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Megan Thee Stallion is running hip-hop. Deal with it.

Houston rapper’s song, ‘HISS’ reminds us what it’s like when a diss record takes the culture by storm

Rap battles have been a core element of hip-hop since the beginning, ever since Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee traded bars at Harlem World in 1981. Diss records, battles, and sparring have defined some of rap’s biggest moments, from LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” to Nas and Jay-Z’s epic feud and everything in between. It’s been a while (Drake and Pusha T’s 2018 back-and-forth notwithstanding) since actual direct diss records between major names have taken rap by storm.

That’s where Megan Thee Stallion comes in.

Over the weekend, the Grammy-winning rapper released her newest song, “HISS,” unleashing a three-minute onslaught of disses at seemingly everyone who slighted her, from Drake to Nicki Minaj. The song has become the biggest story in hip-hop this week and has brought back the excitement, unpredictability and competition of the glory days of rap disses. It’s just another way that Megan Thee Stallion — who was on Good Morning America Tuesday morning to tease a new album and a Hot Girl Summer tour — has been providing hip-hop with the artistry, star power, and depth that its critics swear is missing from the genre, mainly because they refuse to look at a woman like Megan as real hip-hop.

Megan Thee Stallion has been one of the most talked-about rappers of the past few years. Her appearance on Cardi B’s “WAP” had everyone from internet personality Kevin Samuels to Fox News up in arms because of the song’s sexual lyrics and the pair’s abundant twerking. Rapper Tory Lanez shooting Megan Thee Stallion in July 2020, and the subsequent rumors and court case made her the center of gossip, vitriol and subliminal disses from people such as 50 Cent and Drake. And her breakup with fellow rapper Pardison Fontaine led to speculation and songs between the two former lovers. But in 2024, Megan is fed up, and “HISS” is her response.

“HISS” is a monster of a record. Megan follows the popular hip-hop tradition of not mentioning anyone by name but making it very clear who she’s talking about. When she accuses someone of “cosplaying gangsters” with “fake-a– accents,” she’s likely talking about Drake, who alluded to Meg lying about being shot by Tory Lanez last year in his song “Circo Loco.” When she said, “I’m way too f—ing cocky to take him back if he been cheatin’,” it’s a clear shot at her ex, Pardison Fontaine, and his claims of infidelity. And when she refers to “Megan’s law,” which requires sex offenders to register with their local jurisdictions, it’s a direct jab at Nicki Minaj, whose husband is a registered sex offender and whose brother was convicted of raping a child.

That last line, in particular, has earned Megan a four-day (and counting) social media tirade from Nicki Minaj, sending her into a career tailspin of Twitter rants, bizarre Instagram Live videos, and a rushed, subpar diss record. The song “Big Foot” reignited a feud that features two of rap’s biggest stars. It’s a rarity these days for folks of Megan Thee Stallion’s and Nicki Minaj’s magnitude to have such a blatantly direct war of words. Kendrick Lamar and Drake teased a lyrical scuffle a decade ago, but it cooled after a few subliminal shots. Overall, these back-and-forths are always exciting as long as no violence is involved and the bad blood stays on wax. Seeing two household names in a direct feud feels like a throwback. Megan even called into The Breakfast Club to do a short interview, a popular tactic when the likes of Jay-Z and Nas would head to the airwaves to air out their grievances in the early aughts.

Megan Thee Stallion performs during Day 1 of One MusicFest at Piedmont Park on Oct. 28, 2023, in Atlanta.

Aaron J. Thornton/FilmMagic

“HISS” also dropped when hip-hop, on the other side of its 50th anniversary, faced as much scrutiny and criticism from purists and fans as at any time in its history. Much of the criticism comes from the notion that rap’s mainstream artists are putting out bland, heartless, cash-grab music. As Jason England asked in his Defector article, “What does it mean when the most original, populist, counterculture arts movement of my lifetime doesn’t seem to have anything meaningful to say anymore?”

The criticism is more than valid for a large swath of hip-hop’s most popular artists, young and old. However, Megan represents a blind spot for many people looking for rap’s biggest stars to say something.

Megan Thee Stallion is doing all the things we want rap stars to do. Want her to make a statement about deeper societal issues? Well, when she had a captive national TV audience while performing on Saturday Night Live back in 2022, she chose to do a rendition of “Anxiety” about her mental health struggles. She fired back at an angry Republican commentator who tried to shame her for showing off her body by releasing the “Thot S—” video. She’s now calling out rappers and taking on challengers, bringing that kinetic energy back to rap. And she’s rapping her butt off while channeling Houston greats like Bun B and Pimp C, who came before her with a double-timed delivery that taps into new pockets every four bars or so.

Aren’t these the things we want from our mainstream superstars? Aren’t these the things we criticize the Drakes of the world for not doing?

It’s easy to overlook Megan Thee Stallion carrying the torch of what we demand of our mainstream rappers because she doesn’t look like what we thought our torchbearers should look like. We have been trained and have trained ourselves to disregard women in general, but especially those who dress and look like Megan, as well as those who twerk and dance like her. The reasons for ignoring her hip-hop credibility are played out at this point, but they persist: She promotes sex and (what rap superstar doesn’t today?) she shows off her body (not unlike LL Cool J or, say, 50 Cent before her), and her singles are vapid pop (like Drake). But these arguments are all couched in misogyny and double standards.

An objective look at Megan’s body of work and not just her body would show the prototype of the exact superstar rapper fans have been purporting to want more of in rap. Megan is hip-hop, and her latest track is another example of how she’s moving the culture forward while harkening back to the golden years. If you’re missing out on what Megan Thee Stallion has to offer, that says more about you than her or hip-hop.

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and an American Mosaic Journalism Prize recipient. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be released in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.