Three years after his breakthrough single, “Danny Glover,” or now re-titled “2 Bitches,” rap fans are still trying to wrap their heads around the reptilian sputters of Young Thug.
Even his label, 300 Entertainment, doesn’t know quite what to do with him. “We need hits for the radio,” the chairmen ask, only for the man to turn weirder. But this is typical behavior from Thug: once you think he will zig, he has always zagged.
At least the festival circuit has started to embrace him more. For one, he made an appearance at last year’s HARD Summer festival when his collaboration with Jamie xx, “(I Know There’s Gonna Be) Good Times,” made the rounds on the web. And soon he plays the Lawn stage on the Sunday portion of FYF Fest.
Thug has released a lot only in the past year, so to make it easier, I cherry-picked from each project since his arguably his most visible 2014 hit, “Lifestyle,” with Rich Homie Quan. From then and now, you’ll see a Lil Wayne-obsessive fostered under Gucci Mane and Birdman’s wing fully grow into an artist of his own.
“Lifestyle,” with Rich Homie Quan (Single, 2014)
While his hard-to-decipher croak from this hit has become a meme on Vine, it’s also a joy-filled warble in his voice cracking from happiness after finally tasting success. Like his idol Lil Wayne, how he bends his voice matters as much as what he says. It’s kinda like trying to give a heart-filled speech while trying to hold back tears. And “Lifestyle” also has another of my favorite Thug trope: shouting out his friends, no matter how under the radar they are. His celebration is a real one rooted in hip hop spirit: it ain’t fun if my homies can’t have none.
“Tell ’Em (Lies),” with Rich Homie Quan (Tha Tour, Vol. 1, 2014)
Love-struck Thug is shamelessly NSFW but also tender and loyal in the same breath. His crude thoughts about he’ll exactly satisfy stands out no doubt, but his gratitude wins over his carnal desires. His mention about how “she gon’ make sure I survive, she gon’ do it well” in the chorus strikes a chord. My favorite part is when he goes full heart-eye emoji and spells it out for her in his verse: “she the B-E-S-T, beeest.”
“Halftime” (Barter 6, 2015)
Young Thug is a rock star and he knows it: “Every time I dress myself, it go motherfucking viral,” he gloats about his flashy sense of fashion, which has got him modeling gigs for Calvin Klein and Puma recently. But more than showing off his retweet-ability, it’s all, once again, in his voice. He lets his voice melt into one digitized gargle in the chorus, just to hear how weird it sounds. If that’s not a rock star move, I don’t know what is.
“Best Friend” (Slime Season, 2015)
It’s mind-boggling how Thug constantly discovers new ways to flex his voice to deliver his rhymes. The goofy deepening of his voice to sputter “my best friend, my best friend” in this single’s hook is only a preview. He switches up to a different dynamic style after every four bars or so, going from his usual elongated growls, to choppy double time, to a run-on that bleeds past the margins. And then there’s that long cry in the chorus like he’s clearing his throat to go after a dozen more on the next verse.
“Thief in the Night,” featuring Trouble (Slime Season 2, 2015)
Trouble plays the conservative foil to the surreal mind of Thug, whose every other phrase satisfies with its peculiar delivery. “I got fish, I’m a lake.” “I look good as your dad on a Friday.” He puts together slanted similes and metaphors that works in Thug’s own logic, and they sit just right for us to appreciate the meaning within its odd shapes, too. His out-of-the-ordinary perspective at which he likens the little things always fascinates me.
“For My People,” featuring Duke (I’m Up EP, 2016)
I’m Up, the stop-gap release between the second and third Slime Season, had Thug going more conventional. That said, he’s still crawling all over beats like no other. His high-pitched whine in “For My People” takes it back to his less-controlled days of 1017 Thug when he was still figuring out how to use his voice between mere screaming. Even at his more laid back, he pours so much energy to his lines like a revving engine.
“With Them” (Slime Season 3, 2016)
First unofficially premiering at Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo listening party at Madison Square Garden in February, “With Them” is the best candidate for a single Thug has this year. While he continues to follow his own idea of pop, it’s not hard to tell that he puts a lot of thought into how his songs are structured despite the freewheeling drive of it all. For one, that cough ad lib following his California kush reference fills the space so perfectly, it’s hard to chalk it up as a happy accident.