Have We Let Young Thug Down?

It’s 2018 and we’ve yet to receive a studio debut from Young Thug. First teased circa-2013, HiTunes feels more and more like this decade’s Detox with each passing commercial mixtape and collaborative project. Now, after last year’s solo tape, Beautiful Thugger Girls, and joint effort with Future, Super Slimey, Thug seems to gearing up for yet another diversion from the main course. Slime Language, *ficially* confirmed as the -next- Thug release, is sure to be an exciting display the rapidly burgeoning YSL roster, but at what cost? With every passing album cycle, is Thugger solidifying himself as a generational talent, or is he simply being erased from the mainstream narrative? This begs another question, is he being erased or doing the erasing?

Young Thug’s level influence on the current wave popular rappers depends on your perspective his original rise from 2011-2015. At this specific point in time, many are treating Thug’s impact on an “if you know, you know,” case-by-case basis – unwittingly turning him into The Velvet Underground for his generation. It’s a powerful position in-the-know reverence and far-reaching influence that ten comes at the cost  immediate commercial success or widespread critical consensus. Meaning, although Thug may receive critical acclaim and adulation in spurts, the true impact his work may never be accurately gauged. And this age-old issue with giving one their just dues is only exacerbated in this era flippancy – in this era white chicks that tote AKs while dissing Snoop Dogg, it’s important to keep an accurate account rap lineage and history in its various forms.

I know we’re all proud how far Jeffrey’s come; it’s a rags to riches tale unlike any other, filled with Shakespearean levels grandeur. Betrayal and heartbreak – in the form t-misguidedbeefs and a very public relationship with ex-fiance Jerrika Karlae – take center stage against a backdrop fame and fortune. He not only exposed core insecurities within music listeners – forcing them to question their sensibilities with every flamboyant photoshoot – his music was a bewildering mixture unfiltered street rap and abstract associative wordplay. He sounded like Ol’ Dirty Bastard on helium with the charisma Biggie and the swagger Hot Boyz-era Lil Wayne. Textured harmonies, acrobatic vocal stylings and an endless pit imaginative lyrics propelled Thugger to the top his class. And since stepping into the spotlight, he’s only continued to expand his skillset and refine his artistry; Jeffrey sounds closer to a Best Muddy Waters playlist than a rap mixtape. Beyond all the showmanship, it was Young Thug’s raw talent that ultimately pierced through the fabric the culture and it was his consistency thereafter that made him undeniable.

Have We Let Young Thug Down?

Young Thug and his children: Lil Baby and Gunna performing together in Atlanta. Paras Griffin/Getty s.

In a world false paradigms, Young Thug became a reassuring constant. But it was a grind to get there: I Came From Nothing dropped in the summer 2011, when I was still in high school. I wouldn’t even hear about the new-age ATLien for at least another 24 months. Take a second to imagine the series events that elapsed during the summers ‘11, ‘12, ‘13…if we consider that Thug didn’t have his breakout year until 2014, that would mean that his rise was parallel to those Drake, Kendrick, J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Chief Keef, Future and so many more. Often, the conversation surrounding talent during those years was eclipsed by the rise these stars.

Sure, Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan and that dude on the West Coast – YG, or something – were starting to become well-known names, but it would be years before they received any sort recognition for their influence (if ever, in the unfortunate case Quan). When Thug first started popping, the old heads who dictated rap media – *cough* Peter Rosenberg *cough* – barely recognized a Travis Scott, let alone the contemporaries Travis was biting from. Now, these same personalities are the ones claiming Scott to be the greatest innovator this generation, retroactively painting Kid Cudi as a messiah and so forth.

All this is fine – there’s enough credit to go around – but it’s done in poor taste when the legacy equally important figures are dismissed because they aren’t part the mainstream narrative (at the moment). The same was happening with Gucci Mane until he underwent a purposeful re-branding. All this to simply reiterate the idiom: we should give people their flowers while they can still smell them.

Coming up under Gucci Mane, Birdman and T.I., Thug has always been a rapper’s rapper and an artist’s artist. It wasn’t just Drake and Kanye turning up to “Danny Glover” in the club, A$AP Yams was obviously on to him early. Childish Gambino was doing interviews where he tried to put people onto “Eww.” Danny Brown wouldn’t stop tweeting about him. Swae Lee (who recently called Thug one the best hook-writers this generation) was making dance videos to “Pull Up On A Kid” with SheLovesMeechie and I swear I remember A$AP Rocky bumping Slime Season 2 on Periscope that November – just like everyone else. Nowadays, it’s Chance the Rapper that’s calling Young Thug one his biggest influences.

To date, he’s gotten cosigns from – *clears throat and adjusts Cartier lenses* – Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad, Jay-Z, Elton John, Wyclef Jean, Andre 3000, Killer Mike, Meek Mill, Juelz Santana, Usher, Erykah Badu. I would keep going but we wanted to publish this today. 

But, with all things considered, why will Barter 6 and Rich Gang: Tha Tour, Pt. 1 only be considered cult classics? How come “Stoner,” “Lifestyle,” “Best Friend” and “Pick Up The Phone” will be neatly filed away as minor-to-major hits while the astounding amount high-quality songs to be found in leaks will sooner or later be shrugged f as “incoherent” or “inconsistent” or some other equal falsehood? It’s hard not to be cynical when the collective memory social media is paradoxically somewhere between that an elephant and a goldfish. We have access to real, verifiable history, so we choose to be flippant about the present? It’s a perplexing position we’ve put ourselves in, but it’s ultimately by choice. We got here by being woefully dismissive about the history a culture we claim to love – Statik Selektah was trying espouse much the same advice in the most recent episode 47 Minutes Podcast with Joey Bada$$.

