Her mother stayed to watch, even though Megan warned that she was going to curse. But Thomas knew what to expect. She’d had her own rap career and was known around Houston as Holly-Wood. She raised Megan on UGK and Three 6 Mafia, bringing her daughter up largely by herself in the Houston suburbs. Megan’s father spent the first eight years of her life in prison and died when she was 15. Megan calls him her best friend—but her mom was always something more. She was the first person Megan ever rapped for, when she was seven years old. Megan had a Barbie toy that played prerecorded instrumentals and beats, she recalls. “I don’t know who at [Mattel] thought of that,” she says, “but it was fire!” When she was 18, Megan told her mom she wanted to rap. Thomas said fine but had two caveats: Megan had to wait until she was 21, and she had to get a college degree.
Until her death, Thomas was Megan’s manager. She taught Megan studio etiquette—to show up on schedule, to make the most of your booked time. She told Megan to rap in her own voice. “I used to rap in a voice that was not my talking voice,” Megan explains. “I would probably sound a little monotone, and she was like, ‘Why are you rapping like that?’ I’m like, ‘What? I sound good.’ So she’s like, ‘Rap like you’re talking to me.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you right,’ and you know, you hate when your mama tell you something.”
The earliest moments of Megan’s career were mostly tumult-free because of her mom. “I always just said, ‘I’m going to call my mama. She’ll know what to do,’ ” she says with a sigh. “Now I can’t just call my mama, but I’m always thinking, ‘Okay, what would she do?’ and sometimes I don’t know, sometimes I do be bumping my head. I’m only in my 20s! But she’s there.”
It was more than just business advice and etiquette, though. So much of what Megan raps about, and how she raps about it, and who she is as a woman, is inherited from her mother and grandmothers, she explains. One of her grandmothers, whom she called Big Mama, taught her about the importance of self-reliance; her other grandmother taught her to always be sweet. And her mother, she says, taught her how to be tough. Confidence was instilled early and reinforced by all three women, who were constantly in Megan’s ear with affirmations. “They were always like, ‘Megan, you’re great. Hundred percent,’ ” she says. “They would always make me feel really, really good. They would always be like, ‘And you don’t need no boy or nobody coming up to you trying to tell you, “Give me this, and I’ll give you that.” ’ And I’d be like, [imitates her voice as a seven-year-old] Yeah! I don’t need no boys at all!”
She often attributes lyrical and sonic inspiration to Southern male artists like Juicy J and Pimp C. Her mom would play Three 6 Mafia, and Megan would study the themes: money, sex, power, high-quality liquor. She heard men rap about, as she says, “what they are gonna do to a girl, or how confident he is, or how tough he is,” and that matrilineal influence reminded her that she could do it too, and better. She thought, “ ‘Damn, this would really be something good if a girl was saying this.’ ”
With Megan, it’s never just the words. She has a way of delivering filthy lyrics that can absolutely knock you flat. It’s the way she curls her lips while she says a line or raises her eyebrow right before she drops down in a squat. As a performer, she doesn’t ask for permission or forgiveness or even confirmation. “I know this about me,” she says. “This is my pleasure, this is my vagina; I know this vagina bomb. Sometimes you just got to remind people that you’re magical and everything about you down to your vagina and to your toes is magical.” In the grand tradition of Trina, Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliott, Jill Scott, and other female artists who write lyrics that simply drip with horn, Megan’s message—and the way she shares it—isn’t for men.