It seems that nothing can stop hip-hop superstar Megan Thee Stallion from building an empire worthy of her role model, Beyoncé.
It’s 11:30 p.m. in October, and Megan Thee Stallion is live from New York. The hip-hop sensation, 27, bounds up the Saturday Night Live stage, vamping for the cheering audience while wearing a tight sheer black dress and shimmering corset, her hair hanging to her calves.
Tonight, Megan will serve as both SNL’s host and musical guest, joining an elite club of musicians including Jennifer Lopez, Mick Jagger, Queen Latifah, Debbie Harry, Elton John and Ray Charles who have done double duty for the show. She finishes her monologue and hustles backstage in high heels for the first of many split-second costume changes. Hot-pink scrubs for a hospital skit, then a preppy sweater and jeans for a log cabin scene. Next, the Grammy-winning rapper emerges in a Miss America–esque gown to perform her new single, “Anxiety”—a song about the stress and struggles of celebrity—before again dashing backstage. “I can’t slow down right now,” says Megan, whom Forbes estimates earned some $13 million in 2022 from a combination of royalties, ticket sales, endorsements and merch. Hit pause? Not for a second. “I’ll take a break when I’m dead,” she says. “I’m trying to really build something.” She adds, “When I start sitting, I feel like I’m not doing enough or I’m giving somebody else the opportunity to pass me.”
Since 2019, Megan Thee Stallion has surged ahead on hip-hop’s inside rail, leaping from $500 gigs in her hometown of Houston to partnering with music’s biggest stars—Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, BTS and Dua Lipa. In 2020, Cardi B tapped Megan to collaborate on “WAP,” a lascivious anthem of female sexual positivity that became thee hit of the year with nearly 2 billion streams on Spotify and YouTube. “That was the song for her. I don’t think it would have made sense for anybody else,” Cardi B says. “She added that spark.”
“She’s so empowering and so sexy. She’s mega-million Megan.”
Megan, who landed on Forbes’ annual 30 Under 30 list three years ago, is emblematic of a brash new class of female hip-hop stars. She and acts like Cardi B, City Girls and Doja Cat are embracing an unapologetically raunchy style, formerly the exclusive territory of male rappers. Millions of young female fans—whom Megan calls “hotties”—can’t get enough. “She’s so empowering and so sexy,” Cardi B says. “She’s mega-million Megan.”
Billion-dollar brands, which a decade ago would have wanted nothing to do with Megan’s raw, often X-rated songs, are lining up. She has recently signed endorsement deals with Nike, Revlon, Cash App and Popeyes. “The cultural influence that hip-hop and artists like Megan now have is unmatched,” says Stacy Taffet, a top marketing executive at Frito-Lay, who partnered with Megan to tout Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. “Our Super Bowl campaign with her outperformed a lot of what we’ve done in the past and exceeded all our expectations.”
Forget generic endorsements. Megan is interested only in campaigns that capture her swagger and style. “I cannot fake it,” she says. “If I’m not naturally into it, I don’t want to sell it.”
Take her estimated $2 million Cheetos Super Bowl ad. During the big game, Megan and pop star Charlie Puth never appeared in the commercial. They simply lent their voices to forest critters. But in the weeks before the spot debuted, the pair busily posted videos, using their viral clout (she has some 50 million followers across Instagram, TikTok and Twitter) to build the hype. To hawk Cash App, the mobile banking and crypto trading product from Block (formerly known as Square), she shot “hottie” instructional videos to teach financial basics to a younger crowd. A roughly $1 million deal with Popeyes gave Megan a signature “Hottie Sauce” and $250,000 for her own Popeyes restaurant. “I’m not going to sell anything to the hotties without having my own space and own lane.”
Before she was Megan Thee Stallion, she was Megan Pete. Her mother, Holly Thomas, a bill collector and aspiring rapper, raised her in South Park, a Black neighborhood in Houston. By 2016, Megan was studying nursing at Prairie View A&M, one of the largest historically Black colleges in America, while creating hip-hop videos on YouTube. In 2018, she caught the ear of hip-hop manager Travis Farris, who first heard about Megan from Houston strippers who vouched for her sound. “I try to pay attention to what women like in music,” Farris says. “When they point you to somebody, you have to listen.” In 2018, Megan signed with 1501 Certified Entertainment, a Houston-based independent label, for a $50,000 advance. Her first project, Tina Snow, dropped in 2018, kicking off a string of collaborations with rappers including Ty Dolla $ign, Nicki Minaj and, in 2020, her hero, Beyoncé, on a remix of Megan’s TikTok hit “Savage.”
But those career wins have come amid devasting personal losses. In 2019, Holly—her mother, muse, mentor and manager—died after a long battle with brain cancer. Her grandmother passed away later the same month. In July 2020, singer Tory Lanez allegedly shot at Megan following a fight at a party in the Hollywood Hills. Megan claims bullet fragments injured her feet. Accounts vary: At the time, TMZ reported that she had stepped on broken glass. Lanez, who was born Daystar Peterson, has pleaded not guilty. The case is headed to trial this winter.
Megan’s provocative act has drawn criticism from conversative pundit Ben Shapiro and industry heavyweight CeeLo Green. This November, she caused a social media storm by scolding rapper Drake for supposedly referring to the shooting in his song “Circo Loco.” And while she was in New York prepping for for SNL, burglars stole an estimated $300,000 worth of gear and jewelry from her Los Angeles home.
On the business side, she’s in a nasty battle—details of which she openly shares on Twitter—with her record label, which she has sued for $1 million in a royalty dispute. Details leaked online claim that 1501 gets 60% of her royalties and 50% of publishing revenue, plus 30% from touring and sponsorships. “It’s easy to say things on memes and social media,” says 1501’s attorney, Steven Zager. “It’s a little harder when you got to raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.” For its part, 1501 claims Megan owes it $10 million worth of profit share. Megan, who signed with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation in 2019 to manage her career, contests the debt.
Millions are at stake, but Megan isn’t slowing down. “In such a short time, and all the curses in between, she’s still able to smile, hold her head up and continue,” says Roc Nation CEO Desiree Perez. There’s her 2023 world tour and another studio album, and she’s moving from Stallion to TV star with a Netflix deal to create and produce a slate of shows, including a comedy based on her childhood. Time Inc. is paying her $3 million to produce a documentary on her life. “I’ve been running hard since 2019,” Megan says. With all that momentum, she’s certain to give any remaining haters a run for their money.
Photography By Ramona Rosales For Forbes; Photo Assistants: Daniel Calderon and Simon Mcdermott Johnson; Digi Tech: Michael Guidei; Styling: Law Roach; Styling Assistant: Justin Ramirez; Hair: Kellon Williams; Makeup: Alecks Garcia; Nails: Michelle Nguyen; Set Construction: Michael Moran And Angie Hartley. Production: Peter Schnaitmann.
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