“It’s fucking history!” rapper Rico Nasty said before taking the stage at Time Square’s Playstation Theatre last week. Indeed, the Maryland-raised 22-year-old was right: She was about to perform at the “Freshman Class” concert, which included 10 of this year’s most promising new artists, as anointed by hip-hop magazine XXL. Among the 2019 Freshman Class, for the first time in the list’s 12-year history, were three women: Tierra Whack, Megan Thee Stallion, and Rico Nasty.

When the Freshman Class was revealed one month earlier, the women took to Twitter to recognize their accomplishment, posting each other’s names and portraits with a flurry of emoji hearts, crowns, and handshakes. “We only shout each other out because for so long, people were afraid to say our names,” Rico said.

While women have been in hip-hop from the beginning, their prominence has fluctuated. Last November, writer Natelegé Whaley cited reporting by Billboard and the documentary My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-Hop to explain that after women rappers exploded on the scene in the 1990s, by the early aughts, labels had largely divested from them, with some in the business claiming they were no longer profitable. In 2005, the GRAMMY awards dropped the short-lived category recognizing solo rap performances by women, pointing to a shortage of eligible entries. By 2010, there were reportedly only three women rappers signed to a major label.

One of them was Nicki Minaj, whose record-breaking career has reaffirmed just how popular women in rap can be. Now, women rappers like Rico Nasty are taking up well-deserved space in the mainstream. As she prepared for her Freshman Class concert slot, Rico spoke to Vogue about this musical renaissance—and why it’s so much more than “an era.”

Philadelphia-bred rapper Tierra Whack and Rico Nasty

Photo: Works of Ace/@worksoface
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Does being referred to as a female artist, as opposed to just an artist, ever feel limiting?

No. I’d rather them acknowledge it than not at all. Men think this is easy. It’s just not that. It’s hard. We have periods. Try performing with your period. Like really, and then call me back. I know Beyonce has. I know Nicki has. I know all of the legendary women have had to do that. A man can’t do that. I don’t feel like a victim. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of what I do. And I’m proud of what I’m a part of.

There are so many women in rap right now. What does that mean for you?

The pressure is off. It’s like, the whole, “There can only be one; there can only be one token person”... that pressure is off. It was just only one, only two, maybe three [women in rap] for a long time. It just makes you feel more optimistic, like “Damn, we’re really changing something.”

Do you feel like it’s important to have relationships with other women in rap and to collaborate with other women in rap?

I think that it is important to mingle with your peers and get to know the people that you coming up with because everything that we’re doing is history. All this female rap shit is history. When we look back on this in 10 years, this is going to be an era that no one will forget. So why not get acquainted with each other? We’re probably going to be sitting next to each other at award shows. You gotta be cool with people. You don’t gotta be best friends with everybody, but you gotta be cool with people. You have to support. You gotta show love.

A central tension around women in hip-hop has always been deciding what the most feminist approach for them may be. Is it having them ride for each other, or be in competition with each other? What do you think?

I feel like people shouldn’t put so much [pressure] on women and their relationships, because I feel like that’s what makes the shit combust. It’s like, can we like get to know each other? [Fans] see a picture of us, and it’s just like...

People misinterpret and make stuff up.

Yeah! It’s hard to get away from that shit. But like I said, when you’re with cool people, it’s cool. It doesn’t make you uncomfortable to share the spotlight. Years ago, [women] would probably be super intimidated by all the women rapping, but now it’s just an open space. And I find that very freeing and liberating, that there’s so many of us. I’m excited for the girls that come after us. I just want this to never stop. I know I said earlier that this is an era, but I don’t want it to be “an era.” I want this to last forever, bruh.