Lucas Foster – From Atlanta’s notorious Jonesboro South housing projects, to Weezy’s presumptive heir, to generation-molding innovator, to commercially frustrated critical darling, Young Thug’s evolution is now complete. With So Much Fun, he has finally realized his long-promised potential to dominate the charts by integrating his innovations and ideas into a joyous, near errorless, and unapologetically conventional pop-trap. So Much Fun is the number one album in the country right now because it manages to capture and define this moment in Atlanta and radio rap with 19 straight anthemic pop trap bangers that pulls the very best out of an ensemble cast of rap’s A-Listers and a sonic identity crafted by the cresting waves of two super-producers at the peak of their powers.
To be a Young Thug stan during this album cycle is akin to stanning self-actualization. The triumphant victory lap of an artist that spent this entire decade grinding, evolving, and experimenting to get to this point. Myles and I have been riding with Thugger for nearly the entire journey, entranced by his mystique, seduced by his promise to recreate trap music in his image, watching from front row seats when he did it 3 times, and spreading his Gospel at every opportunity. Today we will try to contextualize what So Much Fun means, where this platinum capstone ranks in Thug’s celebrated and extensive catalog, the implications of Thug’s triumph for the broader culture which he defines, and how Thug took a long, winding and unconventional route to become the face and voice of an era.
Myles Andrews-Duve – So to start with the obvious: is Nav good or is he great? [ed. note: Only Grandmaster Caz, who taught Nav the foundations of MCing and B-Boying is equipped to answer this question]
LF – The Nav wars!!! The Nav wars!!!
MD – It’s actually funny because, excuse my language here, but Nav sounds good. And he’s not the only one! Gunna, Future, Keed, Lil Baby, Uzi, even Duke all were highlights for me. Aka everyone except J Cole and MGK. The features to me play such a central role on this record, not only with what they contribute musically, but moreover how they represent the whole of Thug’s offspring and his role among them. Yes Gunna, Keed, and Baby are direct Thug descendants but Uzi, Nav, Juice WRLD, even Future all openly pull from his playbook too [ed. note: curb your enthusiasm].
On So Much Fun, Thug is a careful curator, a point guard if you will: he dishes it for Gunna to float all over “Surf,” makes way for Keed’s pace gymnastics on “Big Tipper”, and steps aside to let Nav run iso and steal the show on “Boy Back”. [ed: note: the only show Nav has stolen was the Apollo Talent show in 1983 when Bambaataa’s turntables broke and Nav was forced to beatbox. Brilliantly.] Meanwhile Thug is eating so much on his own that he’s way more Russell Westbrook than Steve Nash. They all sound their best next to Thug too, and it’s a fun development to see Thug become one of the few artists who brings the best out of whoever hops on wax with him, again MGK excluded.
LF – Yes. I agree he got the most out of everyone on this album, Nav, forgive me, sounds incredible, and it is so good that Thug takes cues from Nav in his verse and not the other way around [ed: note: LUCAS] . It seems a bizarre choice for the album’s last track on first listen, but closer examination reveals this is an excellent send off for the tape. Thug’s planted so many seeds, fathered so many sons, that now he can kick back, allow them to thrive and pick up some new tricks from them.
MD – We need an oral history of the Nav verse. Like did Thug call him up in the middle of the night, tell him he had the perfect beat, and Nav flew to the studio to drop this heat? Or did he just send it as a .zip file when he got time in between his writing sessions with Kendrick and Black Thought? It’s honestly Nav’s best work since his legendary feature on the unofficially released “Flava in Ya Ear” megamix. [ed. note: touche]
LF – The streets need this. Someone pitch it to XXL. A minute- to-minute dissection of their time in the studio. I have so many questions. What did Nav talk to Thug about? What was his body language like during the entire interaction. At any point in time was the word “vibes” uttered by anyone? What type of candy did Thug offer Nav, and was he allergic? Did Thug and Alex Tumay immediately understand the brilliance of the “napitty sack-sack-sack” flow, his best contribution to hip-hop since he rocked a fifteen minute freestyle cipher with Big Pun at DJ Premier’s 1992 Rucker back to school jam?
But seriously, the feature that I can’t cosign is not one, but two Duke features [ed. note: Duke out-raps Thug twice. Sorry]. When I’m Up dropped four entire years ago I wrote in a Facebook music group that “someone needs to sit down Thugger and tell him in no uncertain terms that he has no reason to put Duke on every project.” Thug has evolved in many ways, but his loyalty to his family and his friends remains cast in stone. The Duke feature on “Cartier Gucci Scarf,” when he’s aping Thug’s classic cookie monster flow, without the syllabic gymnastics Thug exhibits in a few of his bars. The effect is that it cheapens the novelty of Thug’s once-an-album habit of indulging in that bizarre, hilarious and joyously differential Harambe voice, and displays Duke’s middling skill set in the nude against Thug’s shimmering glory. But let’s be clear, Thug squeezed the most out of him, and Duke’s fullest potential is still not up to par for what will be soon considered Thug’s Magnum opus.
