Hip-hop has not historically been welcoming to women who rap: They’re ignored or pitted against each other or allowed to be successful only one at a time. But when she was growing up in Houston in the late ’90s and early aughts, that never occurred to Megan Thee Stallion. Instead of going to day care, she spent afternoons in the studio with her mother, Holly Thomas, who rapped under the name Holly-Wood. “My mom is the first female rapper I’ve ever known. I’m thinking, like, Okay, yeah, this is normal. Everybody’s doing this,” Megan, now 24, says. As Holly-Wood rapped, she thought her daughter was coloring or watching TV. “Really, I was ear to the door, thinking, Yeah, uh-huh, I’ma do that, too.”
Megan’s in New York three weeks after dropping the video for her viral single “Big Ole Freak” and on the verge of dropping a new mixtape, Fever. It’s a breakthrough moment for her career, but also a difficult one personally: Her mother is suffering from a brain tumor, and on the day after our interview, passes away suddenly. So, understandably, a lot of the ways Megan talks about the rapper she has become is by thinking about the one who raised her.
Sipping tea at a lounge in Soho, Megan calls her mom the “No. 1 Hottie,” after the nickname for her fans. Holly-Wood’s career lasted from 2001 to 2007, when she released music and tried to start her own label. Megan describes her mom’s music as tougher, more gangsta than her own. When Holly heard Megan’s sexier sound, she was surprised at how explicit it was. “At first, she was a little taken aback, like, ‘Megan, where did this come from? Why are you talking like that? I can’t believe you.’ And I’m like, ‘Mama, I was listening to Three 6 Mafia at 7, what are you saying?’ ” Holly started managing Megan in college when she saw her daughter’s seriousness.
Thanks to the success of her freestyles and her ten-song EP, Tina Snow, released this past June, Megan became the first woman rapper to sign with 300 Entertainment, the label behind Young Thug and Migos’s first two albums.
“Big Ole Freak,” her first song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, is all Megan in horny Technicolor. It’s about rubbing and riding, the give-and-take of a certain kind of craving. She brags in singsong about getting on her tiptoes and riding someone’s dick like a horse emoji: “Suck it, then look in his eyes, then the next day I might leave him on read.” Solange posted a video twerking to “Big Ole Freak” on Instagram, sharing it with her 4 million followers; three weeks later, Solange surprised Megan backstage. Rihanna followed her on Instagram after the single’s video dropped.
When she’s not rapping, Megan’s studying health administration at Texas Southern University. “I literally was on the way to a show and I’m in the Sprinter typing a paper at the same time,” she says before we pay the check, one unmanicured finger smoothing down the edges of her cobalt-and-magenta hair. “I’m really doing everything between shows or at my house when I have downtime. I’m trying to get on Blackboard and catch up.” She just got out of the studio with Juicy J and plans to drop Fever in May.
How does being in college and, at the same time, being a rapper work?
College is really stressing me out right now. I had to take all online classes this semester because I figured out last semester I’m gonna be so booked. So I’m gonna have to figure out how I can convince my teachers to give me my work ahead of time or cut me some slack if I’m not at school because I’m off being a rapper. And I had a professor for two classes and she was not going for it; she did not care.
She’s like, “You’re a what?”
She must have heard I was a rapper before I even told her I was a rapper. So she’s in the class telling this story about how her nephew wants to drop out of college and be a rapper and she doesn’t think it’s a good idea, and blah, blah, blah. And I’m like, “You can rap and go to school.” She’s like, “No, that’s not gonna last. You shouldn’t do that for a while.” She wound up giving me two incompletes. I wanted to strangle this lady, but I’m like, “Okay, whatever ma’am. I’m gonna do whatever I gotta do to finish your classes. But next time, I know I’m gonna do online classes because the struggle of trying to get to campus and trying to go to my bookings at the same time has been real.”
How’d you decide to study health administration?
So my great-grandmother had been taking care of her mother, my grandmother. So they’re in the house together taking care of each other, and I mean, my grandmother is almost 70, and my great-grandmother was like 87, so just watching her take care of her made me want to create a facility for people who are older to go and have somebody help them with their end-of-life care. Because I know it’s a lot of stress on my grandmother, and she’s not the only person doing it. I see it in neighborhoods all around Houston. You got your people taking care of your people. I just feel like it’ll be a weight lifted off of family members if they had somewhere for their grandparents to go and be comfortable. I want to give back; this is what I’m gonna do.
I love that. My grandmother worked in a nursing home for all of my life, and there’s such a need for that in the community.
I don’t know if it’s just because I’m black, but I’ve seen it in a lot of black households: You have your great-aunt taking caring of her mom, and you have your grandmother taking care of her mother, and then just so on and so forth. So I’m like, okay, look, we need some help. So let me put some facilities around here so we can just take care of each other.
Is your mom still managing you?
My mom is managing me, but she’s sick right now so …
Oh, I’m sorry. I love this idea of her being a rapper and you inheriting this from her.
