Twenty-five seconds into his new album Beautiful Thugger Girls, Young Thug lets it go. He’s been singing over a faraway whistle and a lightly strummed acoustic guitar, and he’s been using a sort of marblemouthed Foghorn Leghorn mock-drawl. And then, exploding out of nowhere: “Yee-haw!” It’s a perfectly silly moment in what’s otherwise — by Young Thug’s standards, at least — a serious and heartfelt song. And the moment it hit, the memes started flying. Kurt Angle in a cowboy hat. Daffy Duck in a cowboy hat. Titus from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in a cowboy hat. The idea was that Young Thug had once again broken the mold by making a country music album, and that, as a result, we are all cowboys. Well, Young Thug has not made a country music album, and we are not all cowboys now. That’s one of the funniest things about Thug: He is a perfectly meme-friendly artist, and yet the things he does are too complicated to be summed up in a meme. But whatever Thug is now, the rest of us would to well to try becoming that.
If you don’t listen to country music, maybe there are moments on Beautiful Thugger Girls where Thug sounds like he’s making country music. He is, after all, doing his strangulated electrocuted-cat sing-rapping over acoustic guitars and reverbed-out Fender Rhodes sounds. But he’s doing other things, too. “Get High” is a muted, restrained piano ballad. “Do U Love Me” is a dizzy, ecstatic take on pop-reggaeton. “Tomorrow Til Infinity” has one of those amniotic, faraway “Mask Off”-style flute samples, except this one is somehow even woozier than “Mask Off.” “For Y’All” is a humid, expertly rendered take on old-school Memphis soul music. “Me Or Us” samples Bright Eyes’ “First Day Of My Life” and makes that source material sound even more precious and coffeehouse-ish than it sounded on I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning.
On Twitter, Thug has referred to Beautiful Thugger Girls (original working title: Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls; someone at Cover Girl must’ve objected) as a “singing album.” That’s true enough, but then every Young Thug album could be considered a singing album. Even more than peers like Future (who shows up for the beef-squashing Beautiful Thugger Girls duet “Relationship” and who just released his own “singing album”), Young Thug has spent years blurring all distinctions between singing and rapping, to the point where those distinctions sound completely meaningless. Binaries wilt in the face of Young Thug. He is soft but hard, feminine but masculine, absurd but vital, silly but serious, parochial but universal, profane but sacred, dumb but brilliant, country but emphatically not country. It’s frankly inconceivable that Thug sits down and thinks about what genre a song might be before he makes that song. But then, everything Thug does seems inconceivable, so maybe every move he makes on Beautiful Thugger Girls has been carefully considered and calibrated.
The producer Dun Deal once said that Young Thug doesn’t write words down in his notebooks. Instead, he draws shapes, glyphs, little pictures of whatever he’s feeling. That’s how he writes lyrics. If that’s true, he was drawing some soft and emotional shapes when he was working on the songs from Beautiful Thugger Girls. It’s an album devoted almost entirely to romance, to relationships, to bonds that have been frayed and reaffirmed. The way Thug talks about love isn’t linear, but it is emotional. The album has moments of pure, domesticated, workaday romanticism: “Babysit your dog all day / ‘Bout to watch you jog all day.” There are moments of TMI ridiculousness that somehow still come across as being vaguely sweet: “Thinking bout masturbating to your nudes.” There are moments where those romantic expressions are so strange and sideways that you have to do a mental double-take when you hear them: “Treating myself like I got AIDS for you / I ain’t fuck none of these little girls like I got AIDS for you.”
And in the midst of all that romantic talk, there are still all those little moments of blissful alien goofiness that make Thug such a singular voice: “I was bout to stab ‘em 30 times like porcupines” or “Shot that boy so many times he caught on fire” or even “Pop an X pill like we Malcolm.” He’ll let off lines like that on what are otherwise wide-open, emotional songs. He’ll talk about sex and drugs and violence forever; they’re his comfort zones. And yet there’s something disarming about the way he’ll swing wildly from that stuff to emotive relationship-talk with whiplash-inducing speed, never giving his listeners a second to catch up. And even when he’s talking about shooting that boy so many times he caught on fire, there’s a peacefulness in the songs from Beautiful Thugger Girls, a sense of self-affirmed serenity. The realest love-song lyric on the whole album might be the one that Thug directs at himself: “In the tubby, popping bubbly, smoking musty, I love me.”
Every Young Thug album is, in some real way, a compilation. He makes so many songs without thinking of how they’ll all fit together, and then he and his collaborators do what they can to cobble them together into something cohesive. There are songs on Beautiful Thugger Girls that have been reportedly floating around the internet, in snippet form, for a couple of years. And yet the whole thing fits together beautifully, even the parts that aren’t supposed to fit. Most of the tracks come from seasoned Thug producers like Wheezy and London On Da Track, but there are some leftfield inclusions in there, too; Post Malone co-produces one song, and Scott Storch co-produces another. On “Get High,” Snoop Dogg sounds slicker and more confident than he has in years. And for all the stylistic turns and strange emotive and melodic touches, Beautiful Thugger Girls hangs together just as well as Jeffery, the still-pretty-stunning album that Thug released last year. Thug remains in a deeply connected, creative place, and he can say as much with a voice-crackle as other rappers can with a whole song. If he wants to call Beautiful Thugger Girls a “singing album,” that’ll have to do, since no descriptor ever quite works with this guy. It’s just one more strange, befuddling, magnetic, great Young Thug album. Yee-haw.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Vince Staples’ futuristic club-rap experiment Big Fish Theory.
• King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s riotous, apocalyptic psych-rocker Murder Of The Universe.
• Laurel Halo’s forbidding, ominous, experimental Dust.
• DJ Khaled’s triumphal, guest-stuffed Grateful.
• Algiers’ stormy, passionate, genre-distorting The Underside Of Power.
• Bedouine’s lush, poetic self-titled orchestral pop debut.
• Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy’s solo album Together At Last.
• Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s melodic, incisive jazz opus Diaspora.
• Rozwell Kid’s catchy riff-rocker Precious Art.
• Colin Stetson’s experimental metal project Ex Eye’s self-titled debut.
• Pure X leader Jesse’s solo album Hard Sky.
• Van Dale’s fuzzy, melodic Of The Valley II.
• Banditos’ subdued, personal Visionland.
• Mutual Benefit’s full-length cover of Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day.
• The Silicon Valley soundtrack.
• Crumb’s Locket EP.