MD – That’s fair. I kind of saw it another way, like if the overarching thesis of this album is a joyous Thug rapping his ass off and bringing some of his friends along for the ride then I’m maybe more prepared for some novelty to be cheapened. And Duke miming that Harambe voice is a great example of that symbiotic relationship you mentioned earlier, where Thug can kick back here and allow his friends to have fun, with everyone picking up things from each other along the way.
LF – I think when I was able to accept Thug’s premise that his goal on this record was to celebrate (with his friends) is when I accepted that So Much Fun is his fourth artistic peak. His first peak was Tha Tour, which isn’t a Thug project, but is the place where Thug truly realized his vision as an artist through a full project. He carried the greatest mixtape of all time with hyper-technical rappin’ rappin’ tracks, street bangers, beautiful and hypnotic club music, anthemic choruses, it’s everything he flashed in spurts for the first half of the decade. It was also a commercial and plateau, at the time the tape dropped “Lifestyle” had recently topped the R&B charts, “Stoner” was nearly Gold, and he really controlled rap’s meta-narrative in a way most artists with a chart-topping single do not.
His second peak was Barter 6. This is where he realized his potential as an explorer and pioneer of new soundscapes. It’s a little wonky, minimalist, experimental and ethereal. It paved the way for a lot of sort of cloudy and light post-trap experiments, and every song was him displaying his ungodly vocal range and ability to impute feeling and emotion.
His third peak, and for a moment it felt like his post-peak (think ‘13 Kobe) was Beautiful Thugger Girls. Here SEX seemed to give up on the radio or pleasing the proles. A country-inspired pop experiment where he’s dedicated his boundless energy to singing and moaning and mumbling over all else in an epic and expansive landscape of organic melodies and inspired choruses and bridges. Even Thugger Girls’ most wistful and downtempo moment, “Daddy’s Birthday,” has an epic, operatic quality. This is a prescient artistic vision that can be understood as Thug’s 808’s & Heartbreak, a singular project that projected the sounds of the future with little interest in conventions and little relation to Thug’s artistic trajectory in the years preceding and following its release. The difference being Thug did something that was uniquely his, where Kanye flipped T-Pain’s music into his own.
Now, So Much Fun is his fourth artistic peak. Thug took ideas and tricks from all of his previous efforts, isolates what exactly works in a pop album and puts them all in one place. His three prior artistic heights, while they have some higher highs than any moments on So Much Fun, seem like a build up to this expansive, coherent collection of joyous pop songs that sees Thug capture the sound of this summer and the waning days of this decade and re-rock it into music that is undeniably his own. The erratic experimentation of the previous 10 years offered blissful, unequaled highs (“Givenchy,” “Family Don’t Matter,” “Constantly Hating,” “Best Friend,”) but even his peak albums had a degree of inconsistency, erratic moments, misplaced filler. He does not truly miss once here, and the album communicates exactly how it wants to sound and what it wants to say at every moment. Thug won, he holds the Greatest Rapper Alive title belt with an album that is going to be platinum before the winter, and in bringing out the best out of most of rap’s current A-listers, and defines and encapsulates this era’s pop-trap sound.
This will remembered as Thug’s MBDTF: a tape in which he figured out how to harness his experimental impulses towards updating an existing form of maximalist pop. The difference being that Thug is celebrating where Kanye stared into the schizoid mirror and screamed into the Abyss.[ed. note: I’m tired]
MD– How often have we seen that? Feels so rare to have an artist experience so many peaks in such a relatively short time frame. I also think it’s important to distinguish between artistic peak and commercial peak. This is absolutely his fourth peak as an artist, but I’d say only his second commercial peak, including Tha Tour.
And in between all those peaks, mostly between Barter 6 to So Much Fun, were also a fair amount of lows, commercially speaking. You mentioned that Thugger Girls felt like his post-peak at the time, and that was due in no small part to a fair number of misfires up to that point. Like, “Pacifier,” still probably his best song to date, came out right after the whole shooting at Lil Wayne’s tour bus incident in 2015 and was presented a precursor to his long-teased debut album Hy!£UN35 (which, I think safe to say So Much Fun is actually the Hy!£UN35 we’d all been waiting for?). “Pacifier” was supposed to be a hit, song of the summer, and the official arrival of rap’s brightest budding star, but it never even hit the Hot 100. And until now that kind of became the metaphor for Thug’s career: there were notoriously delayed release dates, a litany of leaks that suspended releases entirely, and a label in 300 Entertainment that, from the outside looking in, seemed to be exploiting and terribly mismanaging their greatest talent.
