Young Thug: The Enigma That Keeps On Giving
I started partying in Atlanta when the city was having its’ moment in hip hop. Artists like 2Chainz, Rich Homie Quan, and Trinidad James were bubbling up from the underground and quickly rising to the mainstream.
In a sea of talented artists, Young Thug stood apart.
Young Thug was a wizard. He rapped with a delivery that could titillate a linguistics professor (good example), wore dresses, called his friends “my love” — all while retaining street cred.
What can you say about an artist like that?
A lot, apparently.
Young Thug drives the world mad
Young Thug generates think piece after think piece — gender stereotypes, black masculinity, and traditional hip hop standards were just a few of a litany of topics Thug pushed to the media forefront.
Young Thug never shies away from publicity; he regularly cultivates and embraces it. As a result, Thug is often labeled a provocateur or troll.
Thug is definitely a baiter — no one can argue with that. He’s an expert at driving the world (or, at least, the Internet) mad.
Artists “baiting” is often seen as a pejorative, let’s not forget that some of the most famous artists of our time were just as rambunctious…
For example, Andy Warhol was an infamous troll/baiter. He wore sunglasses indoors, made a 5+ hour “film” of a man sleeping, and gave the press confusing, often contradictory statements. Warhol told Lou Reed of Velvet Underground to use similar tactics to improve public visibility, and Reed followed suit.
Baiting is an old tactic (yes, trolls existed before the Internet), and not necessarily a negative one — it can be beneficial to see people’s responses to eccentric, norm-challenging behavior.
That being said, it’s disappointing that the “troll” label has lingered over Thug’s head for his entire career. It gives the impression that his music is mediocre so he must overcompensate to get attention — which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Thugs music is often brilliant. At its’ best, it’s breathless and visceral. For instance:
I’ma put the pedal to the Wraith
I’ma pull the pedal, not the brake
Ice inside my ring, you can skate
Yeah this shit cold like a case
Listen to that on high volume and tell me you don’t feel goosebumps.
Combine that visceral energy, with zany bars, innovative flows, and iconoclastic delivery and you have Young Thug in a nutshell.
Young Thug’s music is great. He isn’t all flash and no substance — not by a long-shot.
Young Thug Doesn’t Transcend Hip Hop
Though his aesthetic and artistry are compelling, Thug is just as guilty of leaning on tired hip hop tropes as his contemporaries. Topics like misogyny, sex, materialism, violence, etc are prevalent throughout his music.
Does thug want to rap monotonously about these topics? I don’t know, but maybe not. Maybe Young Thug is a persona. Consider this — It’s hard to find a Young Thug song that doesn’t mention “pussy”, but according to a girlfriend, “[Young Thug] doesn’t care for sex.”
Perhaps, unfortunately, Thug is limited in his subject matter because of the infamous myopia of traditional hip-hop heads. Maybe he and his label realize that he’s already brazen and unique enough; pushing the limits further by eschewing traditional subject matter would likely alienate a large portion of his audience.
I think Young Thug’s trust artistry is actually held captive by a judgemental world, and that’s a shame.
Young Thug’s Creative Output
Thug doesn’t have a magnum opus but rather a string of projects that vary from good to great.
Thug hit the mainstream with the 1017 Thug mixtape, and for my money, he hits eccentric highs (like 2 Cups Stuffed) never reached in his later material. The tape is uneven but definitely worth checking out.
Each mixtape in the Slime Season trilogy are excellent in their own way. Essential listening for anyone interested in his creative output.
The Barter 5, his first commercial release, is less experimental than his previous mixtapes, but I think it’s his best project overall. It is consistently great and is his most cohesive project.
Jeffery and Beautiful Thugger Girls are both amazing projects that sound completely different from each other. Jeffery is Thug’s take on a variety of other artists sounds while Beautiful Thugger Girls is a combination of pop, R&B, and rap — all contained within Thug’s distinct style.
Thugs recent project, So Much Fun, is a well-deserved victory lap. It serves as both a summary and an introduction to his unique style. It’s more sanitized than other records, and fans such as myself prefer more experimental cuts and fewer features, but I can understand why Young Thug made a less adventurous record this time. Despite his incredible impact and influence, none of Young Thug’s previous projects have succeeded commercially. So Much Fun is Thug’s first project that has achieved significant commercial success. Thug earned the ability to “play it safe” to finally get a number one record.
If you previously discounted Young Thug, consider giving him another look. He’s a brilliant artist that challenges expectations and changes perceptions. He’s the enigmatic, Atlanta wizard that keeps on giving.