“Rockstar lifestyle might not make it” —Gucci Mane
The song opens with a flash of pessimism, a glimpse of momentary anxiety quickly eclipsed by the Blue Dream and lean, beer kegs and Percocets, naked butts and sore jaws—mortality always came second to getting wasted.
Gucci doesn’t get existential, it’s a party song with party lyrics, but that opening line has always sounded ominous as it rolls off the tongue, a disclaimer that says in fine print: to live this way is to invite death. He might not fit the traditional definition of a rockstar but the lifestyle Gucci was living prior to prison was chaos. You can’t have the living fast without the dying young. Some corpse will make it past young and beautiful and spend their days being old and decrepit. No one is safe from the inevitable repercussions of the lifestyles we choose. That’s why Future’s lyrics were alarming; he seemed to be marching into the same madness that left Elvis on a toilet seat without a pulse and what left Pimp C in West Hollywood unresponsive. After he denied having medicine cabinets stocked with wholesale amounts of Xanax and Actavis, it was comforting to know he wasn’t in danger of dying but he started to appear as just another rapper pretending to party like a rockstar.
The lives depicted in the lyrics aren’t always a raw image but a Photoshopped alternation to create a more alluring portrait. The music is full of stretched truths and exaggerations, artists who decorate their lifestyles with extremes become caricatures leaving us guessing—myth or man? Person or persona? Fact or fiction? Out of all the artists that live questionable lifestyles, Young Thug sits at the top of this list. He's more rockstar than rapper, more Martian than man, extreme is his way of life.
The beginning of his latest GQ profile begins by highlighting that Thug wears women’s Uggs and travels everywhere with an AR-15. By now we all know that Thug approaches his music like he approaches his fashion—brazen, boisterous, confusing, and idiosyncratic, but to have an automatic weapon as the accessory he carries everywhere seems like an embellishment or intense paranoia. The extreme doesn’t stop there—big guns are tucked into tiny jeans, six figures are lost in studio dice games, vitamins are injected by a doctor on the third of every month, even for such an eccentric man the tall tales that appear in the article are almost too bizarre to believe.
Thug is outspoken when rapping, fearless behind the microphone, but that side is rarely shown in his interviews. He is soft-spoken, his replies are short and shy. Very little is revealed about him when cameras are involved. He doesn’t allow anyone to pry beyond the surface. It’s the profile pieces that give the most insight into his unorthodox world. The stories that are written capture his surroundings that journalists were able to document while in his presence. Through them, we peer into a lifestyle that isn’t clearly illustrated through his lyrics. It’s more authentic this way. No one was ever able to confirm or deny if Future took 56 Xans or Flintstone vitamins—there was always room for questions and doubt—but with Thug it’s different. These accounts are from onlookers who exist outside his orbit. They saw and heard first hand, bringing much to light and raising even more questions.
Young Thug Doesn’t Eat
Thug has the body of a string bean, thin and long. There’s a secret behind his skinny skeleton, a diet that even aspiring top models wouldn’t attempt. Vending machine hot fries is all Devin Friedman saw Thug eat during the few days that they spent together. Thug told him early on that he doesn’t like eating and goes days without food. The vitamin injections that he receives at his Buckhead mansion cover all the nutrients that aren’t being consumed through fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins.
In his Fader cover story, there’s a snack guy who brings junk food from the gas station. Funyuns are his chip of choice. While in Metro Boomin’s apartment, he is seen eating a bag of sour neon gummy worms, the snack of champions. Will Stephenson documents all the fast food boxes and candy wrappers that lay around, the kind of place you'd expect from a young producer living like a college student. He happened to be following Thug during cleaning day. Rip, Thug’s manager at the time, tells him, “Thug eats no real food.” This was two years ago, right before “Lifestyle” would blow, when he still had more rags than riches. Even though he brags about all the money he’s receiving now, Thug’s eating habits have gone unchanged. No steak and lobster on his plate. Who needs a balanced diet when you’re rich?
"Thug was at one end of the table, eating Hot Fries from a vending machine (only thing I ever saw him eat), wearing a Bathing Ape hoodie and holding upwards of $10,000 in twenties and hundreds. Offset, from Migos, was standing next to him holding a similar amount, his dreads gathered in three hair elastics like a tricorn hat." —GQ
In Love With Lady Luck
Gambling is a bug he caught early, at first as a means to buy the tight jeans that his dad refused to purchase. They didn’t have much, but he needed his own money to buy his own clothes and he got it through robbing and rolling dice. He confessed to Jon Caramanica from the The New York Times that he’d been caught with over 10 pairs of dice in school. The next sentence he claimed to have lost over $100,000 with LeBron James, with no further elaboration. He told Fader a story from his adolescent days of how a $5,000 nail salon robbery was gambled away the very next day. For a guy who came from nothing, he isn’t too worried about losing what he has gained.
