Someone on Twitter (and I wish I could remember who) pointed out a fascinating factoid recently: Every time Gucci Mane goes away to prison — something that happens way too often — one of his 1017 Brick Squad understudies blows the fuck up. First, it was OJ Da Juiceman. Then, it was Waka Flocka Flame. And most recently, after Gucci went away late last year on a weapons charge, it was Young Thug. The craggy-voiced Atlanta weirdo had signed with Gucci’s 1017 Brick Squad earlier in 2013, and he made perfect sense as a new asset in Gucci’s empire. His presence gave Brick Squad an injection of all-over-the-place freewheeling energy. And signing with Gucci gave Thug a certain focus, as well as access to the upper echelon of Atlanta rap producers. Under Gucci, Thug’s music, once dizzy and sometimes impenetrable, became frantic but focused, and those qualities helped him break through on big songs like “Stoner” and “Danny Glover.” But since Thug and Gucci both move in mystery, it’s hard to say where they are with each other now, or when they might’ve made the new tape Young Thugga Mane La Flare. Gucci embraces and rejects collaborators all the time, often set off by completely innocuous offenses. Thug signed with another label immediately after Gucci went to prison, plunging himself into legal limbo with both labels. And since Gucci’s been locked up for months, the tracks on the tape have to date back to last year, and their release might be, in part, an example of Gucci’s people asserting control over Thug’s career. (Thug still claims loyalty to Gucci, but who the hell even knows.) But whatever invisible forces went into its creation, Young Thugga Mane La Flare deserves attention, since it involves two freaky, eccentric, deeply original rap voices coming together. We could always use more of that.
Young Thugga Mane La Flare isn’t peak Thugga, and it isn’t even close to being peak Gucci. Gucci Mane released something like 11 mixtapes, both solo and collaborative, last year, and they were all, at the very least, pretty good. But none of them held a candle to the Gucci of 2008 or 2009, a marblemouthed hooksmith with a baffling command of bouncy Southern-rap cadence and a way of intoning a weirdly worded phrase that would leave it bouncing around in your head all day. Gucci’s dealt with mental health issues, with addiction issues, with constant trips in and out of prison. He’s a mess, and he consistently sounded tired, often simmering with a quiet sort of resent even when he was describing his appetites or his acquisitions. He spread himself thin, too; 11 mixtapes would’ve been too many even from peak Gucci. But even if he’s something of a weary husk of his former self on Young Thugga Mane La Flare, it remains a joy to hear his voice, that playful slurry mutter that trips all over beats while still somehow finding its way into the pocket every single time. He’s coasting on goodwill, of course, banking on the endorphin-rush you might feel when his “burr!” ad-lib rings out. And some of his phrasings have that old weird resonance: “When we enter arenas strapped up like Gilbert Arenas / I got a monster demeanor, laughing like I’m a hyena / And I’m the voice of the people, but I got two Desert Eagles / I put ten shots in your Beamer and leave your ass for the reaper.”
But the tape belongs to Thug. He’s always had a strong on-record charisma with Gucci, and it sure sounds like they recorded most of these songs together, which would mean the tracks here are at least six months old. That makes a difference, since the charged-up sense of purpose that Thug displayed on Black Portland his collaborative tape with Bloody Jay and my favorite mixtape of 2014 thus far, hasn’t quite revealed itself. Still, Thug bursts with an untamed sort of energy that practically swallows up every track he’s on. His creaking yip slowly takes over, handling most of the hooks and more than half of the verses. (On a handful of tracks, Gucci never even shows up.) At various points, Thug sounds like a rabid poodle, like a confused but enraged toddler, like Beavis. And yet his singing voice, on those hooks, has an astral sort of magnetism, an even more unearthly variant on Future’s gargling space-blues moan.
Some of the things he says are so strange that you end up rolling them around in your head, trying to make sense of them, like they’re scenes from a Jodorowsky movie. “Siblings” is immediately my favorite example: “Baby, where your siblings? Where your sister at? / Bro, I want your siblings / Where your cousins at?” (He pronounces it like “sibilance,” which just makes the whole thing even more perplexing.) But my favorite song on the tape is probably “OMG,” on which Thug croons absolute nonsense over a rubbery, minimal old-school bass music. The stuff Thug says here seriously just defies comprehension: “It smell good, I’ma put it on my lip / Treat me like a baby, let me put it on your hip.” (That’s if I’m even hearing this right, which I’m probably not.) There’s also a song called “OMG BRO,” which has nothing to do with “OMG,” except that both are evidence that Thug was briefly in love with the phrase “oh my god” and the white-people voice he uses to deliver it. I can’t imagine the sort of frame of mind you have to be in to make this stuff, but Thug makes it all sound propulsive and dangerous and badass. Anyone can rap things that make sense. Young Thug can rap things that make no sense but still sound amazing coming out of passing Jeeps, and almost nobody can do that.
The tracks on Young Thugga Mane La Flare often sound like sketches, like exploratory tracks that weren’t necessarily supposed to see release. Some of the hooks are soft and unmemorable. Plenty of the production is just standard-issue Atlanta synth-rap. There’s not one single iconic track from either guy, with the possible exception of “OMG,” if that’s not too weird to qualify. There’s one instantly-depressing moment where Gucci says “free Boosie,” which just drives home the fact that Boosie actually is free now but Gucci isn’t. (One day, maybe Boosie and Gucci will both be free at the same time, and they can come together to make the Southern-rap cult-hero track that the universe always intended them to make. Until then, I guess we’ll always have the “5 Star Bitch” remix.) But whatever its weaknesses, Young Thugga Mane La Flare has moments where I just can’t believe what I’m hearing, where rules cease to apply. We’re better off with it than we were without it.
Download Young Thugga Mane La Flare here.