Maryland rapper Rico Nasty is a living lesson in individualism. The 21-year-old artist is coming into her own after a career that came to life two years ago, after her songs “iCarly” and “Hey Arnold” amassed more than 2 million views each. Those songs, plus her 2016 tapes Sugar Trap and The Rico Story, kicked off Rico’s ascent. As a bubbly-yet-gritty rapper who is equally comfortable talking about her feelings and discussing her enemy's downfall, Rico became an online sensation.

By 2017, things were changing quickly. Her YouTube views started to increase, her name came up in a lot more conversations and she dropped The Tales of Tacobella and more recently, Sugar Trap 2. She began to show more of her vulnerability and depth, which only further endeared her to fans and helped her land a major label deal with Atlantic Records. That growth is evident on Nasty, Rico's latest project that dropped on Friday (June 15) and features “Trust Issues” and the brutal, near-rock track “Rage.”

"I wanna hear honest opinions," Rico tells XXL, days before the release of her most high-profile project to date. "I'm gonna go look for the worst comments I can find. I'm gonna read all the bad ones and I'm gonna like all the good ones. I'ma listen to the people who tellin' the truth."

As she prepared for a six-week nationwide tour, Rico Nasty sat down with XXL to discuss her Nasty album, how fame has changed her life and becoming the artist she always wanted to be.

XXL: You were already doing dope things, but during the last two to three months, things have really changed for you. Why do you think that is?

Rico Nasty: Because I feel like people realize that I'm the most authentic and the least boring. You always gonna get some fun, wild shit from me. It's never gonna be like, this song's too cute to dance to. It's always gonna be some lit shit. I signed to Atlantic—that was huge—but uh, I haven't really, I don't feel the difference. I don't feel like I've gotten bigger; I feel the same.

I keep tryin' to ask people, like, when do you feel famous? Am I gonna wake up and feel it? I wanna know, 'cause I waited my whole life, for this. So I'm just hoping that when it really hits, I'm like "Oh shit, I can feel it." Like in my heart and my chest I wanna feel it.

Do people notice you in the mall?

I just gotta take my wig off. Then I can go anywhere [laughs]. Just take off my wig and put some shades on. Oh yeah, my car just got swarmed at Target, damn. That was really hectic.

That has to be draining, because you just want to live, be a mom and be normal.

You just get over it. And you learn, they don't mean no harm. You know when muthafuckas is trying you. They don't mean no harm, they just wanna see their favorite artist. I make all the anthems that they probably listen to every day that probably changed their way of thinking. So what type of person would I be to see them and literally run or be too bougie to say hi.

This feeling right now—on the way up, however far up I go—I will never forget this. I will never forget what this shit feels like, and how much fuckin' work it took. So many times going places and literally right before I get on the plane: “Is it worth it? Bitches is tryin' to ruin me, niggas is doing weird shit. Is it worth it?" All this shit that comes with it, it's definitely worth it. You just gotta find balance within yourself and you gotta trust yourself.

Why did you decide to sign to Atlantic Records?

I went with Atlantic because I got a lawyer to look at my contract and my contract was fire. I've got other offers, but I just really like their roster. Can't be mad at that. Since working with them, they've definitely proved themselves to me. And they a real team. That's what I need. I don't need an independent, where people wanna be my friend. I need people who's gon' build with me, cause I seen them build other artists. I been watching some of the artists that they've signed since they announced they were signed and I see what their lives look like. I'm tryin' to get me some of that. I'm tryin' to get a piece of that pie. So suck on that, muthafuckas. Make sure you quote that, cause muthafuckas got a lot to say about, "Why did she sign?" Because I have a 2-year-old. And these bitches don't! See y'all in five years, when y'all bitches is burnt and broke. I will be sitting cute and clothed, fuck all that.

How did you evolve your sound for Nasty?

I stopped making music for other people. I've never been the type of person to put myself in a box. But I do feel like with this project, it's just more so not giving a fuck what people say. To the point where now I'm so comfortable in myself. I feel like "Rage" kinda pushed me to be more comfortable with myself—I love that song. But I was very nervous about releasing it. That's like a whole screamo song. I didn't know what people were gonna say. I didn't know what they were gonna expect from me after that. But I just figured if I stop worryin' about what other muthafuckas gon' think when they hear my music, I could prolly make some great music.

And not focusing on what everybody wants me to do. ‘Cause Sugar Trap 2 was such a learning experience. I thought I was doing something—and I was doing something—but this is not that. This is not just some catchy hooks, some cool visuals. Sugar Trap 2, we had "Poppin," we had "Key Lime OG"—those are hook-made songs. This tape isn't like that. This tape is like "Oh bitch, these verses?" They match with the hooks, they tell a story damn near. Everything’s a different mood, a different vibe.

