Young Thug, Transmitting Live From The Astral Plane

Prince Williams/Wireimage

Young Thug, Transmitting Live From The Astral Plane

Prince Williams/Wireimage

We never got our snake. A year ago, by way of promoting his Slime Language project, Young Thug had pet snakes sent to a bunch of different websites and magazines. People were just sitting at their desks, banging out blog posts, when delivery guys showed up with surprise snake terrariums. Writers tweeted excitedly. Articles followed up on what, exactly, was happening with all these snakes. Presumably, some of those snakes are now beloved pets, and some of those snakes are now dead. Stereogum boss Scott Lapatine happened to be out at lunch when the delivery guy showed up with our snake. He couldn’t sign for it, so the snake was returned to its sender. Later, we learned that the snake’s name was Wave God. We don’t know where Wave God is now.

The snake thing was a pure stunt, one expressly designed to get breathless press coverage. It worked. I can’t imagine that very many non-media people cared what happened to all these unsolicited snakes, but people in the media cared so much about it, at least for a few days. (I work remotely in Virginia, and I made the mistake of telling my kids the whole sordid snake saga. They were very upset that I wasn’t given my own personal snake.) The snakes, in fact, earned a whole lot more press coverage than the record they were supposed to be helping to promote. Slime Language — which expectation-adjusting label people made sure to specify was a “compilation project,” not an album or a mixtape — was pure Atlanta rap autopilot, the kind of record that a great rapper might make when he has completely run out of ideas and gotten comfortable repeating himself. It was perfectly OK, and it was nothing more than that. I took Slime Language as a sign that Young Thug had made his impact on the world, that he was ready to slide off into respectable irrelevance. I was wrong.

A few years ago, Young Thug was a comet — a freaked-out trap-music enigma who blurted absurdist melodic nothings and sideways car-crash noises, somehow transforming his ululations into bangers. Thug had taken the hedonist singsong psychedelia of fellow Southern rule-breakers like Lil Wayne and Future all the way out into the ether. He was a fully functioning part of Atlanta’s thriving rap ecosystem, but within that context, he was a wild and unpredictable expressionist, one who made more music than anyone could reasonably expect to keep track of. Thug was at his best when paired with professional hook-makers — most prominently, friend-turned-adversary Rich Homie Quan on the instant-classic 2014 mixtape Rich Gang: Tha Tour Pt. 1. But part of his appeal was also the sheer miasma of his work. He was a rapper whose brain seemed to be constantly exploding in different directions, rarely letting himself be anchored to anything for too long.

Inevitably, the world, at least partly, caught up. We are now awash in the artists whom Young Thug has influenced and, in many cases, mentored: Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby, Gunna, Juice WRLD, Quando Rondo, Lil Keed, NBA YoungBoy, YNW Melly, even sometimes bigger stars like Travis Scott. Young Atlanta sing-rapper Lil Nas X has acknowledged Thug as an inspiration and even recruited him for an “Old Town Road” remix. It’s hard to envision Lil Nas X attempting the country-rap fusion of “Old Town Road” if Thug’s 2017 mixtape Beautiful Thugger Girls hadn’t explored vaguely similar territory. And maybe it’s also hard to envision Lil Nas X coming out as gay while he still had the #1 song in America in a world where Thug hadn’t used his stardom to make the rap world comfortable with androgyny. But Thug, now 28, also sounded clueless and out-of-step when he worried about what would happen to Lil Nas X, telling an interviewer that he thought Lil Nas X shouldn’t have come out. That’s just what happens, right? One moment, you’re posing on an album cover in a dress. The next, you’ve unwittingly become a force for some kind of cultural conservatism, and you haven’t even realized what you’ve done.

In any case, Young Thug has been part of the establishment for years. Last year, he showed up on his first #1 hit, rapping an entirely forgettable verse on Camila Cabello’s “Havana” and adding basically nothing to her song. Thug was part of the performance that opened this year’s Grammys. In jumping on the “Old Town Road” remix, Thug probably helped extend that song’s stay at #1, and Thug has also got a verse on Post Malone’s “Goodbyes,” another big recent hit. And Thug has scored a pretty big hit of his own with the Travis Scott/J. Cole collab “The London.” That one peaked at #12, making it Thug’s biggest lead-artist hit ever.

So Thug is now an influence and a constant presence — good things for him, but not necessarily signs that he could continue to wild out artistically in the years ahead. I was OK with the idea that Young Thug, like Lil Wayne and Future before him, had entered the comfortable middle period of his career — making good-enough music that evoked the frenetic adventurousness of his earlier days without ever even attempting to equal that here-goes-nothing feeling. He could’ve settled into a run as a B-list rap star, and that would’ve been fine. He’d earned it. Instead, he made an album that is currently twisting my head off my neck.

