Dan From The Internet‘s heart’s so cold he needs an ice box.
In any other genre, half a dozen albums in two years wouldn’t require a substantial reassessment to get fans back on board. But that’s not the case with rap, a genre where fans continually debate sales figures as though they still matter in a streaming era. While Young Thug has always been transcendent, he’s also always been a genius more known for brilliant moments than coherent solo masterpieces.
Barter 6 is one of the most seminal trap albums of the last decade. Rich Gang is a classic. But the Slime Season trilogy got weaker as it progressed. No one, especially Thug, can name more than two songs on I’m Up. And Jeffery failed to produce a radio single and its biggest hit was a viral video about how Young Thug failed to show up for his own video. Yet Beautiful Thugger Girls is less a course correction than an artistic statement that can stand outside the wide shadow cast by its creator — one that exists solely on its own merits. It’s as peerless as the man who created it, even when it relies on novelty to bring lapsed fans back in.
Beautiful Thugger Girls’ opening salvo is the album’s strongest run of songs. Opener “Family Don’t Matter” is inimitable Thug with lyrics like, “Don’t you panic/don’t you take this shit for granted/don’t you panic,” prefaced with randomly sweet sentiments like dog sitting for your significant other, and playfully bookended by half a dozen bars of free association. In short, it’s a mess of ideas with a lack of commitment to any one of them. While “Family Don’t Matter” is a perfect example of pop experimentation from Thug, it feels like Thug and his team are trying to hedge their bets by shoehorning in a more traditional pop vocalist like Millie Go Lightly in case the experiment doesn’t pay off.
In contrast, Gunna’s late addition vocals to “Tomorrow Til Infinity” work precisely because of the creative shorthand between the two. Gunna’s gruff crooning, “I just wanna see tomorrow/I’m tryna see you tomorrow” gives Thug’s subdued vocals a nice foil. “She Just Wanna Party” is the strongest of the three based on this line alone: “And if you feel like I wasted your time, I reimburse/Now I don’t mind putting a little interest on it.” It’s so fun and honest and corny, it does a lot with a little which is the common thread the album’s tightest moments share.
Beautiful Thugger Girls comes on the heels of a larger movement currently in rap towards popcentric passion projects meant to re-energize a stagnant fan base. It joins the ranks of recent releases like HNDRXX and Thot Breaker—and the difference in quality between all three isn’t much. The main complaint against the album might be that it telegraphs its intentions. Screaming ‘this is my singing album,’ doesn’t mean it’s much different in DNA than past projects. The only difference is Beautiful Thugger Girls feels more concerned with convincing critics and listeners that it’s serious music, even though no one seemed to challenge that assertion unless they owned more than one pair of Lugz in 1997.
In reality, the whole album is more the spiritual successor to Andre 3000 singing to Rosario Dawson 14 years ago on “She Lives in My Lap” than to a country record. At its worst, it’s a long form continuation of the “Mask Off” effect: a commercial preoccupation with black sounds juxtaposed against things that, for casual listeners, seem in total opposition to them, e.g. Future over flutes. If this were a weaker record it might buckle under its own preoccupation with being taken seriously, but there are enough genuinely fun moments to stave off those pitfalls.
The innovations on Beautiful Thugger Girls won’t be nearly as important to audiences as the likability of the personality behind it. BTG in many ways plays similar to last year’s Stoney by Post Malone, simply presented in a more critic-friendly wrapping. The album has two parts: the infinitely entertaining albeit kitschy ‘country billy/yeehaw’ moments and the traditional Wheezy and London helmed Thug songs.
Post Malone’s primary collaborators, Rex Kudo and Charlie Handsome, handle the bulk of the album, and they bring along the arsenal of sounds that helped Post go platinum. The formula of coffee shop guitar strumming and tambourine shakes that give way to rattling trap drums is intact. The vaguely country aesthetic paves the way for the Internet joke ready moments the record’s going to inevitably be known for. With “Family Don’t Matter,” “Tomorrow Til Infinity,” “She Wanna Party,” and “Me Or Us” Thug creates songs so refreshingly unlike his prior work that it’s almost jarring. Jarring because “rapping over acoustic guitars” is a sound that’s well traversed territory in rap and rightly maligned. But it’s the sound that’s helped midwife Thug’s best record in two years.
Thug’s doubling down on the Middle America rap rock concept hurts all of the songs that don’t immediately fit that mold. It feels like Wheezy and Young Thug on “You Said” are trying so hard to stay true to that sound, but the guitar sample across the track becomes difficult to stomach upon multiple listens. The beat sounds like a middling approximation of a Wyclef and Shakira collab from the early 2000s, which is surprising considering the talent involved. “Do U Love Me” and “For Y’all” are the album’s strongest moments, specifically because they both reign in Thug’s aimlessness and the collaborations don’t overstay their welcome (ed. note: Dan means “Relationships”).
Unlike its predecessors,”Do U Love Me” isn’t winking at the audience—it doesn’t play the acoustic guitar as a gimmick. “Who you loyal to, me or us?/Who you trust the most, me or us?” Thug’s less-is-more aesthetic is present on so much of the record and it pays off in ways that call back to his performance of “OD” from Barter 6. By the time the Jacquees-starring track, “For Y’all,” begins with Thug rapping, “You don’t wanna walk a mile in my jeans,” it’s already clear not many could even if they could fit.
Beautiful Thugger Girls might wind up a divisive album. It’s a great album that took its creator where fans always knew he could go and where Thug always hinted he could be. If the sounds on the album aren’t entirely original, when presented through Young Thug’s lens they take on a new sheen. I
I wish I had the answers for where Beautiful Thugger Girls stacks up in Young Thug’s discography or what it means for his future. But I don’t think any of us really do. If anything, just enjoy the genius while he’s here and give him the room to figure it out along the way. That’s the least we can do.