A full year and a half after dropping her breakthrough mixtape, Fever, the Grammy-nominated rapper Megan Thee Stallion is the proud owner of a debut album, Good News. Released on Friday, the project is, in Megan’s words, a welcome interruption during a devastating year. “I just felt like during this time of lots of bad news, I wanted to be a light in a dark situation,” she told Spotify ahead of the album’s release. “And I wanted you to hear the good news directly from [me].” 

We’ve come a long way since the warm months of 2019, the vibrant era that Megan christened “Hot Girl Summer.” With unmatched charisma in tow, the Houston rapper introduced the world to a movement whose potential was limitless, and by way of masterfully autonomous tracks including “Sex Talk” and “Realer,” Megan both ushered in and dominated a moment in hip-hop. While she was serious about taking over, Megan approached her game plan with an energy powered by unabashed fun.

That playful spirit remains on Good News, and the album is a reflection of what makes Megan’s singles so memorable: it includes ample sampling, superstar assists, and hard bars about what Megan loves most about herself. But the games are over, and her “down-to-business” attitude on the album reflects both the year we’ve had and her own tribulations. 

From track one, bar one, Megan tackles the shooting that rocked the industry in July, and the subsequent fallout from the incident. “Imagine niggas lying ’bout shooting a real bitch / Just to save face for rapper niggas you chill with,” she begins on “Shots Fired.” Over production that heavily samples the Notorious B.I.G.’s infamous song “Who Shot Ya,” Megan directly addresses the person who shot and injured her, without mentioning a name. (It is alleged to be the singer Tory Lanez, who has pleaded not guilty to felony assault charges in the case.) On “Shots Fired,” Megan reinvents herself, transforming from victim to someone in control of the narrative—she even makes gun noises and laughs on the same track that confronts the violent event she’s been fighting to move past.

Megan also uses the album’s introduction to mention Breonna Taylor, the Louisville woman who was killed by police during a botched raid in March of this year. This is how Megan chooses to open her album: by bringing attention to the lack of justice for Black people—particularly women, herself included. “There’s not much room for passionate advocacy if you are a Black woman,” Megan wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times last month. With “Shots Fired,” she makes a concerted and continued effort to battle with the cacophonous year we’ve had collectively, and the one she’s had personally.

From there Megan splashes into “Circles,” a song about being hung out to dry after staying true to an unworthy partner, which samples R&B powerhouse Jazmine Sullivan’s emotive 2010 single “Holding You Down.” While “Circles” is focused on a partnership, Megan briefly rattles off a list of pivotal events that have altered her life and career: “Bullet wounds, backstabs, Mama died, still sad / At war with myself, in my head, bitch, it’s Baghdad.” She also breathes levity into the album with the likes of “Cry Baby,” her third song with Charlotte rapper DaBaby (after Fever’s runaway hit “Cash Shit” and DaBaby’s single “NASTY” featuring the MC and singer-songwriter Ashanti), and follows that up with another collaboration, the hype “Do It on the Tip” featuring interweaved verses from the City Girls. On both tracks Megan sounds impassioned, collected, and securely in her bag. 

Megan’s sample choices on Good News showcase her taste and musical maturity, too. “Sugar Baby” samples Webbie’s 2005 club anthem “Bad Bitch,” and “Freaky Girls,” featuring pop&B starlet SZA, is Southern rap pioneer Juicy J’s reworking of Adina Howard’s “Freak Like Me” (released in 1995, the year Megan was born). But “Freaky Girls” isn’t just a hat tip toward R&B of years past. It also works as a clever shoutout to Houston. At the top of the song, and throughout it, we hear the late Fat Pat saying “Love it, mayne,” a subtle but intentional reference to the song from which the vocals come: “25 Lighters,” the 1998 single by DJ DMD, Lil Keke, and Fat Pat that built upon the same production, Al B. Sure’s “Nite and Day,” that Megan used for her first hit single, “Big Ole Freak.” There are levels to her tributes.

The project’s most recent single, “Body,” lends itself well to the TikTok universe with its straightforward, meme-able chorus: “Body-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody / Ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody-ody.” The collaboration between Megan and longtime production partner LilJuMadeDaBeat is a demonstration of her internet prowess. On it, she raps: “All them bitches scary cats, I call ’em Carole Baskins,” referencing an antagonist of Netflix’s Tiger King docuseries released earlier this year. The move is especially meta given that this past spring, musician Caleb Jaxin took Megan Thee Stallion’s eventual number one Billboard Hot 100 hit, “Savage,” borrowed the song’s accompanying dance trend, and created his own viral ditty about Baskin, which Megan caught wind of.

The album’s highlight, though, is the whimsical yet aggressive track “What’s New.” Here Megan uses various vocal intonations and inflections to flex openly on her foes, which perfectly complements the energy of the off-kilter, hardened production by Cody Tarpley & Avedon. “All of these hoes my sheep / Mary had a little lamb, they was talking ’bout me,” she raps without a hint of irony and with all the self-conviction in the world.

In addition to tracks where she straight-up spits (“Work That,” “Go Crazy”), proving her consistent dedication to the art form of hip-hop, Megan ventures in creative directions we’ve never heard her attempt before. She’s especially adventurous on tracks like “Intercourse,” featuring dance hall artist Popcaan, and the solo, pop-adjacent “Don’t Rock Me to Sleep,” where she sings vulnerably in lieu of rapping.

On “Outside,” which samples nineties R&B singer Michel’le’s “Something in My Heart,” Megan flips the derogatory phrase “she’s for the streets,” popularized by her male counterparts and their fans. Instead, she insists: “I ain’t for the streets, ’cause bitch I am the street / And I ain’t on these niggas, all these niggas be on me.” Her cool confidence brings to mind her Tina Snow persona, the player introduced in 2018 on the EP of the same name. Megan’s revival of the character, inspired by the late Pimp C’s alter ego Tony Snow, is further solidified by her recalling Pimp C’s line, “If you didn’t want a pimp, then what you fuckin’ with me for?” from the Underground Kingz deep cut “Gravy.”

The songs on Good News are indicative that the conversation that has centered itself around Megan Thee Stallion has evolved: We’re no longer just talking about a rising woman rapper whose biggest concern was being pitted against another female MC. Today, we’re talking about a woman whose astronomical success has triggered vitriol, misogynoir, and outright abuse—and someone who has courageously flipped a bleak outlook into a moment she can capitalize on. 

In 2020, Megan Thee Stallion is a mega pop star shaped equally by well-deserved fame and unfortunate circumstances. And Good News feels like it’s fit for the year we’ve had: it’s confrontational at times and irreverent at others, and reflects our need to preserve and protect ourselves, while also attacking head-on the issues that threaten our livelihoods. But at its core, Good News listens like bravery in the face of adversity.