says of the days of her first mixtape, 2016’s Rich Ratchet.
She’s come a mighty long way. Megan no longer scours the Internet for instrumentals, since the Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo and music producer Tay Keith are among those presenting her with hot beats on bended knee. The now three-time Grammy winner even gets private pep talks from Beyoncé.
Long before the world knew Hot Girl Meg, Megan Pete was a full-time student at Texas Southern University—the HBCU she’s scheduled to graduate from this fall—balancing her books with her beats. “I would go outside on my break to just get them out,” she recalls. “When I got to go into the studio, I’d lay down eight songs at a time.” She used to work a desk job alongside her mother, Holly Thomas, who was her manager until her death from a brain tumor in 2019. Megan’s work ethic impressed Oscar-winning rapper Juicy J, a frontman of Three 6 Mafia. The two connected at the request of Megan’s recording label at the time, 1501 Entertainment.
“She came in and I had some songs I wanted her to jump on, and she started knocking them songs out, boom, boom, boom, left and right,” he says, snapping his fingers. “I called her ‘The Verse Killer.’” He immediately told her manager, T. Farris, that she was a superstar. Megan raps from her heart, processing the deaths of loved ones— her grandmother passed away within a month of her mother—as she cranks out liberating Billboard-charting anthems. Her most viral track thus far is “Savage,” a dance-ready hit that blew up on TikTok and got nods from Taraji P. Henson, Marsai Martin, and Janet Jackson.
As the world embraced Hot Girl Meg, she herself became justifiably guarded, having rapped about people who want to get close to those with material goods. “There are probably approximately four people around me on a daily basis,” she says. “I don’t see a lot of people, I don’t talk to a lot of people, because I feel like it’s not good for me. I figured out that my personal space is what keeps me balanced and it’s what keeps me centered.”
Most magic is built out of isolation anyway, right? The southern sound, and more specifically the Texas sound, is one that Megan is in touch with— think barking, speaker-rattling bass and rolling hi-hats. She’s sure to enunciate, something she reveals she didn’t do as much at the start of her career; but her pronunciation is still touched by her home state. “Thing” becomes “thang,” “never” is “neva,” “hungry” becomes something like “hone-gry.” Her go-to producer, Lil Ju Made Da Beat, balances Houston’s “heartfelt” qualities with his readiness to “turn up.” “I’m from Dallas, so the ‘Dougie’ and just all the dancing songs from when I was a youth, that is all still embedded in me,” he says.
UGK’s Bun B provides more context as to why the thumping rap music below the Mason-Dixon line sounds the way it does. “I think it’s heavily built around soul music and gospel music, right? Because that is pretty much the soundtrack to the south,” he says in his crisp, deep baritone. A well of knowledge when it comes to Black music, in 2011 he was tapped to be a guest lecturer at Rice University, teaching about the parallels between hip-hop and religion.
“This is the music that we grew up listening to,” he continues, “whether it’s blues, whether it’s more like the Isley Brothers or a Maze kind of thing. Even doing deeper dives, you become more like Creole or Cajun, Zydeco, but also, it’s the way we receive music.” He bridges the gap even more by explaining that New Yorkers have a different reliance on transportation, making the hip-hop based there perfect for noisier, more public transitory experiences. Meanwhile, southern cuts are best for solo trips to the ’hood car wash or any other local errand. The music is indicative of identity.
Megan’s reluctance to share who will appear on her next album is understandable, given the frequency of leaked tracks, last-minute sample snags, and premature news stories. She can provide insight into the overall feel of the project, though. “I feel like [my new album] will be aggressive,” she says. “I feel like this project is definitely something very well thought out. This project is me talking my sh–, getting back comfortable with myself, getting back to the Megan that was on the come-up.” She speaks almost wistfully of that blonde-haired, pinup-style Meg, who made macking feel empowering with Instagram caption–ready lyrics.
Her younger self must be grinning. The sub-genre of women in rap is infamous for petty beefs over clothes and competition. Progressively subverting that played-out trope, Megan focuses on the overall prize, in rap, and in life: self-improvement. “Every time I make a move, I’m like, ‘Okay, how can we be better than Megan last month?’” she says. “‘How can we be better than Megan last year?’” The strive never ends, and the grind follows suit. And we watch every move as this southern princess becomes the coldest to ever do it.
Megan Thee Stallion appears on the September/October 2021 cover of ESSENCE, available on newsstands August 23.