“Anytime I record, I go to L.A., I go somewhere else and I kind of run away,” Rico Nasty most recently revealed of her creative process. This time around, however, the onset of a pandemic forced the DMV native to stay put in Maryland, having to record her debut Nightmare Vacation album on the homefront.

In hindsight, the setting props up a stage on which Rico, born Maria-Cecilia Kelly, is her truest self to date. It’s apparent that the emotive rapper meticulously constructed her latest platform with resolve. This much is evidenced in her ability to maintain a cohesive sound despite recruiting a total of 16 different producers across the 16-track effort. The sound that listeners first took to via her breakout “Smack A Bitch” was wondrously half-baked with Rico hopping over a beat that Kenny Beats hadn’t even finished. Yet, the 23-year-old has found a way to pinpoint potent iterations cut of the same punk rap cloth.

On Nightmare Vacation, Rico Nasty masters an artful balance between comfortable and unfamiliar. On “Candy,” “Let It Out,” and “OHFR” alike, Trap Lavigne houses the agitated energy that formulated her “Smack A Bitch” success and allows such cuts to anchor the project’s cohesion.

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All the while, she flirts with new boundaries. While “IPHONE” finds itself in the same vein as these tracks, pitched up and computerized vocals set it apart in a few ways as Rico reflects on her indifference in a relationship. Such sentiments are accompanied in construction and content as she straps on more melodic boots for the Don Toliver and Gucci Mane-assisted “Don’t Like Me” and the Aminé-assisted “Back & Forth.”

While holding fast to the gravelly elements that characterize her signature catalog, she offers more tender variations with tracks like “No Debate,” “Own It,” and “Loser,” featuring Trippie Redd. On these offerings, Rico leans more into her Pop aspirations, making a case for commercial outlets for the casual listener.

It all comes together to cooperatively weave a path that literally leads back to “Smack A Bitch,” as Rico repackages the piece in a posse cut featuring Sukihana, Rubi Rose, and ppcocaine. As the track actualizes, her collaborators all pay some form of homage to Rico’s own belligerence. While it could’ve easily birthed some clinically forced performance, it instead marks an effective conclusion to the housewarming found in Nightmare Vacation, solidifying Rico’s presence in her own estate. It also lays the groundwork for a genuine journey via Nightmare Vacay as Rico most recently followed up the physical album with a comic book. The book’s plot is around Rico’s spaceship crash landing on Earth while recording her album in space.

As the fictional tale finds her enlisting her musical alter egos to survive, it’s a pointed parallel to the navigation that Rico has undergone in recent years. Unexpectedly, she’s cultivated a niche for herself that continues to inch her closer to mainstream ears–whether she wants it to or not.