It might seem ironic that in a year when the biggest rap hit, maybe the year’s biggest hit full stop, managed to crossover to the mainstream without diluting its hard-headed trap sound in any way, two of the genre’s most iconic artists in Future and now Young Thug have both released albums that tilt so unapologetically towards mainstream radio, or at least what mainstream radio sounded like before Migos turned the landscape on its head. For Future, especially since HENDRXX seems to have sunk without much trace, it’s a shame. For Young Thug, it makes perfect sense. Thug has always been a unique artist, his inimitable voice and delivery immediately setting him apart from other rappers of his generation. He seems entirely uninterested in following any trend or zeitgeist, happy to go wherever his restlessly creative mind takes him. Last year’s JEFFERY in particular, enhanced by its instantly iconic cover, proved that Young Thug as an artist is so singular as to be essentially a genre unto himself.
If 2017 is the year that trap has broke the charts, then it seems only right that Young Thug defy expectations once again, abandon trap, and release a ‘country’ album. That’s what his latest release, Beautiful Thugger Girls (formerly Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls or EBBTG), has been labelled as. Although there is a lot more singing and guitars than you might expect from a rap album, the label is an exaggeration; Thugger hasn’t turned into Johnny Cash. Instead of a country album, Young Thug has expanded and refined the pop sensibilities he showed on last year’s JEFFERY and made an album of undeniable, irrepressible pop music, with song titles like She Wanna Party, Do U Love Me, and Feel It. It’s light-weight, low-stakes, and a lot of fun.
Young Thug albums have always been hard to define or analyse; his lyrics are famously incongruous with one another, random couplets in his head that he’s combined because they sound good, rather than to tell a story or make a point. He’s managed to maintain a prodigious output without really saying anything at all; we don’t really know anything more about Young Thug now than when he first blew up in 2013. This gives his lyrics, and his albums, a surrealist quality; they function more as an impressionistic mood board of whatever Thug is feeling at that time than as a cohesive artistic statement.
It’s a dangerous game to try and find meaning in anything Young Thug says off record or on, but if there is a theme to be found throughout Beautiful Thugger Girls, it seems to be love. Many of the songs, focus in particular on his fiancée. Young Thug’s lack of any kind of filter means he’ll find subject matter in the most disarming of topics, like, ‘Babysit your dog all day/Bout to watch you jog all day’, on album opener Family Don’t Matter. It’s a mundane detail that you wouldn’t catch too many other rappers talking about, but it’s a genuinely sweet line about enjoying just being with your partner, doing nothing. Having said that, within 30 seconds he’s claiming he’s ‘about to fuck somebody’s girl off this rum’. As usual with Young Thug, reading anything into the lyrics of Beautiful Thugger Girls seems a pretty futile exercise; he’s constantly switching from profound to profane in the space of a few seconds. Perhaps the only line that it’s safe to assume Young Thug means is during the kinetic dancehall shuffle of Do U Love Me – ‘In the tubby, poppin’ bubbly/Smokin’ musty, I love me’.
Dancehall is just one of the directions in which Beautiful Thugger Girls veers in its 14-song tracklist. On tracks like Tomorrow Til Infinity and Feel It, Thug relies on his singing voice more than he ever has done before. Feel It in particular is an album highlight – Young Thug’s distorted vocal harmonies are underpinned by shuddering trap hi-hats; when combined with his signature ad-libs and the main vocal, we can hear as much as five different recordings of Young Thug’s voice at one time. It’s a heady and disorienting experience. Similarly, the drum pattern for On Fire is surprisingly restrained, muffled bass hits sounding like they’ve been recorded underwater, while the delicate piano melody cuts through the mix. At every turn Beautiful Thugger Girls finds simple but effective ways to play with your expectations and keep you on your toes. Maybe the most peculiar moment on the album comes on the shortest track, the subdued Me Or Us, in which the guitar line is sampled from indie band Bright Eyes. It’s a simple arrangement, reminiscent of Death Cab for Cutie or Elliott Smith, except for the bass growling underfoot and Thug declaring ‘I smoke the kushy/Man I’m so goody/I want some cookies.’ It’s the kind of deranged genre splicing that only Young Thug would even think of, let alone pull off so successfully.
The weakest tracks on Beautiful Thugger Girls are primarily those that feature other rappers, as if Thug is forced to come back down to Earth to accommodate his more conventional peers. There’s some standard trap fare on the Future collaboration Relationship, which ends up feeling pretty stale compared to the other ideas on show, while Get High, produced by Young Chop and featuring Snoop Dogg and Lil Durk, fails to ignite, dragging for every second of its five minutes. Young Thug has yet to release an album or mixtape that maintains its quality throughout, but with JEFFERY and now Beautiful Thugger Girls, he’s getting closer every time. No one is pushing the boundaries of what rap music can sound like in 2017 like Young Thug, and Beautiful Thugger Girls proves it.
Words: Nick Bedingfield