“…All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all…”

– Ecclesiastes 9:2‭-‬3

I’ve seen angels cry, I’ve seen demons dance,
Baby take a picture, make the moment last…”

– Rico Nasty, ‘LaLa’ 

While there are probably a hundred reasons I shouldn’t listen to…let alone like Rico Nasty’s catalog, I stumbled across her mixtape Nasty in my social media feed, and I have to confess I can appreciate the redemptive echoes in her music. In particular is the track “Why Oh Why,” which speaks to the vanity of life and our natural inclination toward self-justification (cf. Romans 7:15). The song strips away the boasting, the self-indulgence, the vain masquerading of wealth as status and identity, so prevalent in the sub-strands of hip hop made popular in the late 90s/early 2000s by the likes of the Cash Money Crew and Bad Boy Records, and exposes it for the flimsy cover it is — namely, a false identity concocted to silence the voice of accusation from within. In short, the apparent celebration of hedonistic excess is actually a veiled cry of exhaustion and despair — “I work in order to convince myself that life has meaning…and I have value.” The pretense of happiness in the amassing of ‘ice’ and ‘bling’ is just that: a pretense. No one living for self in as lavish a manner as a stereotypical mainstream hip hop video is actually as happy as he or she seems. The boasting of what one has ironically flows from discontent.

The law is written on our hearts…and it daily reminds we are not enough. On Nasty’s penultimate track, “La La,” Rico drops the facade long enough to confess that her drive for money, notoriety, and success are little more than an over-compensatory defense mechanism against the guilt she feels for having lost her true self, who she admits on the track is “…never coming back.” The despair of not knowing who we are prompts us to adopt any number of identities and masks to console the pain of the disparity between who we are and who we know we should be. 

Nasty contains some great diagnostic tracks that perfectly testify to the existential angst Romans 1 & Ecclesiastes identify as humanity’s state post-Fall. Incidentally, Rico derived her stage name and persona from the playground taunts of children who denigrated her Puerto Rican heritage. She took the insults aimed at her identity and created a self she could wear to deflect against the accusation of not being enough. In Christ, though, we all have a savior who was slighted, maligned, and bore insults to give us an identity we can never lose. His blood dissolves our despair and seals our eternal destiny. His name is Jesus…and He became our ‘nasty’ to set us free.