Young Thug is a complexity wrapped inside an enigma.
I spent one of my recent gym sessions listening to Young Thug‘s mixtape Jeffery and EP On The Rvn after two separate interactions with some of my musical kindred spirits. Admittedly, this whole time I thought the former was an album, and that confusion is present among a lot of his projects that followed. Regardless of not knowing what to label them, I have never had a complaint about Thugger’s music. I think it was Joe Budden who said “I don’t know how to judge a bad Young Thug song” and I share that sentiment. Really, because I don’t think I have ever heard one.
Clearly, I’m a huge fan. I respect how eclectic he is an artist, and there’s truly no one like him. He thrives off of being different, fashionably sporting women’s clothes and beautifully utilizing inaudible comments in his music that are repeated constantly by fans (“Slaat!”). Yet despite setting himself apart from the pack and establishing himself as a multi-faceted talent with a great ear for new acts, in my opinion, he will never reach that next level where you’re grouped with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Drake, J. Cole and more recently Travis Scott. That’s totally okay though.
I actually have a hot take involving Travis, and how Thug could’ve been what Trav has become. Their styles, ability to create crazed fan hives and the passion in their performances is nearly parallel in my eyes. However, due to Thugger’s promotion not being nearly as engaging as Travis’ along with not having the production chops, Thug will always be a step behind.
I know there’s a demographic of his fans who will probably hate me the moment they read the headline, and I encourage them to take a full look at everything. This is by no means me bashing someone who I have on my current list of favorite artists. Rather, it’s a rationalization of something I’ve felt for a while through an analysis of specific aspects of his career. There are multiple factors that hold him back, some his own fault and others just part of the game.
I’d say the biggest issue has been his inconsistency, which will sound crazy after my next few sentences.
Early in Thug’s career, circa 2011, he burst onto the scene with two mixtapes. 2012 and 2013 he dropped one mixtape per year but in 2014 he went crazy with six total. 2015 and 2016 he delivered three projects each year, then two mixtapes and an EP in 2017. Finally, in 2018 we got two EPs and a YSL compilation album. For the lazy folk who don’t want to count, don’t worry I got you. That comes out to 22 projects in a career that is a few months shy of eight years officially.
Inconsistent you say, Armon? Doesn’t sound like it. Well, the inconsistency was most prevalent when he became a major player in music around 2014-2016. The last few years have been a mess of false release dates and empty promotion. Initially, it was understandable because he was involved with Birdman and Rich Gang *cues “Idols Become Rivals.”* Cash Money has been known to take our favorites and ruin them with horrible management, so his affiliation in any capacity could’ve hindered any progress before he eventually stepped out on his own. Thank God he did.
Even through all of the surrounding chaos, he managed to produce big songs. “Stoner,” “Check” and “Best Friend” are all RIAA-certified. He’s got over 30 entries on the Billboard Hot 100. Additionally, he’s got a horde of cult bops, even if the numbers don’t reflect their impact on the people. His alignment with Rich Homie Quan was fun and gave us hope the duo would completely take over the game for years to come. It’s just always felt like as soon as Jeffery got a run, something would stop it. Of course, we enjoyed the music and as it ages we can look back on just how talented Thug is. But it takes the artist operating a certain way to make our claims of them being a superstar credible. Exuding the essence of a true star.
For Thug, it feels like he reached a certain point and was okay with not having a formal debut album or making a strong claim to the throne. If there was any time to do so, it was 2016. I’m Up, Slime Season 3 and Jeffery were all viable choices for a top 20 or 25 project that year, and that was a year of several impactful releases. The collaboration “pick up the phone” combining Thug, Trav, and Quavo was the perfect set up for an album but he settled for throwing it on Jeffery. It’s hard to call it settling since that was a great project and many regard it as his best to date. Imagine what a more polished album powered by that single could do though.
Well, we don’t have to imagine. The ringleader of Astroworld used it for his 2016 release Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight and look at all that accomplished. The window was open, but the platinum album that could have been placed in it like an air conditioner instead was rendered just a nice breeze. Easy, breezy, beautiful but not what could’ve been. That’s also somewhat how I feel about Beautiful Thugger Girls.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that project too. Thug had an unexpected knack for that brand of country pop. It was gimmicky and I thought it had a lot of potential to blow up. I saw him perform almost the entirety of the mixtape live at Terminal 5 in NYC, and it didn’t compare to the first time I saw him live at Cornell University off the heels of Slime Season 3. There, he stage-dived and just had so much energy which reflected in how the Cornellians went absolutely nuts. Terminal 5’s crowd didn’t seem to vibe as much, and I don’t think it was a coincidence he broke up the set to perform some of his older, more hype songs. The country inspiration didn’t translate all that well to a live New York City crowd.
Through my headphones though, BTG is dope. Since that album, however, it has felt like he has been lacking inspiration a bit. The music he’s made has been good but there hasn’t been much for fans to attach themselves to involving him as a person. He had a golden opportunity linking up with the vulnerable crooner Future on Super Slimey but even that came off very lukewarm. All of the latest projects, though good, have felt like “filler” and just something to keep fans palettes occupied until the next one. I hope for the next one to be super groundbreaking, only to walk away feeling as though they are incomplete and do not translate well live.
The biggest thing lately is Thug is moving toward the DJ Khaled phase of his career and farming new talent. It’s great in a way because he essentially gave us Gunna and Lil Baby. 2018 wouldn’t have been the same without those two, so I thank you, Thug. Continue to perpetuate that culture of collaboration and unity that is characteristic of the ATL. But…we still want to hear from you. It was the perfect year for us to hear a full-length, especially with the success of Camila Cabello‘s “Havana” where he completely tore up his guest slot. Instead, we got a compilation album.
Slime Language was very cool, but it was very clearly a debut of the talent Young Stoner Life Records has to offer. Solid tracks and contributions from them, but I don’t feel comfortable calling it a “Young Thug project” as it included 18 features over a 15-song mixtape. Then again, it’s also a mixtape so it can’t be held to the same standards albums are when it comes to features.
I know this may read like a harsh critique, but I’m okay with the way Young Thug has moved. I recognize the missteps, but hell if his career hasn’t been a wild ride already. I’ve been able to witness him collaborate with my favorite artist, Drake for the 2 Chainz-assisted “Sacrifices,” “Ice Melts,” and the unreleased “Issa” courtesy of 21 Savage. I literally watched my spirit leave my body and join God as I listened to “High” featuring Elton John for the first time. He’s given us a bunch of new talent to watch take off.
I assume he has something great cooking up for 2019 as well, musically and perhaps beyond. Maybe this is his play all along. Maybe he recognizes how limiting being a true superstar can be, because it is in many ways, and he’s settling for being just a star so he can continue doing what he does. Curating new talent and daring to be different. It’s hard to argue that it hasn’t worked so far, and we know not everyone is in it for the fame.