She revisits that night like it happened decades ago, but Megan is only 25. It’s easy to forget that when you watch her perform, or listen to her rap, or ask her a question about the state of, say, the environment, or for advice on whether or not you should text that fuckboy who’s driving you insane. (Do not.) Her rise has been the embodiment of fast and furious—a blitz to the top that just began in 2016, when Megan Jovon Ruth Pete was still a college student, attending Texas Southern University to study health administration, a degree she’s still determined to complete.
Fellow students and her followers on Instagram knew her as Megan Thee Stallion—a moniker derived from the compliments she used to get from men about her five-foot-ten stature—but nobody else really did until she took part in a cypher with a group of local Houston rappers. Her mom gave her wardrobe advice and a ride. Video of the performance shows that Megan arrived basically as the fully formed performer we see now—direct, cool and confident and already in possession of that signature tongue-out Stallion yowl. “Everybody’s mouth was open wide like,” she remembers of the audience, “and I was like, ‘Why are you still surprised?’ ”
Her mother stayed to watch, even though Megan warned that she was going to curse. But Thomas knew what to expect. She’d had her own rap career and was known around Houston as Holly-Wood. She raised Megan on UGK and Three 6 Mafia, bringing her daughter up largely by herself in the Houston suburbs. Megan’s father spent the first eight years of her life in prison and died when she was 15. Megan calls him her best friend—but her mom was always something more. She was the first person Megan ever rapped for, when she was seven years old. Megan had a Barbie toy that played prerecorded instrumentals and beats, she recalls. “I don’t know who at [Mattel] thought of that,” she says, “but it was fire!” When she was 18, Megan told her mom she wanted to rap. Thomas said fine but had two caveats: Megan had to wait until she was 21, and she had to get a college degree.
Until her death, Thomas was Megan’s manager. She taught Megan studio etiquette—to show up on schedule, to make the most of your booked time. She told Megan to rap in her own voice. “I used to rap in a voice that was not my talking voice,” Megan explains. “I would probably sound a little monotone, and she was like, ‘Why are you rapping like that?’ I’m like, ‘What? I sound good.’ So she’s like, ‘Rap like you’re talking to me.’ I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, you right,’ and you know, you hate when your mama tell you something.”
The earliest moments of Megan’s career were mostly tumult-free because of her mom. “I always just said, ‘I’m going to call my mama. She’ll know what to do,’ ” she says with a sigh. “Now I can’t just call my mama, but I’m always thinking, ‘Okay, what would she do?’ and sometimes I don’t know, sometimes I do be bumping my head. I’m only in my 20s! But she’s there.”
It was more than just business advice and etiquette, though. So much of what Megan raps about, and how she raps about it, and who she is as a woman, is inherited from her mother and grandmothers, she explains. One of her grandmothers, whom she called Big Mama, taught her about the importance of self-reliance; her other grandmother taught her to always be sweet. And her mother, she says, taught her how to be tough. Confidence was instilled early and reinforced by all three women, who were constantly in Megan’s ear with affirmations. “They were always like, ‘Megan, you’re great. Hundred percent,’ ” she says. “They would always make me feel really, really good. They would always be like, ‘And you don’t need no boy or nobody coming up to you trying to tell you, “Give me this, and I’ll give you that.” ’ And I’d be like, [imitates her voice as a seven-year-old] Yeah! I don’t need no boys at all!”