Also, the stuff that was released didn’t stick like it needed to. I’m Up, despite “F Cancer” being the best cancer awareness anthem that isn’t about cancer at all, still feels like it came and went. Jeffery is a fucking masterpiece but the music became a footnote relative to the outfit he wore on the cover. And Super Slimey has some great moments (“Cruise Ship” and “Real Love”) but was way more forgettable and disappointing than a project headlined by Young Thug and Future should ever be.
LF – Super Slimey was a massive disappointment. People said it was phoned in, but at the time I was worried they were both completely out of juice. Thug had been discussed as both a relevant up-and-comer and influential artist constantly for five years at this point, then he can’t make hits with Future? That release was the worst of all for my mental health.
MD – Yeah absolutely and I’m sure the one-off EPs like Young Martha and Hear No Evil didn’t help either. Both took a few obvious shots at mainstream success and the latter has a total of three songs and three starry features (Nicki Minaj, Lil Uzi Vert, and 21 Savage) yet I challenge you to correctly name a single song off of that EP without looking. And also Slime Language at the time felt like Thug had decided to pass the torch prematurely.
Anyway, all of this made a look back at Thug’s career up to this point feel a bit woozy, and honestly reflect an artist who oozed of superstar potential early on, but constant fumbling and mismanagement along the way meant his most dedicated fans would be relegated to speaking about Thug’s greatness in only the darkest, safest corners of the internet, while perfectly decent humans tweeted “Gunna >>> Young Thug” with absolute sincerity.
LF – Those nonessential tapes still taught him stuff. Like “oh what if I translate my whiney-voice flow into an anxious, soul-gnawing hook?” “what if I use a cookie monster voice for an entire track?” “What’s the best notes to hit and voices to use when the beat is not particularly creative?” (about a quarter of these mixtape cuts can qualify) “How do I make a conventional pop chorus menacing?” They weren’t always good, but they taught him something, which is reflective of how studious and brilliant Thug is in the studio.
Those creative nadirs may affect his legacy, but I appreciate that we had a generational talent and superstar releasing every idea he had as he moved between near-unmatched creative peaks. A question that remains for me is: why did he mostly refuse to make pop songs during so much of his prime?
MD – Perhaps Thug has more foresight than we gave him credit for. When he released Jeffery in 2017, he said that the album was the official mark of him transitioning from classic Slime Season-era Thug to a more pop-centric approach. And remember that came too with the publicity stunt of changing his name to SEX. And from then on you get a lot of the thrown darts that didn’t hit their target which I mentioned earlier. If anything, I’m not sure he refused to make pop songs so much as he hadn’t mastered the formula.
I say that because it isn’t like he avoided pop altogether. The feature with Jamie XX introduced him to a whole different subset of fans, as did that song with Camila Cabello, and the feature on that Calvin Harris project did fairly well with those same audiences.
Fast forward to 2019 and he’s still doing the same shit. In the month before So Much Fun dropped, he featured on songs with Post Malone, Lil Nas X, and Ed Sheeran respectively. All of which blew up among their respective demographics. The difference between now and then, though, is he’s finally making his own brand of mainstream hits too. It felt like, around 2016, Thug was becoming better known as an incredible feature artist who just couldn’t land his own solo pop single, let alone album.
It ties back to what you said, we’ve seen Thug maneuver through the peaks and valleys of his own creative genius in a uniquely transparent way over the last half decade or so, and in hindsight, a lot of the low moments feel like the sort of failed experiments that inevitably happen along the way to finally perfecting a formula, which he did on this album.
LF – His feature on the Post Malone record, I heard it in the context of Harley Geffner’s Rap Up, which instructed listeners to skip to Thug’s verse and celebrate that he was back to form and ready to do some damage. Credit due. The parallels between SMF and Tour’s album cycles as commercial peaks are interesting, I just think now he will remain around awhile longer as artists and execs will start seeing him as radio friendly.
MD – So what will be this album’s radio song? Consider “The London” an outlier for these purposes. Also, I’m so happy can actually ask this question because I don’t think Thug’s had a solo radio hit ever.
LF – I guess that Nicki Minaj collab off Hear No Evil charted higher than “Check,” which maybe says more about how the charts are just terribly out of sync with the culture.
