Nightmare Vacation, the debut studio album from hip-hop rage queen Rico Nasty, is a musical manifesto proclaiming her sonic boldness and emotional progression. Although she is still considerably new to the rap game, Rico quickly made it clear that she would carve out her unique path with her bare hands if she had to. A slew of mixtapes, which she began releasing in 2014, showcased a ravenous young artist turning her vehemence into gold. Last year’s Anger Management was the pinnacle of her righteous indignation; the nine-track collaborative mixtape with Kenny Beats powerfully outlined all of Rico’s harrowing complexities with clarity.
This new record zeroes in on Rico’s vocal nimbleness and her cogent authenticity that has become more transparent with each project she releases. Opener “Candy” is a classic in her arsenal; its boisterous, bass-heavy percussion shows she can accelerate from docile to spine-chilling in under five seconds. “Call me crazy / but you can never call me broke” is not as much a taunt as it is a threat, which she expresses in a deceptively cheeky manner.
“Don’t Like Me” is a synthy trap dream where appearances from Gucci Mane and Don Toliver compliment Rico’s craziness with a more soothing approach. However, it still maintains its excitement as all three virtuosos bring a certain quirkiness to the song. “IPHONE” is one of the best moments on Nightmare Vacation, as Rico channels her playful side in the most alluring of ways. Amidst declarations of unapologetic madness, the lightness of “IPHONE” is a nice distraction and even a line like “Smoking so much gas / I forgot to put my mask on” feels jovial with its timely double entendre.
“STFU” feels slightly stale, with a repetitive chorus that spells out the acronym quite predictably. “Back and Forth,” which features a cameo from Amine, is lackluster, as well: Two of hip-hop’s most capricious personalities join forces on a track that holds a multitude of promise, only for the duo to remain subdued throughout its execution.
“Let It Out” is the halfway mark of Nightmare Vacation and serves as the perfect moshpit anthem. Rico’s raw screams of “If you wanna rage / Let it out” are visceral and even when she recites lines like “I’m a asshole / What the fuck’s new? / If it’s fuck me, then it’s fuck you!” it feels more defiant than offensive. “Loser,” where she teams up with Trippie Redd, is a thrill ride from start to finish. The young pair successfully team up for a collaboration saturated with moody melodicism that feels entirely natural.
“No Debate” starts off promising with a slinky and hypnotic beat, but 30 seconds in, it becomes obvious that something is missing. It’s as if Rico’s virulent disposition has been gently tucked away for a slightly more dulcet tune. In fact, this jarring shift runs deep throughout Nightmare Vacation. Rico is either dialing up the drama with chaotic caterwauling or doling out sweetness whenever the mood strikes her. Despite the vulgarity that its name implies, “Pussy Poppin” describes a brief and blithe romp that Rico renders in an amusing and catchy way. “Own It” is an undeniable club banger that balances the rapper’s vainglorious attitude with just the right amount of laid-back assonance.
The cherry on top of Nightmare Vacation is the inclusion of Rico’s 2018 smash single “Smack a Bitch,” plus a ferocious star-studded remix. ppcocaine, Sukihana and Rubi Rose deliver bars with such undeniable fury that the fact the hit is over two years old feels obsolete; all three women rise to the occasion on a confrontational and raucous chant that makes the listener feel delinquent for just nodding their heads to the sullen rhythms.
Overall, Rico’s inaugural efforts are cathartic, ballsy and just plain fun. Nightmare Vacation solidifies the emcee as quite the furious force to be reckoned with.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.