Young Thug’s “Beautiful Thugger Girls” walked so Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” could run
Lil Nas X embraces Young Thug’s pioneering influence and the rapper is expected to be featured on the third official remix of “Old Town Road”.
Currently, the top streamed song in the US and UK is “Old Town Road”, a country-trap-meme phenomenon clocking in at less than two minutes. What started as a Twitter joke from a Nicki Minaj spam page has become the most listened to song in the world. Its runaway success has been encouraged by its meme-ability, short length and controversy over its removal from the Billboard country charts. Its popularity has spurred much discussion about country rap and its existence and validity. The genre fusion is not new, tracing back from Goodie Mob in the 90s to Nelly’s Country Grammar era of the 2000 and to Taylor Swift and B.O.B. In the discourse that has arisen regarding "Old Town Road', a major voice has been conspicuously overlooked except by his more ardent fans. Eclectic and experimental Atlanta rapper Young Thug (also known as Jeffrey or by his own pronouncement, “SEX”) is the spiritual predecessor of Old Town Road.
Young Thug has been making the most exciting, creative and forward-thinking trap music of his generation since he blew up with the 2014 track “Lifestyle”. Often written off even by contemporary hip hop fans as a mumble rapper, stunt king and downright weirdo, Jeffrey has released almost a dozen mixtapes that have amassed a cult following for his ability to use his voice as an extraordinary instrument, blending hard-hitting trap production with pop flairs and expressing himself on his own terms.
Young Thug produced my favourite piece of music of 2017, the acclaimed “Beautiful Thugger Girls”, a project initially announced as a “singing album” and executive produced by Drake. It is unclear how much Drake did in fact contribute to the final tape, but it ended up being a successful experiment which continues to age extremely well. "Beautiful Thugger Girls"- initially titled "Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls" before Cover Girl stepped in- starts off with what I now consider one of Jeffrey’s signature songs, the stunning trap duet “Family Don’t Matter”. In “Family Don’t Matter”, he announces the seriousness of his commitment to the theme with a cry of “yee-haw!”. It shouldn’t make sense: it should have been too ridiculous and it was a borderline mockery of “real” country music, but what resulted was an incredible track that sounded like nothing else popular rappers were releasing. BTG also includes a beautiful, soul-filled ballad “She Wanna Party” with UK singer Millie Go Lightly who was discovered through a chance mix up of songs by producer Wheezy. Other heart-breaking songs in the album include “Daddy’s Birthday”, “Feel It”, and Jacquees feature in “For Y’all”. The 14-song project takes you on a melancholy journey of lost loves and disconnected family ties scored by 808s and guitar twangs. BTG, like everything that makes Young Thug great starts off as an ironic guilty pleasure before you realise what a revelation it is.
As one of the few mainstream rap artists who openly disregards gender within both his presentation and content, Thug’s style always has a flair reminiscent of Prince and fellow ATLien Andre 3000. Both 3 Stacks and former partner/living goddess Erykah Badu have publicly shown their admiration. His unique takes on society, family and hip hop culture encourage you to open your mind when you receive his music. It is redundant to directly try and draw meaning from most of his song lyrics; in fact, it is a confounding waste of time. Thug, especially in his later music dabbling in country, soul and singing has always managed to draw you into the headspace and plane of existence he was on when recording. It is for these reasons he has received co-signs all the way from T.I. to Elton John.
“His unique takes on society, family and hip hop culture encourage you to open your mind when you receive his music.”
In 2016, Thug released “All The Time”, a melodious single with befuddling lyrics. The entertaining side experiment which was never officially included on any of his projects or any streaming platforms is one of many examples of Jeffrey’s bizarre, unpredictable and sometimes infuriating release style. This era also signalled his direction change to ballad making, with the release of his amazing reflection on mortality “Killed Before” in his collaborative tape "Super Slimey". Since "Beautiful Thugger Girls", Young Thug has also released "Slime Language", a compilation project of Jeffrey’s signees, siblings and fiancée. The mixtape introduced a more colourful trap sound and is a love letter to his family, who have always been an important element in all of his music, buried under yips, ad-libs, lean references and London on Da Track production. Young Thug notoriously releases sporadically and of his own accord, including 6-song 2018 EP "On The Rvn" (presumably so titled to avoid conflict with the Jay Z/Beyoncé brand), which dropped just as he was preparing to serve time in jail, and had on it the amazing Elton John collaboration “High”.
Thug, while an important face of the Atlanta hip hop takeover that has prevailed since the early 2010s, has never actually released a debut album. His long-teased debut project, with the working title "HY!£UN35", has been delayed amid leaks, record label disputes and multiple legal battles. Young Thug is also at perpetual loggerheads with his biggest influence and rival Lil Wayne, after whom his cult favourite Barter 6 mixtape is named. Although he often deviates from the norm, he is not immune from clichés - often falling into the lazy misogyny and hyper-violence of mainstream trap music.
I look forward to whatever album, mixtape or EP Young Thug releases, regardless of whether "HY!£UN35" is ever actually released. As we live in an era of rappers shamelessly flooding the market with uninspired, repetitive music in the clamour for streaming numbers, Young Thug and his discography must be protected at all costs. With the exception of his 2017 guest appearance on Camilla Cabello’s “Havana”, he has not had mainstream success since “Lifestyle” and 2015’s “Best Friend” and refreshingly does not appear to be pursuing it. The importance and influence of his style on rap music and our conception of a "rap star" will not be truly understood until we are removed from this current wave of hip hop as pop music. I am confident he will be remembered as one of the artists who defined and defied the era.
Banner Image Credit: Desola Kazeem