Cheat Code Album Review: Young Thug "I'm Up"

Young Thug's new album isn't a step forward or back, more like a sideways hop.
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Other than maybe Kanye West, there is no more polarizing figure in the hip-hop landscape today than Young Thug.

While Kanye's detractors tend to lean on his personality as the crux for their lack of affection, Thugger hate results from a combination of his wildly flamboyant style choices and his tendency to blatantly disregard the rules of established music making. In an era when hip-hop runs rampant with bizarre characters, that combination has served to make Thug without a doubt one of the more captivating figures in hip-hop since his early 2014 breakout.

His "raps" are borderline ramblings peppered with shouts, grunts and screeches, forcing listeners to reevaluate what “rapping” actually is. The key isn't the focus on his lyricism, though he's continually dropping some of the most creative punchlines since mixtape Weezy (his idol, unsurprisingly), but instead on the way Thug works his voice as an instrument, tapping into the subconscious, more animalistic forces within. Despite his peculiarities, or perhaps because of them, he’s managed to secure a thriving fanbase, achieve immense chart success and receive co-signs from much of the upper echelon of your favorite superstars.

Whether you're a Thug lover or hater, here's your Cheat Code review. Everything you need to know about the album on one page. 

Background:

Nearing the end of 2015, it seemed that Young Thug was finally honing in on a perfect balance of his own sonic boundary-pushing and professionally packaged consistency. Barter 6 was met with favorable reviews, Slime Seasons1 and 2 won over a host of new fans and singles like “Best Friend,” “With That” and “Again” were among some of the best records of the year. Thug was in prime position for the release of Slime Season 3, for all intents and purposes the retail-ready, full realization of his potential as a game-changing artist. 

Then, in the blink of an eye (or rather, the typing of a tweet), Thug decided to pull a Kanye, not only changing the name of his project to the puzzlingly random I’m Up but also going forward with an entirely different set of records for the effort, of which only one is even mixed by his ballyhooed engineer and collaborator Alex Tumay. In fact, the nine-track effort was released so quickly after the abrupt change of plans that iTunes and Spotify listings even featured the original SS3 artwork, and the latter has even yet to accept the new moniker.

Like Future’s recent Purple Reign, in the context of the numerous projects from the last year and a half, I’m Up doesn’t hold as many standout efforts as it’s recent predecessors. That said, it works to Thug’s advantage that it runs only nine tracks deep as it doesn’t suffer from as much filler. It’s not a step back, but sideways; a collection of solid Thug efforts that is mostly disappointing simply because it’s not SS3.

Standout Cuts:

“F Cancer” ft. Quavo

The project’s defining single is an extended middle finger to the disease and a dedication to street-rap hero Boosie, who recently underwent surgery after a kidney cancer diagnoses. At least, that’s the intention.

Those looking for a sobering, personal account of living with cancer, or having close friends or family suffering from the ailment, need look elsewhere, as the only mention of either cancer or Boosie comes from the opening declaration of “Fuck Cancer! Shout out to Boosie!” The following line, “I fuck your main bitch, I gave her cooties,” is a much better indication of where the song is headed: a bouncy, upbeat affair disregarding of haters and showcase of Thug’s melodic capabilities. Quavo of Migos throws in a verse as well, further cementing the fact that artistic chemistry won’t be a problem on Migos Thuggin, if and when that project ever surfaces.

“Hercules”

The single greatest achievement of I’m Up is that it provides a proper retail release for “Hercules.” The Metro Boomin-produced banger was one of the best songs of 2015, released after the resolution of a short-lived beef between Thug and the now super-producer. It’s a nearly five-minute descent into madness, plunging you into the depths of all that makes Thug great, and Thugger seems to feed on the production, gaining strength as the song develops. The production is fierce, the mixing is superb, and Thug acts as a mad scientist of impassioned energy with all of his unorthodoxy on display.

“Bread Winners”

Like “Hercules,” “Bread Winners” is an adrenaline-fueled race to the finish as both artists work to keep pace with the intensity of the production. I have no goddamn idea who Young Butta is, but the fact that he's on a track with the word "bread" in the title is awesome, and he absolutely destroys his guest verse. Thug's contribution is drenched in Auto-Tune, and if any one song from this album lends credence to the fact that he is not of this planet it's this one. This is what I would imagine the movie Crank would be if it was a song.

"My Boys"

Joined by fellow Atlanta rappers Ralo and Trouble, who contributed to Thug's excellent SS2 single "Thief In The Night," and Lil Durk, who shows up twice on the effort, Thug delivers an ode to his boys with a hint of remembrance in the mood, a la Lil Wayne's "Miss My Dawgs." The chorus here is way too infectious to be as unintelligible as it is. As is often the case with Thugger, it's almost infuriating because as much as you'd like to sing along you can't quite tell what it is you're supposed to be saying.

Conclusion:

I'll be honest, my opinion has fluctuated wildly over the course of five or so full listens to the project. The biggest issue is that a cohesive experience is lacking. I'm Up doesn't suffer from the problem of including an overbearing amount of filler like the first two Slime Seasons, but while those at least felt like projects, this go round simply feels like a collection of recently completed records. The sequencing leaves a lot to be desired, a prime example transitioning from the opening over-excitement of "F Cancer" to the somber reminiscing of "My Boys."

The featured artists don't take away from the product, other than the last track, but don't really add to it outside of solid outings from Offset and Young Butta. The mixing isn't on par with earlier Thug projects either, which is hugely disappointing and most likely attributable to the fact that Tumay was only involved on the expertly mixed "Hercules."

While I'm Up has a few solid records, it likely won't produce any hits outside of "F Cancer." At any other time, one could chalk this effort up to serving the fans more of the street-focused records they're craving, but seeing that Thug's entire fanbase was craving Slime Season 3, that wait and its accompanying hunger lingers on.

While existing fans should appreciate this latest release, if someone new to Thug asked me where to start, I would quickly point in the direction of last year's stronger efforts (outside of "Hercules," of course).

[By Brendan Varan. "Fuck cancer, shout out to Boosie" is now his standard celebratory toast. Follow him on Twitter.]

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