At its core, this could all be a symptom one thing: we, as fans, didn’t truly engage with Thug’s work. Or we did so in a wholly personal manner that made him part our palette yet never properly introduced him to the rest the world. As a culture, we need to stop playing with Jeffrey’s name and put some long overdue respect on his artistry. “My last two years were the worst ones in my career, but I’m still rich as you,” Thug raps on the new Lil Baby album, uncharacteristically self-pitying – even Thug himself would tell you he’s partly to blame for the wayward trajectory his career. It’s not just 300 Entertainment’s fault, nor is it Birdman’s, nor is it the infamous leaks. Like with most things in life, this increasingly prevalent debate doesn’t have a clear cut answer. If you believe you have the answer to the increasingly dreary question, “What happened to Young Thug’s career,” let us know – seriously.

It could be the fact that many fans Thugger now were not necessarily early, or even on time, to the party. Even I was significantly late. But we can’t use that subconscious frustration with not getting to enjoy the coveted feeling finding something rare by subsequently devaluing the meaning the very word. No one is saying someone can’t genuinely like Lil Baby more than Young Thug – there is no point in trying to cut through the thick weeds preference in search some objective answer, especially when we’re dealing with an artist as versatile as Thug. What we can do, however, is make sure that his impact and lineage is well-documented.

Like, for example, let’s keep in mind that Baby was literally just a close friend Thug’s that never considered rapping until about a year ago (you can see him here, in the studio with Thug, nearly half a year before his first song – “Rider” with Thugger – would drop). Same with Gunna, to a lesser degree. It’s Jeffrey’s active role in curating their styles that has catapulted them to the top their class. And while they’ve mastered about two Thug’s flows,  SEX has quietly been in the hyperbolic time chamber, working on a solid three dozen more. The benefit Thug’s tutelage is starting to speak for itself, but so is the sheer irreplaceability his work in a sea potential copycats. What if Lil Baby’s debut selling nearly 10x as much as Thug’s is a testament to just how much the latter broke through the industry? It’s a rhetorical question because Thug’s clearly paved a path for certain artists, but it’s also partly asked in earnest because we’re looking for any way to defend his uncertain career trajectory.

Despite the fact that he was just on a #1 Childish Gambino song after just having secured his first #1 as a feature on Camila Cabello’s “Havana,” there’s an air disbelief surrounding Thug’s current ability to remain an influential facet the culture. Despite the fact that it’s his ad-libs that are being bitten, his flows that are being repurposed, and his day one producers that are running the game (Metro Boomin, London On Da Track, Wheezy), the public seems eager to write him f. It’s not the role the artist community to propel each other to reverence – the burden doling out respect, or, at the very least, recognition, has always been on the fans. And – if his solo mixtape sales are any indication – we may have let Thug down, numerous times. 

In fact, the artists who are currently wearing their Young Thug influences most openly are actually the ones being rewarded! Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Kodak Black, Sahbabii, Playboi Carti, Ski Mask The Slump God, Tekashi 69, XXXTentacion  – Lil Tracy, close friend SoundCloud icon who recently passed away, Lil Peep, was just recently tweeting about wanting to be YSL in the midst dropping his own Beautiful Thugger Girls-inspired bangers.

At the start his career, a pensive and guarded Thug would have you believe he grew up on a steady diet Lil Wayne and nothing else. Of course, over the years, we’ve seen him showcase a deep appreciation from everyone from Fugees to Fun, everyone from Tupac to Monica feed Thug’s ever expanding palate. His own local influences can’t be ignored as well – from the Rich Kidz to Future. It’s this very eccentricity that has allowed his own music to influence so many different artists in so many different ways.

There should be no shame in gleaning inspiration from your contemporaries – we just need to be honest with each other. There’s an argument to be made for the fact that Travis Scott has always leaned heavily into a YoungThuginfluence he’s never outwardly spoken about. Future got burnt out and then took Thug under his wing to reinvigorate himself. Kodak did nothing but listen to Super Slimey on IG Live and tried freestyling his own tracks for six straight months (we wish he would go back to writing). Rihanna was in the studio with Thug back in 2015, The Weeknd caught on a little bit later and, if we had to guess, we’re pretty sure that Frank Ocean’s love for Thug probably supersedes all theirs. 

Each era Young Thug has made its mark on a sect popular rappers and, nowadays, pop artists in general. There are numerous family trees to explore when it comes to rap; from the Zulu Nation to the Dungeon Family, a lineage any given rapper can be traced back to a handful founders and a few dozen innovators. While his label, YSL, may not be there quite yet, over the past half decade, Young Thug at least managed to cement himself as one the most influential acts in contemporary art.

In our quest to re-capture lightning in a bottle, have we become too dismissive what Young Thug still has to fer? With the breadth his narrative and the proven strength his songwriting, the best is surely yet to come, right? Disagree? Sound f below!

But no matter what we believe, let’s all agree to actually stream/purchase Thug’s next mixtape so we can finally get HiTunes, okay?