Music Review: Megan Thee Stallion’s fierce ‘Megan’ trades hot girl summers for a different freedom

“Just as a snake sheds its skin, we must shed our past, over and over again,” Megan Thee Stallion says in the spoken-word intro for her “Cobra" music video. It is the first single from “Megan,” her third studio album, and one of many songs channeling snakes.

She sounds as strong as ever, atop chugging riffs and fluttering synths. Megan stretches and tightens syllables to enhance the weight of her words, a reminder that she’s lived through a few nightmarish years, and she’s working on coming out the other side. It might sound harsh on ears expecting her feel-good, hot girl summer declarations, but on this album, Megan is most interested in exorcising the demons given to her by haters.

It makes sense that Megan Thee Stallion – whose birth name is Megan Pete – would self-title this record, one born out of newfound autonomy. It is a self-released album, having reached a settlement with her former record label 1501 Certified Entertainment after three years of litigation.

It is also her first album since the end of the criminal case against Tory Lanez, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in August for shooting and wounding Megan in the feet, concluding a three-year legal and cultural saga that saw two careers, and lives, thrown into turmoil. In the years after the 2020 shooting, Megan — a three-time Grammy winner and hip-hop superstar – became the target of widespread misinformation and social media vitriol leveled against her in a clear-cut example of misogynoir, a specific type of misogyny experienced by Black women.

She’s managed to turn that pain and betrayal into to art — or at the very least, filter her frustrations through it, sharpening her flow in the process. “Boa” is self-assured, with an energetic sample of Gwen Stefani’s 2004 hit “What You Waiting For?"

“Hiss” is a scathing diss track with various targets — another self-possessed track. Braggadocious bars are found at every turn, challenged in only a few moments — like in the repetition of “I'm worthy / not worthless,” on the pop-y “Worthy.” It hits like a meditative mantra spoken into a mirror, a woman working to convince herself of her own value.

That said, there are still moments of perky pleasure (“Broke His Heart," “Find Out,” the shimmery self-satisfaction of “Down Stairs DJ”), charming detours into her admiration of Japanese culture ("Otaku Hot Girl," “Mamushi” featuring Yuki Chiba), and energetic collaborations ("Spin" with Victoria Monét, “Accent” with GloRilla.) But across “Megan,” the rapper's primary focus appears to be on pushing past her detractors — without as many of her previous, light-hearted joys. And who could blame her?

Snake imagery hasn’t been used so effectively since Taylor Swift’s “Reputation” era, an album about victimization and retribution. But in Swift’s universe, snakes were a metaphor for her nemesis — for Megan, they are a symbol for strength, for renewal — with real bite. You've got to suck the poison to remove it, right?