Thug announced his new album So Much Fun less than a week before its release. He also announced that J. Cole, who recently brought Thug on the road as an arena-tour opener, would serve as the executive producer, though God only knows what that actually means. When Thug unveiled the album’s tracklist, I was a bit disappointed. The So Much Fun credits are full of usual-suspects type, people who have worked with Thug countless times: Quavo, Future, Lil Baby, Gunna, Lil Uzi Vert, Nav. Nobody needs more guest appearances from those guys. And if Thug wanted to signal that he was still pushing himself, you’d think that he’d be making records with Björk or some shit by now. Now that So Much Fun is in the world, though, it’s clear that Thug didn’t need to reassure me of anything. He is simply doing what he’s always done, but he’s doing it on a level higher than anyone had any right to expect.

Thug spends almost all of So Much Fun in some free-floating extraterrestrial mental headspace. He’s rapping over the best possible versions of generic Atlanta trap beats, as producers like Pi’erre Bourne and Weezy have found the broken beauty in this well-explored ground. He’s zooming off on new melodic tangents from one line to the next. He’s handing out brain-searing punchlines: “Running from the cops in a goddam Rolls,” “Gave the lawyers close to two mil, he handle all the killings,” “I can tell you how to talk the most impeccable shit / I can show you how to walk like you got decimals, bitch.” He’s coming up with galaxy-brain boasts that are increasingly close to actual gibberish: “Oxycontin what I piss / Flip it to the dog like a dish,” “Kidnap a kangaroo, I can send a moose.” He’s issuing specific and startling threats: “Chop off your penis.” He’s stringing together non-sequitur lines that take us on an emotional journey: “I keep exotic drinks and juices by the crates / She put my cum in her cup like it was shake / I’ll never fuck this bitch again, it was a mistake / I’m a Teletubby, diamonds green, blue, white, and grape.”

J. Cole only shows up on the album in the form of the verse on the previously released bonus track “The London,” and yet I’m fascinated with the process of Cole executive producing this album. For instance: Did Cole suggest that Thug write a song called “Lil Baby,” and that he sequence it immediately after the song with the Lil Baby guest verse? Did Cole advise Thug to rap over a beat, on “What’s The Move,” that sounds like a mid-’80s Peter Gabriel deep cut? Was it Cole’s idea for Thug to suddenly shift into a Louis Armstrong voice on “Cartier Gucci Scarf”? If it was, then it’s the most interesting musical decision that J. Cole has ever made.

It’s fascinating hearing the 28-year-old Thug alongside so many younger guests on So Much Fun, affirming his own elder-statesman status while still lapping a lot of his stylistic children. Some of those guests, like Lil Keed and Lil Uzi Vert, seem capable of existing in Thug’s general mental universe. Others, like Gunna and Quavo, come off as pedestrian pretenders, unable to make that leap into uncharted space. And the best guest on the album is also the first. On “Sup Mate,” Future gets right into the spirit of the thing, grunting in a fake British accent and musing that he “should teach drug classes” immediately after regaling us with a story about crushing up a pill in a woman’s asshole. Thug and Future are brothers in the art of euphoric randomness. When they find the right groove together, amazing things happen.

So Much Fun is not some experimental masterwork. It’s merely a very strong Atlanta trap album, from one of the masters of the form. The album has some of the problems that almost every Atlanta trap album has — the casual misogyny and bloodthirst, the repetitive drug-talk, the samey musical elements, the overbearing length. (This one is 19 songs in 62 minutes.) And yet So Much Fun bursts with life — with ideas, with melodies, with absurd bugshit imagery. It’s the most straight-up enjoyable rap record I’ve heard in months, and it works as one more signal that nobody else is on Young Thug’s level right now. This time, he didn’t need to send a fucking snake to my office to remind me.


1. Tkay Maidza – “Awake” (Feat. JPEGMAFIA)
Punk rock will never die.

2. Teejayx6 – “Online Searching”
In the past few months, the 17-year-old Detroit rapper Teejayx6 has found a certain measure of online infamy by rapping, in cluttered fast-talk syllables, about all the specific and plausible and ridiculous ways in which he will use the internet to steal your money. This past weekend, he played his first-ever live show and was arrested onstage. It was a prank; the cops were actors — a pure rascal move from a reliably unreliable narrator. Maybe it’s destiny that a monstrously popular rap producer like Metro Boomin would jump on the first possible opportunity to work with this kid, that he’d make his most Detroit beat ever in the process.

3. Supa Bwe – “Look” (Feat. Qari)
There is at least a 70% that I will love any new rap song that is basically just kids yelling. Been that way since Onyx, will be that way forever.

4. Jeezy – “MLK BLVD” (Feat. Meek Mill)
In which rap’s middle-aged middle class reveals that it is still fully capable of lumping your whole shit up. The “yeeeeeaaaaah” ad-lib still causes some subliminal adrenaline-release in me. And if I hear a few more Jeezy tracks like this, I might have to figure out where I buried my old Snowman shirt.

5. Slim Thug – “Water” (Feat. Killa Kyleon)
You might be interested to know that Slim Thug has a huge, crazy beard. I know I am. You might further be interested to learn that Slim Thug and Killa Kyleon still rap with near-biblical authority, especially if dramatic slow-motion violins are involved.


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