I literally did. Holly-Wood is the first female rapper I’ve ever known, I’ve ever saw, so I’m thinking like, Okay, yeah, this is normal. Everybody’s doing this. So when she would take me to the studio with her, she would think I’m in the next room doing little kid stuff, coloring, watching TV, and I’m really like ear to the door, thinking, Yeah, uh-huh I’ma do that, too. She used to let me listen to Biggie and Pimp C, so I never wanted to rap like my mom; I wanted to rap like them. So I’m like, Yeah, this would sound really cool if a girl was singing this, so I’ma rap it like this.
Growing up, I would steal her instrumentals. And she would be like, “Megan, have you seen my CDs?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? No.” And I would be writing. I don’t know why I didn’t even tell anybody in high school that I wanted to rap. I just didn’t want to say anything, but when I got to college, I was just like, “I’m a rapper.”
What do you think changed? Was it just the opportunity to start over somewhere else?
I just wanted it to be perfect. Before I do anything, I practice it for a while, and then when I know it’s the bomb, then I’m gonna present it to everybody. So when I got to college, y’all don’t know me, y’all know what I tell y’all, so when I came, I was like, “Yeah, I rap.” And everybody’s like, “What? No, you don’t.” So then I’m just rapping at the parties and stuff and it just quickly spread around campus that that’s Thee Stallion; she’s a rapper.
Where did the “Thee Stallion” name come from?
In the South, they call girls that are tall and fine stallion. I’m like 15 years old and this older dude is like, “Damn, you a stallion.” I’m like, “Stop talking to me before you go to jail.” And he’s like, “How old are you?” I’m like, “I’m 15!” Because I’ve always had a nice body, so older guys have just been like, “Ooh, you jailbait.” So it could’ve been Megan Thee Jailbait, but Megan Thee Stallion just works.
Your first big introduction was doing cyphers on campus. What do you remember about that experience?
What got me popping with my rapping was one day, I had rapped at a party for all these dudes that were on the basketball team, so my homegirl that was with me was like, “Megan, we have to put you on YouTube.” So I did a freestyle to “Sho Nuff” by Tela, 8Ball & MJG, and everybody on campus saw it, and they’re like, “Oh my God. Yeah. This is it.” So boom, that’s viral on campus. Then, maybe two years later, I did this Houston cypher. My homeboy was like, “Megan, I need you to come with me to this cypher.” And I’m like, “A cypher? I ain’t going to that.” And he was like, “No, for real, Megan. It’s gonna be lit, come on.” So I was like, “All right, cool. I’ma go.” So I’m like, “Mom, can you take me to this cypher right quick?” And she’s like, “What?” And I’m like, “Yeah, can you drive me up to this cypher?” And she’s like, “All right, Megan. Come on, let’s go.” So she took me to the cypher. She didn’t even know what the hell I was about to do.
Oh my —
Then I just came and I killed it, and everybody was like, “What?” So then that just went crazy, and I’m like, “Dang, y’all like that? Okay. I got some more.”
You’ve described yourself as being more of a sensual rapper, where your mom was more …
Tell me more about that.
My mom is a very strong woman, very tough lady. She was really giving it to them real raw, but not like me though. She was like, “Fuck my haters, blah, blah, blah,” just all the time, real straight to the point, “Fuck these hoes.” So with me I’m like, “Yeah,” might have a little singing in there. I’ma ride your face a little bit, but no. I’m just definitely more of a lover. She was just more gangster.
Do you have a different type of conversation with your mom about your music, since she did what you’re doing?
She just cannot believe it. At first she was a little taken back, she’s like, “Megan, where did this come from? Why are you talking like that? I can’t believe you.” And I’m like, “Mama, I was listening to Three 6 Mafia at 7, what are you saying?”
You’re like, “This is what you raised.”
“This is what you raised me on.” So she was like, “Well, yeah, I guess. I guess so.” So now she’s like, “Okay, Megan, go hard. Okay, you can go harder than that.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I can!” So she’s definitely a Hottie. She’s the No. 1 Hottie.
The culture — and competition — of rap then feels so much different than what you’re coming up in. Right now we have Nicki, and Cardi, and Noname, Rico Nasty, etc. How do you feel it’s changed?
Back then, you could tell that the rap industry was very male dominated. You had a lot of different guys, in the South at least, rapping the same, in the same genre. So with rap now, you have a lot of guys doing a lot of different styles, and it’s really cool because you see girls doing the same thing. None of us rap alike. We might have some of the same content, but none of us are doing it in the same way. Back then, too, a lot of the ladies rapped in the same style. If you heard a female rapper, she most likely sounded like the last female rapper you heard, but this generation of girls, everybody got their own swag. Rico got her own lane. I definitely have my own lane. Noname has her own lane. Maliibu has her own thing. Everybody is just really lit, and I just really appreciate what everybody brings to the table.
I hate that I have to keep saying “female rapper” because you’re a rapper. Do you feel like with the gender bias in the industry that there are different expectations for women than there are for men?
