We can’t confirm or deny whether Abe Beame is geeked like an astronaut.
Something we’ll be discussing a lot in this series is mainstream Rap’s violent shift away from lyricism over the course of the last ten years. The two albums we’ll mention often are 808s & Heartbreaks and The Carter 3. You can trace the DNA sequence of the last ten years through these two seminal albums that radically changed the formal sound of Hip Hop, and forever opened it up to experimental lyrical weirdness. And if those two albums could conceive a child, their immaculate space baby would be 27 year old Jeffery Lamar Williams. I could say Thug is the most unique artist to emerge this decade, but it would be doing him a disservice. He’s one of the most unique artists rap has ever seen.
Influence is a funny thing but I guess if you tossed Lord Infamous, the Squad Up mixtapes, R. Kelly and Beethoven into a garbage disposal and hit spin you could eventually scoop Thug out of the drain pipe. But really there is no context for Young Thug. He’s Twain, Toni Morrison, Henry Rollins, the Manhattan Project: a true American original who is at once without precedent and totally in line with our histories and traditions.
What the fuck are Young Thug songs about? What does he believe in? What does he care about? Well, women for sure. Designer clothes, his own greatness maybe? It truly doesn’t matter because his entire body of work is built around how he says it. Thug is pure being, a freak show alien super predator with acid for blood who has no God but instinct and visceral response. His counterpoint, sometimes rival, and now regular collaborator Future is often cited to as a peer — united by autotune and a love of the same drugs. But even trapped out Nihilist Future can’t match the anarchy of Thug’s work because Nihilism is an ideology held by a terrestrial being with rationale and Thug simply has none.
He doesn’t make songs, he makes tones, textures and colors.
He reminds me of vintage Ghost and Rae in the way he relates ideas and images through language that is being willfully misused and is nearly inscrutable to anyone but him, (though he’ll never make an “All That I Got Is You”). He has a penchant for Wayne and Kanye’s dumb-brilliance in his punchlines. But he’s so much more formally daring, really than anyone working in music at the moment. There’s something called the Gambler’s Fallacy. It’s the assumption that the cold randomness of the universe conforms to narrative and pattern. It’s the myth that if you roll 3 consecutive numbers the fourth has to break that chain. You could apply the same lie in trying to understand the chaos of Young Thug. I believe the only thing less predictable than how dice settle is his flow.
It’s impossible to get your footing in the middle of a good Thug song and that is the thrill of listening to his music. He’ll drop out of hard triplet spit mid verse to slow to a crawl with a beautiful melody and cadence that could easily be the hook for a great Drake song but here is casually discarded like a styrofoam clamshell of gnawed chicken wings. His body of work is impossible to skim and the easiest thing to listen to in the world. His moment to moment to decisions on beat are the lottery, the weather, dropping a drug store rubber ball on cobblestone and trying to figure out the angle of the ricochet.
On its face this sounds like I’m describing the worst pretentious indulgences of late Coltrane or John Cage but nothing could be further from Thug’s strange, ethereal music. You would imagine with his at times complex analogies there is premeditation to his bars. Maybe they’re written or imagined and memorized, but they have the quality of spontaneity, as if God is speaking through a gangly, dreadlocked, heavily tattooed vessel. There are times Thug appears to be tapping into an ancient sacred wellspring of melody closed off to man since The Gospels. His silly tossed off 16s about women and money occasionally stumble into grace. He reminds you that Method Man once became the king of New York by spitting nursery rhymes, only Thug is writing new ones.
I remember when Thank Me Later was about to drop some critic who went to the listening party reported back: this is what we’ve been waiting for, the game changer that seamlessly incorporates a hybrid Rap and R&B. And that critic wasn’t wrong, but while Drake and 40 dabble in whatever sound of the moment they’re into with a mix of rapping and singing and sung raps, Young Thug has been quietly creating an entirely separate genre, a Dr. Moreau freak you can’t really classify as either because it isn’t and no one else on Earth is capable of pulling it off. He’s this incredible, really impossible combination of classic melodic schemes and completely anarchic endlessly fascinating cadences in verse that vacillates constantly between insane aggro spit and otherworldly melody.
