On “Phoenix,” the eighth song on the new Young Thug mixtape Slime Season 2, Thug is talking to a woman, and he tells her this: “You can have my son, no Phoenix.” This is one of the most puzzling rap lines I’ve heard in recent memory, and the puzzling thing about it is, paradoxically enough, the clarification that it includes. Thug is talking to a woman about maybe the most serious thing you can talk about. He is saying, “Let’s bring another life into this world together.” He’s saying, “Let’s create a human being out of nothing. This is a journey that I want to take with you.” And he is also saying, “By the way, I am not referring to the Phoenix Suns, the professional basketball franchise. You might’ve been confused by the phonetic similarity between the words ‘son’ and ‘Sun,’ but don’t be. I’d just like to reiterate that the Phoenix Suns, the team that includes Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight and has a pretty good chance of making it into the competitive Western Conference playoffs this year — they’re not what I’m discussing here. Rather, I am referring to a baby.” That line is part of the song’s chorus, so Thug says it a bunch of times. He wants to make sure it comes across. That’s not a brilliant rap line or anything. Really, it confounds the entire idea of brilliant rap lines, since it operates on a whole different logic system than what you or I might use. But it’s a line that shows what kind of level Young Thug is working on. He doesn’t think like the rest of us.
Slime Season 2 is, in a lot of ways, a fairly conventional rap mixtape. Plenty of high-profile rappers hinted that they might have new tapes out on Halloween. (Rappers love putting out new music on holidays, for whatever reason.) Thug is the only one of them who delivered. Slime Season 2 comes to us only a couple of months after the first Slime Season, and it follows the format of that last tape. It’s long, Thug delivering song after song for more than an hour. There are only a few guests: Atlanta underground guys like Trouble and Shad Da God, as well as a Rich Homie Quan collab that, I imagine, is pretty old. (Thug and Rich Homie recorded a ton of music together last year, but they appear to have fallen out in recent months.) It’s got tracks made with some big-name producers who have already made great music with Thug — Metro Boomin, Southside, London On Da Track — as well as a small fleet of relatively unknown producers. And it’s the third Young Thug full-length of 2015, after Slime Season and Barter 6. There’s no big single on it. If you don’t much care about Young Thug, you might be inclined to skip it, since nothing about it screams its vitality to you. And yet you shouldn’t skip it. It’s vital because Young Thug made it, and everything Young Thug makes right now is vital.
Not long ago, the great critic Jon Caramanica spent some time shadowing Young Thug for a New York Times profile, watching the way he works and also the way he moves through the world. Interesting fact #1: Young Thug does not listen to other people’s music. Instead, he drives around blasting his own unfathomable catalog of unreleased music. He hears all these songs that we haven’t heard, that we might never hear. He cranks out music so quickly and indiscriminately that many of his songs may never end up on an album or a mixtape. They might float out onto the internet at some point. They might not. Interesting fact #2: Young Thug makes up his songs one line at a time. He disappears into a studio booth and into his own headspace, gibbers a line or two, and then waits for the next moment of inspiration. He assembles those verses line-by-line. That’s how his verses seem so loose and untethered to reality. One line might not have anything to do with a central concept for the song, or with the line that came before it. That’s how we get sequences like this: “I go down on a dyke / I go up on my price / I might drop Kimbo Slice.” (I’m picking that bit not because it’s especially great or even because it’s all that characteristic. It’s just the rare clump of verbiage where I’m pretty confident I’m hearing all the words right.) So that’s a lot of why Thug persistently sounds like he’s broadcasting from his own planet. He eliminates all outside influence, and he also eliminates the possibility of logical connectivity between the first and last lines of any verse. Each new song is just the latest brain-exercise that we’ve heard from him.
Slime Season 2 is a great example of the way he works. It reminds me, in some strange way, of an old jazz record, of one of those things where it’s like, “Here’s how Miles Davis was feeling this afternoon.” What Thug does doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the rest of rap. It can be easy to group him with codeine-wave Atlanta rappers like Future or Migos. He shares a few tricks and flows with those guys, and he works with the same producers and visits the same strip clubs. But he doesn’t do the same things. He never bares his charred soul, the way Future does, and he never flexes his technical abilities, the way Migos do. Instead, he takes whatever amorphous brain-goo he has sloshing around and shapes it into oddly aesthetically appealing rap songs. There’s not a single track on Slime Season 2 that begs to be played on the radio, but there also isn’t a track that couldn’t be played on the radio. As loony as Thug can be, he stretches and tortures and perverts word-sounds until they become catchy little mini-melodies. He rarely simply says a word when he can holler it in some oblique, counterintuitive way. The most important thing about the gorgeous, tense Metro/Southside-produced “All Over” isn’t anything Thug says; it’s the way he howls, “Heyyyyyy” on the hook. Everyone yells “hey” on rap songs. Thug turns his “hey” into an event. That’s the difference.
This is a weird week for albums, with a few late-breaking releases (Grimes and one I’m not allowed to talk about yet) coming out at the end of the week. I haven’t heard those yet. Beyond that, it’s bleak. I was really hoping for one of the rappers who’d staked out that Halloween mixtape release date to come through and give me something exceptional. Someone did. I should’ve never doubted Young Thug — not with the roll he’s been on lately.
Slime Season 2 is up for free download at DatPiff. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Grimes’ much-anticipated pop-polyglot return Art Angels.
• Floating Points’ jazzy, proggy instrumental-electronic murmur Elaenia.
• Indie-guitar supergroup Soldiers Of Fortune’s debut Early Risers.
• Jamie Woon’s smooth, bleepy return Making Time.
• Palm’s itchy, nervy debut Trading Basics.
• Cold Sweats’ noisy hardcore debut Social Coma.
• Talib Kweli & 9th Wonder’s underground-rap collaboration Indie 500.
• Rick Moody/Kid Millions project the Unspeakable Practices’ self-titled debut.
• Ellie Goulding’s not-as-dancey-as-before pop broadside Delirium.
• Ivadell’s twinkling rocker Maybe Tomorrow.
• Three Man Cannon’s drawling, ramshackle indie rocker Will I Know You Then.
• Vastum’s haunting death metal attack Hole Below.
• LAGS’ post-hardcore debut Pilot.
• Björk’s orchestral reworking Vulnicura Strings.
• Cee-Lo’s desperate comeback attempt Heart Blanche.
• Sylvan Esso side project Made Of Oak’s Penumbra EP.
• Kindling’s Galaxies EP.
• Bethlehem Steel’s Docking EP.
• salute’s Gold Rush EP.
• Man Made’s Bring Some EP.