The world's most inscrutable rapper, Young Thug makes clear what he's saying and where he stands on his most forthright release yet.
So Much Fun
16 August 2019
"No time for gibberish, all the critics hearin' this," says Young Thug on "Just How It Is", the opening track on his new album So Much Fun. It's the clearest mission statement the world's most inscrutable rapper has ever given us. Maybe he's responding to the Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau, who claimed: "his hoohoos and melismas and blahs and mwas and frogcroaks and put-puts are the message" of his 2016 zenith Jeffery. Christgau wasn't totally wrong; that album featured some of the most extreme vocal performances ever heard on an album that could pass for pop. But if Thug is hurt by the suggestion that no one cares what he has to say as long as he makes those funny noises, that explains a lot of what we hear on So Much Fun, the rapper's most forthright release yet.
He's still flamboyant as hell, riding the seasick beat of "Surf" and exclaiming "whoa, wavy" as if hearing it for the first time, layering so many backing vocals behind himself on "Ecstasy" as to become Young Thug and the Famous Flames. But that's not the message. Rather, it's how good Thug is at the pure art of rapping. Anyone who thinks Thugger can't spit hasn't been paying attention. He launches into rapid-fire triple-time patter, affects a dancehall cadence just because he can, makes up architecture on the fly as a walking A-Z of trap flow. And not since the Weezy worship of I Came From Nothing has he been so insistent we understand what he's saying. When he pouts "I don't care about no cop" on "Just How It Is" it's with the same sense of honor as Waka Flocka bellowing "I'ma die for this, I swear to god" on "Hard in the Paint". Same when he declares, "I don't wanna talk about no hoes with my dad." It sounds like something he's resolved not to do a long time ago.
He even feels the need to explain the dress on the cover of Jeffery. He was hiding a "stick", see. That is a sad revelation that recasts what seemed like a radical act of solidarity with non-binary folks, or at least a refreshing bird-flip to the gender roles rap still holds dear, as a phallic gun brag. Throughout the record, Thugger seems unconcerned with playing the starchild. He's always been capable of shocking misogyny, but it was balanced somewhat by his perversely benevolent persona, where he'd buy a dog for you and offer to babysit it. Here he swings sharply to the wrong side of the equation. The man who once promised he'd bite on your butt and make you stand up like some bunny ears here castigates a man for letting a girl suck on his neck while telling a woman (the same one?) he'll shoot her man if she doesn't give him head. It's hard to root for Thugger on So Much Fun unless you buy into the same inane macho fantasies rap's been pushing since its inception.
Young Thug's favorite threat is to kill your family. That reflects his own filial piety. His frenemy Future (who delivers the most classically Thugger vocal on the whole album, channeling a frost giant on "Sup Mate") has had a more lasting impact on the charts. But Thug is still king in Atlanta, and rappers from his wheelhouse like Gunna, Lil Baby, and Lil Keed account for some of the city's most promising new music. He opens up vast swaths of the record to his progeny; they come out well, but Thug firmly forbids his acolytes from upstaging him. They're the human pyramid on top of which Thug crows and spreads his plumage, announcing to all Atlanta who rules the roost. He shouts out ten of his close friends on "Lil Baby", none of which are Lil Baby. (Lil Baby's on the next track, a classic Thug gag.) It's one part generosity, one part the hometown hero flexing his influence. "I can teach you how to talk the most impeccable shit," he suggests to prospective protégés.
Casting his net so wide, though, has its consequences. Why Nav still gets invited to things is beyond me. The album's 19 tracks in 62 minutes are at odds with the keen curatorial eye the rapper's shown recently, especially when they're devoid of stylistic experiments like the country crooning of Beautiful Thugger Girls and firmly dedicated to hard Atlanta rap. Some of the hardest you'll hear this year, mind you, with the A-list production for which Thugger's always had a keen ear. But after six tracks or so it becomes clear there's a lot left to go of the same thing on So Much Fun. Young Thug's always been so many things—pop star, iconoclast, gender- and genre-bending rock star in the vein of Bowie and Prince. He's just a rapper here; luckily, he's still one of the best out.
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