Young Thug is an enigma. He’s an unexplainable, boundary-pusher changing the way we consider the limits of genre altogether.
Thug is not bound by the laws of nature. His voice is amorphous. Sometimes it’s a high-pitched squeal, but sometimes a low rapid-fire growl. We’re inclined to say he’s a rapper, but he’s more than that. Young Thug is a machine where one song goes in another completely different song will come out the other end. He can start a song rapping, then he might go a million different directions. He could end up singing, howling, gargling, sputtering or slithering.
In the Pixar movie, Inside Out, the avatars for Joy and Sadness get trapped briefly in the space of the brain reserved for abstract thought. As they try to escape to the main part of the brain, their forms devolve from CGI to polygons to 2D to shapes to lines.
Young Thug is that deconstruction, but for the last 15-20 years of rap music. He’s broken down rapping from words on a beat, to melodic flows, to bars that sound cool but mean nothing, to just pure noise.
For an artist who has never released an “album,” until now, Young Thug has been prolific. Since released the mixtape Tha Tour Pt. 1 with Rich Homie Quan and Birdman in 2014, he’s delivered five more mixtapes, a collaborative mixtape, a collaborative album, three EPs and an R&B project. Thug has given a lot of gifts, but because mixtapes and Eps are considered precursors to an album, we’ve been waiting on one.
Some of those mixtapes, Barter 6, My Name is Jeffrey and the third Slime Season are strong projects that present the potential for a superstar who can’t be confined. The expectation was set that when an actual album finally came out it would be a step above the rest of his discography. A debut album called HY!£UN35 (pronounced Hitunes) was hyped since 2013, a stage had been set.
The official debut album So Much Fun, released this weekend, is ultimately just another Young Thug project. Pointedly, that’s not a bad thing because most of his works are fantastic and strange like the rapper who made them.
As I said, Young Thug is undefinable, but so many rappers have tried to copy that undefinable sound for their own. So Much Fun is half collaborations and many of those collaborators are copycats. Proteges Gunna, Lil Baby, Lil Keed and Lil Duke are essentially little Young Thug clones. Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert are just Thug clones who listened to much My Chemical Romance. It can feel like Young Thug invited his copycats to do half the work, but the listener can’t figure out what half is him. (Quavo, 21 Savage, J. Cole, and Travis Scott also appear on SMF)
So Much Fun is actually, well, fun. Go-to producer Wheezy is a great creative partner and shapes out most of the album. Thug’s work with melodies is ever-present and he conforms himself to every beat.
I keep thinking of Charli XCX when I think of an artist like Thug. (I had this thought over a year ago about Lil Yachty.) I appreciate artists like Young Thug, Charli and Yachty because they find wide appeals reenvisioning how pop, rap or both should sound, by breaking down the parts of the genre machine and creating something new and refreshing.
After her commercially-appealing, but somewhat bland album Sucker, Charli went on the path of working with out-there producers and collaborators to make amazing mixtapes like Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel, that sacrificed commercial appeal for sound-bending reimaginings of pop songs.
Ultimately, Thug could have made a greater push to the constructs he’s already deconstructed. Every song could have come out on any of the previous projects. Young Thug is weird, but I’m ready for the music he makes to get weirder. He has the ability to continue to break down the confines of genre and create something amazing.
4 out of 5
Best Track: “Surf” (featuring Gunna)