There are different expectations for women in anything. Women have to be the best and then some. A man can get on a track and literally make two noises and be the GOAT. When you listen to a girl rap, she gotta have all the bars, all the flows, be melodic, she gotta look good. They expect so much of us, and I mean, I like to work, so I’ll do it. But just know, your fave, that’s a man that’s rapping, ain’t talking about shit, so you really need to calm down a little bit. But I don’t mind. I love being a girl. We gonna go hard anyway. We were put on the Earth to go hard.
What is the craziest thing you’ve ever read about yourself?
So I like anime, right? And I posted my hair. I like My Hero Academia and Todoroki is my favorite character on there. So I get my hair red and blonde, and the guys on Twitter, half of them went crazy in a good way and then half of them were like, “She don’t like anime. What? Look at how she look. Why would she be watching this?” I’m like, “Dude, I can’t watch cartoons because I got a big butt? That don’t make sense.” So Twitter was in a uproar because I like Todoroki. It was really weird and they were really trying to say I don’t watch it. When guys think you don’t watch anime, they gotta pull out the anime book, and it’s like, “So what happened on episode 367 of Dragon Ball Z?”
Suddenly they’re experts and they’re talking down to you.
I’m like, “Dude, I got this. I told you what I watch and I can give you the facts.”
I want to hear, in your own words, how “Big Ole Freak” makes you feel.
Just super sexy. Very confident, very free. I mean, when I listen to it, it just make me want to dance in the mirror by myself. I do that all the time. It just makes me feel really sexy.
Everybody asks me, “How did you get so confident? Or how are you this? How did you grow into this?” And I’m like, “Look, I was the only child, so I had a lot of time spent by myself,” and I feel like when you spend a lot of time by yourself, you get to know yourself. I know everything that I like. I know everything that I don’t like. I know what I’ma take from people. I know what I don’t want to take. I’m just a person who is like, “If you try to mess up my energy, I don’t want to be around it.” And I feel like that makes me confident because I’m full of my own good energy. I feel like I’m the shit.
I love that you listen to your own music, too.
That’s how I get my day started, to Tina Snow.
What’s the difference between Tina Snow, Megan Thee Stallion, and Hot Girl Meg.
So Tina Snow is the pimp, the mac; she don’t take no shit. Hot Girl Meg is the party girl, the polished girl, the turn-up queen. You’ll meet her on Fever. Megan Thee Stallion is just the one with all the sex appeal; she real chill. And just Megan, Megan’s the student, the daughter, the granddaughter, the friend.
Let’s talk about your Houston roots. What do you love and hate about Texas?
I don’t hate anything about Texas. I love my state. I love my area. It’s like home. And it’s so big. Dallas, Houston, Austin, that’s a market right there. Everybody in east city, Hotties going crazy everywhere, so I love doing shows in Texas because they be turnt. I already know it’s gonna be a party. It’s just really good energy every time. It’s just so much culture. We got Beyoncé and Solange.
I’m sure you saw Solange twerking to “Big Ole Freak.”
I was like, “Girl, Solange. Call me. Okay? We can be besties, Solange.” We need that collab ASAP. But yeah, she was in G5 with one of my favorite DJs, DJ Eric, listening to “Big Ole Freak,” and I was like, “Girl, I’ma cry.” But no, we got the SUC, the Screwed Up Click, DJ Screw just coming from Texas. I’m just like, “This is insane. I have some big ole shoes to fill, but I’ma do it.” And then Beyoncé came out of Texas. So just being the next girl coming out, I’m like, “Okay, I got this Bey. I’ma do it. I’ma hold it down.”
Incredible. And you’re a Rihanna fan, and Rihanna follows you on Instagram.
She does, girl. I was like, “Look, y’all gonna give me a heart attack. Y’all gotta stop.”
Where do you think your sex appeal comes from?
I’m just in love with myself. I love it so much, and I just love my body, and I feel like it really just comes off in my music. It’s really, a lot of times, nothing that I’m doing on purpose. It’s just how I am. I’m not a character; everything I do is very natural. I feel like it really comes across in my music, and I like to make other women feel like it, too. When I first heard Pimp C, how he made me feel just listening to him, that’s how I wanted people to perceive me.
I feel like you’ve just arrived fully formed.
I just want everybody to feel like … it’s not a lot that I get attached to. It’s not a lot that can embarrass me; it’s not a lot that can make me feel down; it’s not a lot that can … I don’t know. I don’t care about a lot of people’s opinions, and I feel like that probably comes across in my music, too, and in my personality. I just really want other women to feel like that because I feel like sometimes we walk around so uptight and we walk around trying to be something that we’re not, trying to hold up that image that we think that other people want to see. That doesn’t need to be the case. When you’re just being yourself, people gravitate toward that than you being what you think people want you to be. So I definitely just want other girls to feel like how I feel. We working on that though, day by day.
Five years from now, where do you want to be? What do you want to be doing?
I just want to be an icon. I want to be a household name. When you bring up the best, you gonna bring up Megan. They doing that now, but we need the whole world doing that, so that’s what we doing in five years.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Styling by Indya Brown. Styling Assistant Devine Blacksher.
*A version of this article appears in the April 29, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!
*Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Megan Thee Stallion is the first woman signed to 300 Entertainment. She is the first woman rapper.