When did you notice you were going in the right direction creatively?

The night that I made “Trust Issues.” That was when I knew that I wanted to really get into that grit sound. And I feel like with “Trust Issues” all it took was the word. Kenny [Beats] was tryin' to get me on some happy shit. Kenny's like my big brother for real. We be in the studio and he'll play me a bunch of beats. I was like, “I can't keep making this happy shit... I don't wanna make that 'Money in my pocket, they all blue.' I don't wanna make that no more." He starts going through sounds and I just heard [mimics an electric guitar] and then he switched it [off]. I said "No, that’s it!" Looked him dead in his eyes. "This is what I wanna sound like. I wanna talk about what I'm going through, cause I was very tense for some time because I got trust issues." People I thought was my friends started switchin' on me—even family. So much shit comes with this shit. I don't want nobody to feel sorry for me. But shit change when you get up. Muthafuckas look at you way different.

So "Trust Issues" is really that. And once I put that in a real song that everybody fucks with, that's when I knew. I was like "Bruh, I am not going back to confining into what a female rapper supposed to be." I know we're supposed to be cute; I'm cute though. I know we're supposed to be girly; I have on a skirt! I know that there's also supposed to be a part of a woman that's strong. I feel like there is no [rock singer] Joan Jett of rap. There's nobody really pushing those barriers of [gender]. So many people listen to my shit and are like, "I been listening to you for six months, I thought you were a dude. You sound like you could keep up with these niggas." And I'm not mad at that, some people take that shit as disrespect. I used to be like, "Damn, you people think I'm a man." Nah, my delivery can keep up with these niggas.

You and Kenny [Beats] work well together. What gives you two such strong synergy?

It's very important when you in the studio to be with a confident creative. And that's one thing: That nigga got a ego. We both got egos. So when we walk in the studio, it's like "Yeah, nigga, is you ready? Bitch, is you ready?" When you bring that energy to the studio, it's so easy. The Noreaga joint ["Countin' Up,"] he cooked that up, remade that ["Superthug"] beat, added the helicopter everything, studied it. "Trust Issues," I sat there and watched him do it. He makes the beat faster than I write the song and I write pretty fast. But he'll have that shit done in like 15 minutes. With that being said, it just makes everything easy to do. If we can make six songs in a night and all that shit was cooked up, between me and you? That’s a productive-ass night. Nine times outta 10 when I cook up a beat with a producer, I don't trash the song.

What does Nasty represent for you?

It represents being free, not being afraid to show you guys that I can go from "Rage" to happy, melodic shit. Still to still be spitting, still keep that grit. This project means I need to step my game up afterwards. As soon as this bitch come out, I'ma start working on a new one. This is just another stage of my life that I was able to document and share with my fans. I'm excited about it. I hope they fuck with it. Nasty is just simple. It's elegant. You look at the cover art, its hidden messages. It's cool as fuck.

You and BlocBoy JB worked together on "In the Air," which seems preordained—it just makes sense. How did that come together?

It's so crazy you say that. People were telling me there was a lot of ways we were connected and didn't know. It was weird. Then I met him at [SXSW]. He was the first guy who someone was like, "You wanna take a picture with Rico?" And he was like, "Aw yeah, Rico!" I was like, "Oh shit, so he know who I am? He fuck with me?"

I was in the studio listening to beats and I heard a Tay Keith beat. I was like, "Where is that from? I'm hearing this nigga’s shit everywhere." Two days pass, then we heard “Look Alive” on the radio. And I was like "Oh my God!" I get back in the studio and I was lookin' at everybody like, “If we do this, we gotta get BlocBoy JB on it.” I felt like I was reaching for the stars, but then I thought to myself, if I make something we can "Shoot" to, he'll do it. I did and I sent it over to him. He was like "Oh yeah, this joint fire." It didn't take him long to get it back to me—it took like two weeks. Soon as I heard it, I plugged it up in my car. I was like, "Oh my fucking god, thank you!"

What song on Nasty are you most excited for people to hear?

Definitely the BlocBoy JB song. But I'm excited for them to hear "Bitch I'm Nasty."

Why that one?

Because I said “Fuck Trump” on it. I wanna see what y'all gonna say. Are y'all with me or what? Cause I see a lot of y'all in Kanye listening parties! Let me stop! [Laughs] Love you, Kanye!

Do you feel media has a long way to go with covering female rappers? How would you want to see them improve?

If you know we don't like each other, you don't gotta put us in a story together. I mean, I'm doing better than them, so I would like to be put over here. And I'm sure they think they're doing better than me, so you can put them over there. But they just love to just jam us all together. You cant give a bitch her own post? For these other girls out here, you gotta work for that.

See New Music Releases for June 2018

More From XXL