Megan Thee Stallion intended on dropping Suga on May 2, her late mother’s birthday; however, the project was released prematurely on March 6. Suga was supposed to be an attempt at a debut album following her rising popularity as a 2019 XXL Freshman with last summer’s mixtape, Fever. “I’m still working on my ‘album,’” Megan said during her most recent interview on The Breakfast Club. She bent her fingers into air quotes around the word “album.” “I had to hurry up and put out an EP.”

So why the rush? On Mar. 1, Megan Thee Stallion took to Twitter with #FREETHESTALLION. She revealed that her record label, 1501 Entertainment, was blocking her from releasing music. Not fully understanding the onerous terms she signed onto as a 20-year-old, Megan attempted to renegotiate her situation, only for 1501 to freeze further music releases. She filed a lawsuit against 1501 the next day to try to get out of the contract. Megan points to her label not being up to par with industry standards. The lawsuit claims that her label attempted to “literally do nothing, while at the same time taking for themselves the vast majority of Megan’s income from all sources.” A Texas judge granted her a temporary restraining order that forbade 1501 from blocking Megan’s future releases. 

Despite the legal tribulations and corresponding change in Suga’s release and structure, the nine-track EP is a minor win for Megan. Her struggles echo those of many other women of color in music, such as Kelis and SZA. And Megan’s level of candor is just as rare as it is admirable. 

Suga is just as thematically defiant as its existence. The opener, “Ain’t Equal,” is hard-hitting and determined. Megan raps over a fast-paced, abrasive trap beat and isn’t fazed by the conflict between her and her label. “Bitch, I been popping, doing numbers, been lit / And since the n**** think he made me, tell him do it again,” she raps at the end of the second verse, an obvious shot at 1501 label CEO Carl Crawford. The third verse is just as scathing and unsubtle: “Ni***s tryna get some fame off my name, that’s a shame / When I started making money, that’s when everybody changed, huh.” Despite her label’s attempt to take credit for Megan’s efforts, she knows her merit and worth. Starting Suga off with “Ain’t Equal” emphasizes Megan’s realness, her inability to give into peer pressure and scrutiny.

The rest of the album is classic Hot Girl Meg. Despite not as many obvious shots at her label, her creativity and unapologetic sexiness shine through to show 1501 Entertainment exactly who they’re messing with. “Savage” goes toe-to-toe with the sound of Fever. The track rides off the classic southern rap sound that established her. “I’m that bitch (Yeah) / Been that bitch, still that bitch (Ah),” she raps in the intro. The rest of the lyrics stick true to that sentiment, often referencing her past songs. “Bad bitch, still talking cash shit,” she raps in the first verse, an obvious allusion to her summer hit with DaBaby, “Cash Shit.” “Captain Hook” is raunchy and graphic, down to the title. Following a year in which she’s been romantically linked to various other artists and athletes, the song is fitting — she is confident in her sexuality and doesn’t care what the media has to say. She puts it simply: “I like to drink and I like to have sex.” The nearly three-minute-long track packs an onslaught that lets Megan’s deft lyricism shine in all its R-rated glory. 

The EP harkens back to the Southern influence and self-awareness of Fever, but Suga doesn’t run the risk of being too similar to its predecessor. Alongside Megan’s classic Southern sound, there’s some West Coast flair. Most notably there’s “B.I.T.C.H,” an homage to West Coast legend Tupac Shakur. Using the same sample of Bootsy Collin’s “I’d Rather Be With You,” the song flips the sentiments of Shakur’s “I’d Ratha be Ya N.I*.*.A” on their head to better fit the song to her situation. Whereas Shakur sang a song of devotion and striving for a relationship the other partner doesn’t have faith in, Megan isn’t one to beat around the bush — she’d rather be called a bitch than involved in an uneven relationship that gets nowhere. Despite the change from her classic sound and demeanor, Megan sounds assured and in her element. Her uncharacteristically breathy vocals carry the sensual, synthy layers and West Coast bass brilliantly and with ease. The elements carry on into “Hit My Phone,” a collaboration with Kehlani. Whereas “B.I.T.C.H” is more of a banger, “Hit My Phone” is a funky slow track. The song is fun, sexy and addictive with a sticky chorus.

The very end of Suga is where things fall apart and the project feels incomplete and rushed. The last three songs continue the West Coast sound but fail to pack as much of a punch. “Stop Playing” is near-monotonous, the bassline overpowers Megan’s vocals. Gunna’s feature offers nothing to the track, his abuse of auto-tune seemingly radiating off to Megan for the rest of the album. “Crying In the Car” poorly manages its funky beat, Megan’s auto-tuned vocals blurring into the bassline and overall sounding very unappealing. 

Despite its clear shortcomings, Megan Thee Stallion shines on Suga. Where she falters under the waves of autotune, she just as much flourishes under new and old sounds alike. Suga not only proves Megan Thee Stallion’s ability to adapt to new elements, but her capacity to succeed without the constraints of her limiting record deal.

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