The modern lexicon owes a lot to Megan Thee Stallion. Since she burst on the scene in the early quarantine days of yore, nary a Slack channel nor girls’ group chat has gone untouched by “hot girl shit” and its derivatives (“hot girl summer,” etc.). “WAP,” her pearl-clutching single with Cardi B, further solidified her knack for dictating diction.
But on her latest LP Traumazine, released Aug.12, Megan has lost a bit of her Midas touch. Instead of topping herself with even nastier bars and stickier hooks, or even taking a sharp left turn into new territory, she slips into well-worn grooves carved out by her previous — and far stronger — projects.
The conceit of Traumazine is right at the surface. The title is suggestive of a deep dive into Megan’s psyche to dredge up darkness normally obscured by “bad bitch” swagger. “Traumazine,” a word coined by Megan, naturally, means “facing yourself.” While the term implies self-reflexivity, this introspection doesn’t surface until nearly the record’s midpoint, on the track creatively titled “Anxiety.”
On the track, Megan tries her hand at vulnerability, but she comes up short. However, she’s able to land a punch when she takes shots at the posturing and faux empathy of those in her circle. “They keep sayin’ speak your truth/ And at the same time say they don’t believe, man,” she raps. Megan also makes vague, tangential allusions to mental health, but she fails to formulate anything more substantive than “bad bitches have anxiety too.”
It is not uncommon these days for basic self-awareness to be filtered through the language of therapy. Being able to examine your past “trauma” and relay it in the parlance of wellness or therapy culture is a form of social currency — or in Megan and other artists’ case, literal currency.
This is part of what makes Traumazine a bit of a slippery project: Its creative bedrock isn’t altogether sound. So when the record lacks cohesion, as it often does, and ditches the trauma for twerking, it’s not necessarily an unwelcome shift. There’s plenty of the abrasive, crass, insouciant Megan to go around too.
On a record that boasts numerous big name features — Future was allegedly paid $250,000 for his corny, frankly embarrassing verse on “Pressurelicious” — Rico Nasty is a standout. The track she features on, “Scary,” is undeniably the most fun Megan has had in a while, retrofitted with Halloween-inspired production and matching lyrics: “And that ass like a pumpkin, welcome to the dungeon” and “Everytime I pop out, it get scary for you hoes.”
Megan’s signature levity and charm animates tracks like “Budget,” “Her” and “Plan B,” which lend Traumazine a much needed respite from mediocrity. The latter, which dropped as the album’s second single, adheres to the tried and true Megan formula: “Fuck n—, get money.” Still, these tracks remain void of the allure and panache of “Girls in the Hood” or “Cocky AF.” Interspersed among a lineup of banal tracks, their quality begins to feel purely relative, and certainly not decade-defining.
Creativity is threadbare on Traumazine; Megan leaves tired writing and star-studded features to fill in the gaps. “Sweetest Pie,” her grating collaboration with Dua Lipa, is tacked on as the album’s closer, leaving an acrid aftertaste despite its confectionery lyricism.
What makes Traumazine disappointing is tethered to the persona of Megan Thee Stallion. With her massive sphere of influence on music, popular culture, language and everything in between, it is evident that she transcends pure zeitgeist — she possesses staying power. How long will it hold out?