And what’s crazy is he’s actually getting better. So many artists have tried the singer/songwriter pivot Thug made effortlessly on Beautiful Thugger Girls, artists held in way higher regard like Mos Def, Wayne and Andre, but Thug is the only one who actually made a great album. And rather than this sort of mastery rendering his music rote and formulaic (Em I see you), the guy is better and crucially weirder than ever. It’s like he has a Rap Infinity Gauntlet and just dabbles with the stones at will, the complete and total God of his universe. I really think the On The Rvn EP he dropped recently is his most perfect project (Not my favorite, the MOST PERFECT, and Super Slimey, an absolute grower, is right behind it, then JEFFREY in reverse succession, it’s actually fucking impossible) until the next thing that comes out. These posts take between 3-5 days to publish after they’re submitted and there’s a decent chance Thug will drop 2-3 classic projects before you get to read this. There’s never been gravity defying prolificacy like this. Not ever.
Last month I made a mixtape of an entire generation of rappers, an incredibly ambitious survey involving dozens of artists and thousands of songs I had to sift through, and I can say with complete certainty that just compiling this one guy’s fucking output and trying to limit the selections to one or two songs a project was infinitely harder and I’m also pretty sure Thugger has made more music in the last ten years than the entire rest of the internet combined. There was a moment in the formation of this mixtape when I looked at my iTunes in despair, the first draft was over 10 hours long and every track was defensible.
Today Rap looks and sounds like Young Thug. His style is iconic as his music and many of the kids featured in last month’s compilation look up to him as their Biggie or Jay-Z. But
Young Thug didn’t come to the culture. The culture came to Young Thug. He emerged from a cup of Activis fully formed, one of the most sure footed and confident artists I’ve ever heard in my life, completely certain in his talent and greatness, and of course he was right. He went from being out of step with music in the early half of this decade to defining the latter.
There’s a chance Thugger is on his way to jail and if so, it will be a true crime against art. This maybe a hot take, but in my opinion Thug is at the very peak of his peak, and if you want to use Wayne as a reference nothing will dump water on creative embers like a bid* (unless it’s at Clinton correctional facility and you’re in your early 20s). For his book surveying the 20th century in classical music, Alex Ross quoted the Symbolist poet Stephane Mallarme who said this in anticipation of me one day having to write a career spanning summation of Young Thug: “Everything that is sacred and that wishes to remain so must envelope itself in mystery.” While you still can, appreciate the sacred mystery of a baffled King composing. Hallelujah.
ROD: Young Thug- The Rest is Noise
- Young Thug & Future- Cruise Ship (Super Slimey 2017)
- Young Thug ft. Trouble- Thief in the Night (Slime Season 2 2015)
- Young Thug ft. J’aques- For Y’all (BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS 2017)
- Young Thug- 2 Cups Stuffed (1017 Thug 2013)
- Young Thug- RiRi (JEFFERY 2016)
- Young Thug & Bloody Jay- Danny Glover (Black Portland 2014)
- Young Thug- Magnificent (Slime Season 4 2017)
- Young Thug- Hercules (I’m Up 2016)
- Rich Gang- Lifestyle (2014)
- Young Thug & Future- 200 (Super Slimey 2017)
- Young Thug- Let Up (1017 Thug 2 2014)
- Young Thug- I Mean (2015)
- Young Thug- Icey (On the Rvn 2018)
- Young Thug- Digits (Slime Season 3 2016)
- Chris Brown ft. Young Thug & Future- High End (Heartbreak on a Full Moon 2017)
- Young Thug- Just Might Be (Barter 6 2015)
- Young Thug- Tsunami (Slime Language 2018)
- Rich Gang- Should I (2016)
- Young Thug- Webbie (JEFFREY 2016)
- Young Thug- Hey I (Slime Season 2 2015)
- Young Thug & Future- Killed Before (Super Slimey 2017)
- Young Thug- Wanna be me (Slime Season 2015)
- Young Thug- Take Care (BEAUTIFUL THUGGER GIRLS 2017)