Atlanta trap music is getting tired. It had a great run. Three or four years ago, this was music that seemed to crackle with electricity. It pulled together all the churning, thundering gothic bombast of the previous decade of Atlanta rap and turned it into something giddy and playful and exciting. But as the music has come to take over what’s left of commercial rap music, it’s been stuck in stasis, never quite growing in the way it needs to. Its heroes are stuck in ruts of their own devising. Future, one of the great creative forces that rap has given us this decade, is trapped, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun, in his sad-hedonist persona, continuing to crank out diminishing-returns music way too quickly. Migos, once so exuberant and rhythmically inventive, willingly tied their own fortunes to a novelty dance craze that died out the second Hillary Clinton attempted it on TV, or maybe the second the Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Gucci Mane is still in prison. PeeWee Longway has disappeared. Vultures like Travis Scott and Desiigner have been swooping in and preying on these guys’ advances, biting without fear of repercussion, and the music remains in its tingling-synths-and-hi-hat-tics patterns. Except we still have Young Thug, and he is still out there doing Young Thug things. Petty matters of momentum and trend half-lives do not concern him. He is above all that.
On Friday, Jeffrey Lamar Williams released Slime Season 3, his second full-length something-or-other of 2016. (It remains unclear whether Slime Season 3 and I’m Up are albums or mixtapes, and it’s increasingly less evident that it even matters which is which.) Thanks to market forces, today’s rappers have been forced to spoil us, to continue cranking out new music with mechanistic efficiency, just to keep their names in our timelines. That speed seems to ruin plenty of artists. Not Thug. He thrives on it. He leads a chaotic existence, improvising countless songs and verses one piece at a time. He’s never worried himself over tiny matters like consistence or cohesion. He just raps, constantly, for days, in that unleashed elfin helium-jibber flow. There’s no center to his music, no goal for his whole project. He’s not working toward something, even if his label bosses would clearly love it if he was. He is simply existing, and part of the function of that existence is to make new music constantly.
During Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo Madison Square Garden release bacchanal, West got to the end of the album and then cut one of his own songs off midway through, muttering that Thug wanted to play something now. Young Thug (who, incredibly, was working as a model in the fashion-show portion of the evening) grabbed the aux chord and played “With Them,” the first song from Slime Season 3, to an arena full of people who’d never heard it and who maybe barely even knew who he was. Judging by what I saw on that buggy Tidal stream, the energy in the room actually went up when he did it. “With Them” is no masterpiece, just a typically fun Young Thug song with a springy beat and a lively vocal and a painful chorus pun about Thug calling a girl “airhead” when she’s giving him a blowjob on a plane. I don’t think anyone else could’ve had a moment like that, and Vic Mensa proved it a minute later when he tried it, playing a new song of his own and sending fans scurrying for the merch tables.
Slime Season 3 is a lean and focused affair, especially compared to the two sprawling and overlong (and still pretty good) Slime Season mixtapes that Thug released last year. It has only eight songs, and only one of them has any guests. (I know this isn’t actually the case, but for a minute there, I had fun imagining that Yak Gotti was just Thug rapping in his lower register, sort of like how Prince’s protege Camille was just Prince himself with his voice sped up.) Any of those songs would’ve probably sounded really good on that one day in Madison Square Garden. For this one, Thug got his greatest production collaborator, London On Da Track, to produce most of the songs. London (and the other producers who appear, like Mike Will Made-It and Allen Ritter) find room for melody and playfulness within the whole trap music blueprint, and Thug does something similar. He’s predictably unpredictable here, switching up his flow every few bars and throwing his voice around all over the place. Thug has the unique power of taking words so cliched that they barely even count as anything other than white noise — “Bitch, I’m super rich! Bitch, I’m stupid rich!” — and making them sound fun just by howling them with a deranged sense of joy. On Slime Season 3, he’s just flying.
Thug isn’t doing anything new on Slime Season 3. If anything, he’s continuing to focus and refine that same anarchic sound that he had three years ago. He’s growing ever-more listenable, which should mean that he’s getting less and less exciting. But it’s not happening. Instead, he’s still bringing that same inexhaustible sense of joy and wonder and quicksilver creativity. No matter what happens with Atlanta trap music, Thug will be fine. His energy can’t be brought down by little things like shifting trendscapes. The only thing that can stop Thug is Thug himself.
1. Fat Joe & Remy Ma – “All The Way Up” (Feat. French Montana)
Remember how “Lean Back” was just a classic NY screwface club-banger that still sounded fresh and vital during an era when Atlanta was dominant? Well, here are the people who made “Lean Back” making a classic NY screwface club-banger that still sounds fresh and vital during an era when Atlanta is still dominant. That Remy verse might leave your earhole crusty with dried blood.
2. A$AP Ferg – “Let It Bang” (Feat. Schoolboy Q)
Ferg was basically always the Q to Rocky’s Kendrick, so Q and Ferg should really get together more often to rasp frantically. Also, Lex Luger should never leave us again.
3. Maxo Kream – “Big Worm”
Imagine if American rappers stopped paying lip service to grime, or bringing in Skepta for guest verses, and started rapping over shit that sounds like grime. Seriously: Rap needs grime. Case in point: Here’s Maxo Kream rapping about tertiary Friday characters over Wiley’s “Morgue” instrumental, and it’s fucking revelatory.
4. Fetty Wap – “Zoovie Zoo”
This is the first time I can remember Fetty sounding even vaguely like Redman, which is some circle-of-Jersey-life shit. Fetty has been great at singing ridiculous hooks since we first met him. And judging by this song, he might be getting good at rapping, too. That’s almost scary to consider.
5. Your Old Droog – “Just Rhymin'” (Feat. Styles P & Joey Bada$$)
Throwing around homophobic slurs won’t make Droog sound like any less of a dork, but the Black Milk beat is both hard and idiosyncratic, and Styles P gets a chance to show he can mean mug these new kids right out of the frame.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) March 29, 2016