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Megan Thee Stallion gets vulnerable on hot sophomore album 'Traumazine'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. With just a few hours' notice, Houston rapper Megan Thee Stallion surprised fans and released her new album "Traumazine" early today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLIP FLOP")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Behind this smile, I'm fighting these tears 'cause a b**** be sad as f***. Ever since my mama died 2019, I don't really know who I can trust.

CHANG: A follow-up to her 2020 debut, "Good News," this album takes stock of the artist's tumultuous past few years and reasserts her superstar status. Sidney Madden has been listening. She's an NPR music reporter and co-host of the podcast Louder Than A Riot. And she is here to tell us all about the new album. Hey, Sidney.

SIDNEY MADDEN, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hey. OK, so can you just explain what is the meaning behind the name "Traumazine," you think?

MADDEN: Megan got creative. She took some poetic license. And she shared that the title on social media, "Traumazine," is in reference to the fictional chemical that is released in your brain when you're forced to deal with painful emotions caused by traumatic events and experiences, which is digging really deep into what the album is about.

CHANG: I'm just curious. How do you think this album fits overall into Megan's whole body of work?

MADDEN: In my opinion, "Traumazine" is a huge artistic step forward for Megan. She's showing off vulnerability in ways that she's never really done before on mic. So fans of Megan know that she's usually known for more high-adrenaline, sexy, fun, salacious, braggadocious type of tracks like "Savage," which won her the Grammy. And, I mean, don't get it twisted. This album has that, too. But the beauty of it is really the dexterity of the project.

It's that those types of tracks are offset with deep contemplations about the trauma she's experienced in her life so far and, more pointedly, the double standards in society that Black women carry with them when they're objectified, appropriated. She's been involved in extensive legal battles with her former record label over contract disputes. And both of her parents passed away just as she started blowing up. And in the summer of 2020, she was involved in an incident of assault when she was allegedly shot by fellow musician Tory Lanez as the two were leaving a party in LA. It's a lot to process.

CHANG: Yeah, it is a lot to process when you lay it all out like that. I mean, where do you hear some of that sort of deep reflection about her past traumas in these songs?

MADDEN: There's a specific run of songs in the sequencing of this album that really feels like diary entries. So on one track called "Anxiety," she breaks down in the lyrics. And it feels like she's having a stream of conscious thought trying to describe what moving through life with this anxiety and this post-traumatic stress really feels like. It's raw. It's real. And it can't be faked.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANXIETY")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Issues, but nobody I could talk to about it. They keep saying I should get help. But I don't even know what I need. They keep saying, speak your truth, and at the same time say they don't believe, man. Excuse me while I get into my feelings for a second.

CHANG: So, Sidney, I mean, you've been covering Megan Thee Stallion since, like, the very beginning of her career. What moves you personally, like, the most about this album?

MADDEN: I think what strikes me most is Megan's ability to harness all that vitriol that's been slung at her over the past few years and channel it into truly beautiful art. The imagery so far, with all of the roll-out and the video snippets shared - it's evoking a type of Disney's "Maleficent" vibe, you know, black leather, latex, embodying that misunderstood villain. And I really think one key question that this album probes listeners to really consider is, to what end does Megan owe the public any more type of processing of this very, very real, very public pain? Just as she subverted a lot of long-held double standards about sexual agency being used to shortchange or detract from her craft, the emotions shown on "Traumazine" really break down the strong Black woman trope that has been used for far too long to rationalize Black women's mistreatment, disposability and mortality.

CHANG: That is NPR's Sidney Madden. Thank you so much, Sidney.

MADDEN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NDA")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) Anything I did to any of you n*****, y'all deserved it. You see me in that mode. Don't disturb me when I'm working. Little b****, you better back up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Sarah Handel

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