I never know what Thug songs are going to hit on the radio. I remember one lukewarm fall night in 2014 when Tha Tour dropped on DatPiff, I listened to the tape in the same way I nearly always digest new music: walking aimlessly with headphones on and drunk on cheap liquor. I wandered the empty and silent suburban badlands for five hours with the album on repeat, and entered into a sort of bliss state as Thug and Quan’s soaring articulation of joy exploited my cheap, drunk, sentimental moments.
I was positive that the mixtape had a radio smash: “Tell Em (Lies)” would be an anthem for night clubs and strip clubs for decades, it would soundtrack $10,000 bar tabs from Vegas to Dubai, a song so perfect that it would be associated with the last 2 months of 2014 as much as leaves falling and the midterms. It’s still puzzling to me that “Tell Em” has been languishing on DatPiff for all this time. It was a similar story upon SS3’s and Thugger Girls’ opening nights, I assumed “Memo” and “Daddy’s Birthday” would have broader appeal and was dead wrong.
Gun to my head, I’d select “Hot.” It’s, joyous, anthemic and features a triumphant horn melody and nursery-rhyme-simple hook structure. Normal and functional humans tend to respond to that more than complexity.
MD – Which explains why “The London” took off and was also a very smart single. The structure is simple, safe, and super easy to digest. It also showcases two artists with massive followings. Speaking of, is “Hot” not just J Cole’s “Middle Child” on Rhino pills? I had to look back to see if Wheezy produced both (he didn’t).
LF – It’s “Middle Child” but actually, you know, good, with interesting rapping, creative flows and pleasing vocal melodies and cadences. The tragedy is how many DJ’s will mix that absolute abomination with “Hot,” infecting Thug and Gunna’s moment with the terrible, lifeless contagion J. Cole has spread to every rap radio station this year.
MD – Say what you want about J Cole, but that man can fold clothes. Honestly, “Bad Bad Bad” is the most obvious radio hit to me. Lil Baby has a pretty big sector of his fan base who aren’t necessarily Thug fans and the hook is an earworm with lavish lyrics that folks will identify with and/or want to live vicariously through. Strippers can dance to it for the next decade and a half. And lines like “Double C, no Chanel, ’cause she bad, bad, bad” work perfectly for Instagram captions, which is half the battle nowadays to achieving a hit and something Drake has down to a science. And say what you want about Aubrey, but the man loves his Raptors.
LF – This album may be considered the moment where Wheezy met Pi’erre Bourne at the top. His ascension from Thug specialist to multi-faceted pop producer has mirrored Thug’s growing influence on the sound of commercial rap, and perhaps the completion of Thug’s journey to this point is best captured on “Bad Bad Bad,” where Thug, Wheezy, and Thug disciple Lil Baby unite to create a record with massive pop potential.
MD – Can I just say how incredible “Surf” is? If you sit and read the lyrics on the first half of Thug’s first verse it actually makes no sense how he fits those lines into each bar and keeps on beat in that cadence. That song also sits firmly atop the pantheon of Young Thug songs that sound like their titles: “Icey” has a chill sleekness to it, “Cruise Ship” sounds like I’m racing thru Daisy Cruiser on Mario Kart, and “Surf” is a beachy, buoyant melody provided courtesy of Pi’erre who, by the way, bodied this album. The beats for “Lil Baby” and “I’m Scared” feel like a dark joyride, and what he did on “Light It Up” is some industrial maximalist shit out of left field.
LF – Pierre is on fire. “I’m Scared” would make sense nearly anywhere on Thug’s discography, it was Pierre’s take on the Wheezy beats Thug has always murdered. The effect is that despite a solid verse from 21 and excellent Doe Boy feature, it belongs to Thug and connects this project with the rest of his catalog.
MD – What’s funny too is, “I’m Scared” leaked maybe like a year ago as a solo Thug song under the title “Really” so it’s been around. And if you listen to that song “100 Shooters” by Meek Mill featuring Future and Doe Boy, which came out early July, you hear Doe Boy in the background singing the “Oh realllly!?” ad lib that Thug yells and the beginning of “I’m Scared.”
LF – It’s great that the near-disastrous leaks end up enriching the listening experience.
MD – I guess we should talk about critique. I know some people weren’t too happy with the sequencing, saying it’s a bit all over the place. In that same vein, I’ve had people tell me there’s too much fat here. I think we both agree that we can listen to this all the way through with no skips, but there were a couple tracks that feel derivative or less inspired than the rest of the album as a whole.
