The Art of the Rapper/Producer Collaboration
Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats’ joint project ‘Anger Management’ is a case study for making musical magic happen.
From Missy Elliott and Timbaland’s Supa Dupa Fly to Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Piñata to Zaytoven and Future’s BEASTMODE projects, there’s a long history of strong rapper/producer collaborations that mark pivotal moments in each artist’s career. When Maryland “sugar trap” rapper Rico Nasty and former dance music DJ and producer Kenny Beats met in 2018, they became instant friends. Whether they knew it or not, their bond would allow Kenny to expand his range as a rap producer, and would help Rico discover and finesse the hardcore sound she’s most known for today. Several hits into their collaborative friendship (“Smack A Bitch,” “Countin’ Up,” “Rage”), the pair decided to build upon their unique dynamic, and they released the full-length Anger Management in April to widespread acclaim. Here, Rico Nasty and Kenny Beats shed light on what it takes to make their musical magic happen.
Spotify for Artists: How did you two meet?
Rico Nasty: We met on Twitter. When we met in real life it was so weird because we all thought [Kenny Beats] was black. That was my first time working with a white producer ever in my life. He started playing beats, and I just remember we did this one song called “I Don’t Give a Fuck” and you can tell that I was transitioning on there in wanting to do this screamo rap. But that never came out. We made “Smack A Bitch” the first night that we met.
Kenny Beats: I was a fan. I’ll tell you about how I heard about her. I was at Coachella a couple of years ago. I was in my friend’s car and he played me “Hey Arnold.” It was before [Lil] Yachty had even gotten on it. [My friend] played me the video and everything. It was “Broccoli” era, so really cute beats and it would be very normal at that time to hear like a big 808 with a toy piano or something cute. She was on a beat like that and she was saying the hardest shit. Everything she said was so menacing, but it wasn’t sexy, and that’s why I thought it was cool.
How did you know you wanted to work together again after that first session?
Kenny: It’s really a feeling of like, “I don’t know how we’re going to beat that.” You make this one great song with somebody and you’re like, “Damn, we gotta obviously work again because this is better than the other shit I’m making and the other shit you’re making.” I was trying to figure her out because the first time I came [to her], I had this game plan and she fucked me up. She was like, “I want metal.” Once we had made our first two or three songs, I was like, “Y’all need to stop going to that studio and just start coming to my spot. There’s no charge, let’s just fuck around and I’ll make whatever you want.”
This room really disarms people because you can’t pay for studio time here—there’s no specific hours. People don't realize that if you are signed to [a] label and you're working at [the] label’s studio, there's an engineer there that has to get paid, there’s runners—those people have a salary. It’s part of your recording budget as an artist; that’s part of your deal. I do the engineering, the production, and I’m the janitor and I do the food ordering—I do everything. It kind of just feels like a living room. It feels like you can be yourself or you can “spill the tea sis,” and just have fun with your friends. I got such good music out of the vibe being way less professional and clean and perfect. We come here, we fuck up, we have fun, and it’s not precious. I try to just stay in this room, because all my best experiences making music in my life have been in this room. Every single time [Rico] has come here since, we’ve made crazier and crazier and crazier shit.
Rico: Me and Kenny have never had a bad session. Every time, we have a song it’s like, “Aw shit, this is coming out.” He’s just by himself. It’s real easy to let the guard down and vibe out. But, once you work with the same person four times, and you don’t work with other producers, and you keep going back to the person, and you keep making crazy hits? It says a lot about the chemistry. It says a lot about the energy in the room when music is being made. If it’s different and refreshing and it makes me dance, I want to work with that artist [again] because that’s how I feel like my music is. I like to make people dance, I like to be very refreshing as far as my voice and the gender norms of what females are supposed to sound like. I like people who sound like themselves.
What is your process like when you work together?
