Status Ain’t Hood: Young Thug, Lil Wayne, & Killing Your Idols
Well, it happened. Tha Carter VI came out before Tha Carter V. Young Thug’s take on Lil Wayne’s legacy is on iTunes and Spotify right now, while Lil Wayne’s take on Lil Wayne’s legacy will probably be welded shut in the Cash Money vault for the rest of eternity. There are crucial caveats, of course. Young Thug had to change the name of his album after someone, presumably Lil Wayne, threatened legal action. And Thug’s Barter 6 doesn’t sound much like a Carter album, as that whole franchise, historically at least, has been where Lil Wayne tried to put his freaky intensity into the service of blockbuster crossover rap music. Young Thug still hasn’t learned to make blockbuster crossover music, his verse on Rae Sremmurd’s “Throw Sum Mo” notwithstanding, and he may never. Barter 6 is more his version of one of Wayne’s I Am Not A Human Being albums. Still, this one is in the record books. One of these albums exists in something like a tangible form, and the other one doesn’t. And along the way, a strange and adorable bit of idol-worship has led to the first real interesting rap feud of 2015.
The story goes like this: Last year, around the time Lil Wayne was saying that the then-forthcoming Tha Carter V would be his last album ever, Thug said that he wanted to make an album called Tha Carter VI. In fact, he wanted to make five Carter albums of his own, to carry on Wayne’s legacy after Wayne had bowed out. Lil Wayne’s influence on Young Thug is obvious to anyone who’s listened to five seconds of any Young Thug song, though I’d argue that Thug has pushed that influence to places that Wayne’s other hordes of disciples haven’t touched. I don’t think anyone really thought Thug would release a bunch of his own Carter albums; even saying that he wanted to do it seemed like a nice elder-statesman salute to someone who helped create a world where Young Thug could possibly be a star. Still, it’s a fun idea: Tha Carter becoming a rap version of the James Bond franchise, another rapper coming along every 10 years or so to put his spin on the character. Wayne and Thug didn’t interact much in public, but they always seemed cool with each other. Late last year, they finally even shared space on the same song, “Take Kare.” (Neither of them seemed eager to outrap the other, so the song ended up pretty forgettable. Still, it existed.) But then things changed.
Everything fell apart in December, when Wayne jumped on Twitter to call himself a “prisoner” on Cash Money and to apologize to his family that he was stuck with the label. To hear Wayne tell it, Birdman was straight-up refusing, for undisclosed reasons, to release Tha Carter V. The album’s release had been pushed back a few times, and Wayne’s artistic and commercial descent had to be frustrating for everyone involved, but the announcement still seemed to come out of nowhere. Wayne, after all, seemed like one of the few rappers whose built-in fanbase would carry him through whatever. Even a straight-up turd like Rebirth sold, and 2011’s subpar Tha Carter IV moved more units than many of us thought possible. In the wake of Wayne’s announcement, we got lawsuits and dis tracks, but we’re still nowhere near a conclusion. In fact, the one real wrinkle in the story is that Thug is involved now, and his tribute to his idol now means something else entirely.
Thug was new to the Cash Money fold when the Wayne story broke, and his actual status with the label remains a little cloudy; he spent most of last year in some sort of byzantine contract limbo himself. Wayne never really commented on Thug’s decision to go forward with that Carter title, at least until Thug confirmed last month that he was still going to use the thing. Finally, Wayne said something at a live show earlier this month, telling the crowd not to listen to people who pose naked on their album covers. Thug jumped on Instagram to affirm that Wayne was still his idol and that Thug understood his frustration.
But apparently, someone is only your idol until they threaten you with a lawsuit. Just a few days later, Thug was sneering that some unnamed entity was threatening a lawsuit and that he was changing his album title to Barter 6 because “I’m a big ol’ Blood.” (Wayne claims to be a Blood, too, for whatever that’s worth.) He also said that he’d do a show in Hollygrove, the New Orleans neighborhood where Wayne grew up, and dared Wayne to come see him. For his part, Wayne had some words for Thug at a show in Columbus just a couple of nights ago: “If there were any other albums that dropped recently, tell ‘em suck my dick. Carter V coming soon. Ain’t no motherfucking such thing as Carter 6.”
Thus far, this hasn’t matured into any sort of on-record feud, beyond the odd stray line on Barter 6 (“I leave you dead and call it Dedication“). If it turned into that, it could be a welcome development for everyone. Thug is great in the spacey zone he occupies on Barter 6, but it might be fun to hear him go into electric rage-mode and attack his single greatest influence. Meanwhile, Wayne badly needs something to light a fire up under his ass artistically, and maybe this is it. Even if that never happens, though, it’s been fascinating watching this story play out, going from hero-worship to bitter vendetta in just a couple of weeks. It’s a plot from a kung fu movie: A gifted student wandering into town, idolizing the aging master, then finally clashing with him. It’s ridiculous for Thug to try to name an album Carter 6, just like it would be ridiculous for Lil Wayne to try to name an album The Blueprint 4. But I admire the audacity. And anyway, Thug has already proven himself capable of doing more with the name than Wayne could manage the last couple of times around. It’s a supreme dick move, but supreme dick moves have a place in rap music. That constant churn, young guns coming up and dethroning old warhorses, is part of what helps keep rap interesting.
Playboi Carti – “Broke Boi”
Ernest Baker’s Drake-at-Coachella profile is a fascinating piece of writing, partly because I have basically no idea whether it’s an actual true thing or not. But if it is real, my favorite detail is Baker and Drake bonding over “Broke Boi,” a smeary, messy track from the Awful Records affiliate Playboi Carti. “Broke Boi” has been online a few weeks now, but it’s picking up steam in ways that songs this murky and off rarely do.
Dr. Yen Lo – “Day 912″
Dr. Yen Lo, Brooklyn rap minimalist Ka’s partnership with producer Restoration, goes even deeper into its swampy headspace. Ka’s chanting, incantory take on classically blunted NY rap lyricism somehow becomes even more evocative when you remove drum sounds entirely. Here, he’s practically rapping over a John Carpenter synth score. It’s heavy.
Boosie Badazz – “Retaliation”
Lil Boosie continues to insist that his rap name is now Boosie Badazz, and I guess I’m going to have to comply now. On “Retaliation,” he teams up with London On Da Track, the producer who’s been doing great things with Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan lately. Those guys bleed right into London On Da Track’s glinting sense of melody, but it’s a weird thrill to hear a throwback headknocker like Boosie attacking one of his tracks. Boosie sounds fiery and vengeful on here, which is pretty much his default setting lately. And the contrast between his delivery and the glowing beat is a powerful one; he sounds like he’s being held underwater and fighting his way to the surface.
Your Old Droog – “Hidden Persuaders”
That loping bassline! That gravelly mutter! Droog rhymes “butane” with “Q train,” “Ukraine,” “raps in the brain,” and “collapsing cranes,” and I don’t even care that this I’m hearing a fundamentally goofy rap nostalgist anymore. Nice singsong on that hook, too.
Fat Trel – “Young Niggaz”
It’s striking, in the video, to see Trel mean-mugging in front of Wale’s tour bus. Those two guys might share a D.C. hometown and a Maybach Music affiliation, but they are not the same. Trel has been making that expert, beautiful punch-you-in-the-mouth music for years, and as we learn here, he hasn’t yet lost any of that intensity even as he’s moved up in the world.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Danny (@recordsANDradio) February 12, 2015