Steven Louis is trying his very best to drip harder.
I soundtracked a four-mile walk home from work on Friday with Drip or Drown 2, the debut studio album by Gunna. A four-mile walk leaves ample time to get lost in a project (or half of a Drake project), and I can proudly report that this album drips more than it drowns. There was a nice synchronicity between the 16 Gunna tracks about dripping and waving and general wetness & the 16,000 pressed juice places on Santa Monica Blvd. offering CBD water for a reverse mortgage. But a couple things did feel weird. Smashes from College Park, mixed in Uncanny Valley.
The album is engineered to flow smooth and moodily for 48 minutes, but it’s completely devoid of surprises. Every infectious hook feels expected, though not unearned. Every distorted and diluted “RUN THAT BACK TURBO” clicks into place exactly where I thought it would, though I’m not mad about it (I’m certainly not mad about “Yao Ming,” the transcendent song of the bunch). I kept checking my phone to see if a certain part was a phoned-in Young Thug feature; it turns out there’s only one appearance, a Troika bop called “3 Headed Snake” with Gunna and Wheezy. Could’ve sworn I heard a few more.
It also felt weird listening on a Friday.
*Hits blunt* Friday used to be Tuesday.
From 1989 to 2015, a period comprising almost all of hip-hop’s commercial history, albums were dropped exclusively on Tuesdays. I think I waged a holy war temper tantrum until my parents gave me a ride to buy Trick Daddy’s Thug Matrimony. I vividly remember the thrilling Tuesday when Graduation and Curtis both dropped. Digitalization and decentralization have made the Tuesday tradition a thing of the past. Now, shit comes out every day, but the big stuff is of course reserved for Friday. New Music Friday. You’re not just getting the anticipated industry albums, but algorithmically-bespoke mixes and custom playlists of all the new stuff you’re just bound to love. Drip or Drown 2 is certainly a Friday album. Friday as fuck. It’s a well-constructed “If You Like Young Thug” data package. It bangs, because anything in Thugger’s orbit is going to bang.
Young Thug’s disciples are very, very popular right now. Gunna has 15 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and Drip or Drown 2 is going to chart well. Eight songs from the YSL release Drip Harder reached the Billboard Hot 100 late last year. The YSL Records compilation Slime Language charted at no. 8. The ascending Lil Keed has a hit on his hands with “Nameless,” and it’s almost indistinguishable from something Thugger would have dropped in 2014. Ditto for the vocal performance on Roddy Ricch’s “Project Dreams,” which pins Thug cadences and flourishes down to the quarter-beat for the Marshmello crowd. Youngboy has merged the YSL sound with Baton Rouge black-hearted blues but still spent $100K on a diamond chain of a Christ-like Thugger. Like it or not, everything is coated in slime now. Future’s “Unicorn Purp” even has Young Thug & Gunna sharing a verse, four bars at a time. Without a truly discerning ear, it sounds like one manic Thug feature.
This was, in all likelihood, an inevitability, and The Forces That Be wagered on consumers not caring enough. The logic of neoliberal market capitalism has been promoting mimicry and recycling quantitative successes for a while now. The formula works. Desiigner parlayed a Future impression into a GOOD Music contract. Hell, Puff signed Shyne to Bad Boy as he was producing the first posthumous Biggie album. There was a deluge of Wayne impersonators in the Aughts, and a whole swarm of Chief Keef imitators are still maintaining careers as of this writing.
It’s just particularly deflating to see Young Thug’s sound churned through the algorithm, because Young Thug is inhumanly weird and deeply original. He made his listener want to weep while he screamed “Paaaaaaaaatrick Ewwwwwwwwwwwing.” He peaked an international festival anthem by hollering, “imma ride in that pussy like a stroller.” He contemplated changing his name to the moniker “SEX!!,” and hell yeah, he executive produced Drip or Drown 2 as SEX!! Young Thug is a singularity. More exhilarating than the emotive yelps and soaring choruses and vocal transformations that define his output is the unpredictability of what the fuck is gonna happen next on a given song. Laundering Young Thug’s musical idiosyncrasies and tonal experiments to, well, normal people and regular artists, feels sad, no matter how catchy the final product is.
To be fair, it’s much easier (and more lucrative) to put out good music than weird and original music. This beautiful thing called hip-hop has existed for more than four decades now, and a LOT of shit has been done. Also to be fair, Turbo is a truly brilliant producer, consistently twisting guitar strums into interplanetary trap horizons — having him on the boards in-house is playing with house money. Perhaps more importantly than all that, Thug himself takes such pride in these YSL releases. He’s known Lil Baby since high school, and met Gunna through his tribute to Thug’s late friend King Troup. He’s promoting, producing and mentoring young Black men from Atlanta; the connections are organic and worthwhile.
But it’s worth wondering: if the “based on your listening history” machine can copy even the most unique of artists, what can’t it do? Quite frankly, it’s a trend that scares the shit out of me. Gunna is a talented musician in his own right, and Drip or Drown 2 has some awesome songs on it, but none of it exists without Young Thug proving himself marketable for five years straight. Thugger and Gunna do the same verse-share from “Unicorn Purp” on “3 Headed Snake,” and it’s hard to shake the notion that Thug squawking“jeepers creepers, the gators got measles!” is more memorable than anything Gunna says on the whole album.
There’s always going to be space for listenable, silk-flowing albums like Drip or Drown 2. I won’t front like Keed’s “Nameless” isn’t a very hot song. I just miss when Friday was Tuesday.