Rico: One thing about Kenny is he hates when people are boring. He hates when people don’t push themselves creatively, so we would be in the studio for hours, like, “Bro you gotta push yourself. You made a crazy song yesterday, you gotta make a better song today. You just gotta keep on getting better. You gotta keep on testing yourself and applying your intelligence to the music.” As soon as I get in the studio, we play beats. It can’t be silent at all, that’ll fuck the vibe up. We just keep playing beats. Kenny works with a lot of artists that I fuck with, so he’ll play me some of their music that he’s been working on. Sometimes, I’ll be like, “Nah, I ain’t feelin’ none of this.” So, I’ll just be like, “Let’s cook some shit up.” We’ll sit for probably 45 minutes to an hour, he’ll make the beat, and recently I’ve been writing super-fast so the beat don’t be done. Like, for “Cheat Code” the beat was not done. After the whole beat had been constructed, we started looking for samples. The part where it’s like “Clap it up for me like Bravo” and then we got all the clapping sounds? I wanted it to feel like it’s actually happening to whoever’s listening to it.
Kenny: Rico comes in, and whatever she heard on the radio that day, or whatever her friends are talking about in her phone, or whatever meme someone just DM’d her, that’s the inspiration. It could be anything. She could have heard a Beyoncé song or she could have heard an old Eurythmics song, or she could have heard or seen a little dance video, and she’ll be like, “Today, I want that.” [For “Hatin’”] she literally said, “I want ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulders’ right now.” I’m like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll make something like it.” She’s like, “No I want ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulders.’”
Same with “Countin’ Up,” she’s like, “You ever heard this?” and she’s playing me “Superthug” by N.O.R.E. I just obey. Sometimes, she’ll come in and I’ll be playing something and she’ll sit down and say some dumb shit to me, and then she’ll start smoking, and then I’ll just see her mumbling. If I see that, I start going in. I start tweaking it up, fixing it, arranging it. I leave her room for input. No agenda. Her mannerisms are very specific. We’ve been around each other for so many moments, at this point I’m using more info than what she puts out on the internet and what she says to me. There’s other things crossing my mind via moments we've had or conversations we’ve had about her life. She’s one of my best friends. I don’t get to know people so I can get to the best music, I get to know them via making the music. It doesn't ever start with a statement. It always starts with [a question]: “What are you working on? What do you need? What can I help with?” Having an agenda going into a relationship with a creative person is the worst thing you can do.
How did you know it was time to make Anger Management?
Rico: We had made an inside joke about all of the angry songs that I had made. It was always like, “Rico needs anger management.” I read this interview that Kenny did where he was like, “I like to look at my sessions like therapy sessions,” and I was like, “Bruh, that is so real.” I know I’m not the only artist who has said stuff like this about him. He’ll sit there and really get it out of you. We worked on it for five days, laid all the vocals, and then he started fucking around with certain stuff while I was gone. I feel like the most important thing is getting it out. I felt like to give off the “anger management” vibe, the uncontrollable, unapologetic I-don’t-give-a-fuck vibe, it had to be made fast. I had to say whatever came to my mind first. It couldn’t be something I pondered. A lot of people have said that the project sounds like a temper tantrum. It’s because it was made consistently like that.
Kenny: When I’m with artists, because I’m so insane and I’m out of my mind and I know how people deal with me, I feel like I'm the perfect buffer for them. Whether it’s broke shit, dealing with family shit, being self-conscious, dealing with hating yourself and being depressed, dealing with having anger problems, dealing with being frustrated, dealing with doubt, dealing with whatever it is, I’ve been there. I’ve been broke and been stressed and had shit happen around me that’s awful and I'm better for it. I will not judge you. If your voice squeaks or you write a bar that sucks or you bring somebody here who acts like an idiot, I’m not going to judge you for it. Everybody I work with even if they got no budget and no signing and no followers, they’re only in here because I’m a fan. So, I’m excited to be the janitor and the producer and the engineer while you're here because I want you to win. I want Rico to win. I want her to win so bad.
I’m not here to put any kind of box around this girl’s talent, or any of the artists that I work with. I’m here to do exactly what they want to do because I believe so much in their vision and their talent. I’m going to literally just do anything I can to help them further their goal. A lot of people don’t work like that; they want to get a hit. For me, it's just about making sure that I can be the person who gives them the vocabulary to do what they were already trying to do. Every artist knows what it sounds like in their head, it’s just that getting out what it sounds like in your head is so hard. People say to me, “I want it to sound like a beach,” and I gotta get it from there to the song.