What does it take for a rapper to push the envelope? For Young Thug, the answer is as simple as being himself. From carving out a unique niche in the saturated Atlanta rap scene to rocking dresses in photo shoots, Thug is everything but unoriginal.
Thug’s latest project JEFFERY was teased three days before its release with a trailer that was perplexing but very direct; It portrayed Thug in an interrogation room repeatedly insisting that his interrogators address him as Jeffery. Whether this name change is meant to signify an identity crisis or a complete reinvention is unclear, but clarity has never been Thug’s primary concern.
For an artist with such a cohesive and meticulous aesthetic, Thug’s creative process is surprisingly impulsive. The album cover for JEFFERY features Thug sporting a stunning dress from designer Alessandro Trincone. Thug spotted the dress during his mentorship at fashion collective VFiles and instantly wanted it on the cover of his next record. The folds drape over one another in a grandiose yet graceful fashion as Thug’s face hides modestly behind the parasol-shaped hat.
Fans had mixed reactions: Some praised Thug for continuing to be a tastemaker in the world of fashion while others accused Thug of being too effeminate and discrediting his legitimacy as a musician and as a person. Regardless, the dress is evocative of Thug’s creative expertise. Thug’s album cover actualizes the dynamic that Thug has always promoted in his music: Fluidity, flamboyance and fearless expression are what make someone truly disruptive.
Musically, Thug has never sounded so sharp. A notoriously speedy songwriter, Thug is capable of composing songs in less than 15 minutes (yet he insists that he never needs to write down any of his lyrics).
His unmistakable style has matured wonderfully. Thug continues to be unpredictable and innovative, despite JEFFERY being his sixth album release in two years. Thug’s flow is as elastic as ever, with bars stretching across multiple measures and bleeding into one another. Thug’s staccato adlibs cut through the mix at the downbeats to give listeners reference points as they navigate the complexity of Thug’s rhyming structure.
But Thug takes these techniques to the next level on JEFFERY with drastic shifts in his delivery. The hook on “RiRi” has Thug barking and gasping, his voice jumping and dropping whole octaves before he dives into the verses. What he might lack in poetic craft, he more than makes up for with his vocal acrobatics.
“Harambe” features Thug rapping with such intensity that his voice cuts out and cracks, but these changes are so in rhythm that it complements the beat rather than seeming misplaced and unprofessional, as they so easily could in the hands of a less skilled rapper.
While most of the tracks on JEFFERY showcase the quirks of Thug, the track “Kanye West” is Thug’s best song yet. The production is simultaneously easy-going and urgent, pushing along with carefully arranged tom toms, hi-hats and tightly syncopated snares. Wyclef Jean’s vocals undulate underneath the rhythmic yelps of the Thug on the chorus, and the verses are clever and sweet as Thug dedicates lines to his fiancée. “Kanye West” feels more thoughtful than previous Thug songs with a strong focus on danceability and the careful vocal exchange between Jean and Thug. Thug has never sounded more comfortable on a beat: Instead of yelping and shouting over a minimal beat that gives him room to breathe, Thug sounds more reserved, letting the Cassius Jay- and Wheezy-produced beat speak for him.
Spontaneous, unpredictable and progressive, Young Thug’s JEFFERY is one of his strongest releases yet. Thug continues to push his sound and his aesthetic beyond the confines of typical Atlanta rap with JEFFERY, but it’s just another example of how Young Thug defines rap music.
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