Like “I Bought Her” is a largely forgettable track with probably the least innovative hook on the album, it’s also maybe the biggest letdown possible after the fire Thug and Uzi set on “What’s the Move.” And “Circle Of Bosses” is a fine song that surely means well, but I still have Quavo fatigue and his melodies on here are predictable and repetitive enough for it to stay that way. The song has no clear direction and is only listenable thanks to Thug’s vocal exercises and how absolutely inoffensive the record is as a whole. These are also two extra songs that take us longer to get to Nav.
Having a little fat though is also completely normal for an album with 19 songs, let alone a trap album, and it’s frankly a testament to how well-constructed this album is that there aren’t more I’d potentially cut.
LF – Thug’s near-misses and filler are usually more substantive and interesting than other rapper’s hits. The tracks you listed have problems, but for me So Much Fun is exactly one track too long, “Cartier Gucci Scarf” is completely superfluous and breaks up a decent 5 song run into the most obviously tedious section of the album. “Jumped Out the Window” also sounds more like a mixtape cut, maybe off one of the Slime Seasons, than the rest of this record. Yet it is much more consistent than most any other commercial rap record released in the age of long, unwieldy LPs constructed for streaming.
The album’s true flaw is that it lacks a definitive, transcendent moment on the scale of “Check,” “Family Don’t Matter,” “Givenchy,” or “Constantly Hating.” He gets close at points but even the most beautiful moments don’t convey the depth of emotion, the tragedy, the triumph of some of his previous incarnations. That’s of course the point on an album about fun, but even when he comes close, on “Surf,” on “Just How It Is,” on “What’s the Move,” on “Hot,” it never feels as significant or brilliant as the summits Thug conquered in his previous artistic primes.
Thug making a normal, straightforward pop album satisfies his story arc, but his career thus far has been defined by a willingness to take risks and transform music on the fly. In chasing and attaining consistency and accessibility here, he was handcuffed to forms and conventions that were necessary to make a #1 album but prohibited him from reaching the soaring heights, the transcendent and blissful moments where he reimagines and remakes the genre on the fly. Many will declare SMF as his magnum opus and they will be wrong. Celebration of this accomplishment is still in order: excellence at the expense of transcendence is a choice very few artists in rap’s history have been in a position to make.
MD – Not only that but it’s rare that you get to see a generational innovator who went thru the commercial highs and lows Thug did, and reap the rewards of the path they paved. For the past half decade, Thug has been a martyr. The screechy sound, the subtle androgyny, the damn dress, all received widespread criticism and legitimately impacted his mainstream success. And it goes without saying that everyone from Carti to Uzi to Juice WRLD has pulled from this without receiving nearly the same amount of blowback. Usually martyrs fade away and are memorialized in retrospect, but it speaks to Thug’s genius, persistence, and utter mastery of the genre that he was able to create a #1 album just when it felt the potentiality of that moment had passed him by. You truly, honestly love to see it. And I can’t wait until we talk about it for another 6000 words in part two next week.
- Ca$h Out – I Got It ft. Young Thug (single, 2010)
- Young Thug – Picacho feat. Maceo (1017 Thug)
- Young Thug – Foreign Feat. Hellacoppa – (I Came From Nothing 3)
- Young Thug x Metro Boomin – The Blanguage (Metro Thuggin)
- Young Thug – Danny Glover (loosie, 2013)
- Gucci Mane x Young Thug – Bricks (Young Thugga Mane La Flare)
- Young Thug – Stoner (single, 2014)
- Rich Gang ft. Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan – Lifestyle (single, 2014)
- Young Thug – Givenchy (Tha Tour Pt. 1)
- Young Thug – 730 (Tha Tour Pt. 1)
- Young Thug – Pacifier (loosie, 2015)
- Young Thug – Drinking Lean Is Amazing (leak, 2015)
- Young Thug – Constantly Hating feat. Birdman (Barter 6)
- Young Thug – Check (Barter 6)
- Young Thug – “Best Friend” (single, 2016)
- Young Thug ~ Thief In The Night feat. Trouble (Slime Season 2)
- Young Thug – Digits (Slime Season 3)
- Young Thug – Memo (Slime Season 3)
- Young Thug – Harambe (Jeffrey)
- Young Thug – Wyclef Jean (Jeffrey)
- Young Thug – RiRi (Jeffrey)
- Young Thug – Safe (loosie, 2017)
- Young Thug – Family Don’t Matter feat. Millie Go Lightly (Beautiful Thugger Girls)
- Young Thug – Daddy’s Birthday (Beautiful Thugger Girls)
- Young Thug – Relationship feat. Future (Beautiful Thugger Girls)