The latest GQ profile really paints a picture of his love for risk and reward. Be EL Be, his creative director, is quoted saying, “There are two Thugs. One a rapper and one a gambler. This ain't Thug, it's Lil Jeff. I think he like shooting dice more than rapping. I saw him win a $100,000 watch a couple weeks ago. Lost all this money and then took it all and the watch, tricked them. He's slick. That's why they call him Slime.”
Gives new meaning to Slime Season.
His family is alarmed by his habits. Thug’s brother Bennie was killed in front of him over a gambling argument. It’s a bit surprising that such a traumatic event wouldn’t keep him away from Lady Luck. Thug is reportedly earning $50K a show and around that same price for features; that’s a lot of money to potentially throw away. His sisters are actively trying to keep the sharks away but Thug has been swimming in that water for too long to give up without one more roll. The best they can hope for is to keep him away from Vegas.
"Early the next morning, a friend who had heard about the previous night’s take came over and convinced Thug to go shoot dice in the neighborhood. They spent the day playing dice, and by midnight Thug had lost all the money he’d made and more. This was fairly typical. 'I done lost a million kazillion dollars gambling,' he says, spacing out for a moment before adding, 'My dad is a gambler.'" —Fader, 2013
Thug Puts Family First
While on Sway, Thug proudly announced that he bought homes and cars for all 10 of his siblings. He didn’t give out area codes or makes and models, but the gesture is an admirable one. Thug bought a mansion because of his love for the elevator. At first glance, it’s the kind of lavish purchase that is expected from a rapper on the cusp of wealth. Later in the interview, it’s revealed that Thug’s mom, Big Duck, has an enlarged heart and is unable to climb the stairs in the house he bought her so the elevator had a deeper meaning than a boast.
That’s Thug, the kind of guy who shows up to family dinner twice a week and drops off money. The kind of rapper who will give his sisters Dora and Dolly verses on his mixtape. Thug's sister, Amina, is his day-to-day manager. Most of his entourage and close circle consist of his immediate family. They’re in every interview, appear in his videos, are acknowledged constantly in his music. His love for and loyalty to them is unconditional. He is the breadwinner bringing in the big loaves for a family that isn’t used to much. He’s a long way from the poverty of South Atlanta but it’s hard to make the money and even more difficult to keep it. 10 siblings, 6 children, 2 parents, and 1 fiancee are all counting on him. So far, he seems to shoulder the pressure like Atlas holding up the clouds.
“I do it from the heart,” Young Thug says when speaking of giving back to his family. “I don’t do it for the fame. My mom got 11 kids. We struggled. But I [recently] bought everybody a car. I’m the type of person to put myself in everybody else’s shoes. If I was coming up and my sister had the money, I would want my sister to buy me a car. No matter what goes on, no matter if I go broke doing it. It’s hard for me to say, ‘No.’ —Rolling Out, 2015
What I found interesting about Thug's story is that his family seems worried about the gambling but not the drugs. Drugs are usually what causes an artist to self-destruct. They don’t seem alarmed that he lives in a fog of weed smoke, his cups are always doubled and dirty, pills are swallowed before hitting the stage, and his high never comes down. The vices are never far. Styrofoam cups are filled to the brim and blunts are in constant circulation. His indulgence seems to go beyond the idea of recreational. He’s a rockstar with a rockstar drug habit. He means it on “Stoner” when he said, “I feel like Fabo.” Maybe his disdain for food comes from the large consumption of Promethazine. I remember Wayne saying that the purple drank brings excruciating stomach pain. If Thug is suffering he hides it well. There's not a single detail of agony.
“Thug drinks prescription cough syrup all day, takes Xanax, smokes marijuana, eats molly. Sometimes he does all of them at once. He rarely sleeps. A former friend said Thug would stay up for days, take lots of different kinds of drugs, then sleep for 24 to 48 hours” - GQ 2016.
Next to family and drugs, guns are never far. When the backdoor is knocked upon during his Fader interview, two guys grab pistols and another holds a semi-automatic ready for whatever man or monster might come through that door. It was the snack guy, bringing the gift of junk food, but that level of alarm speaks volumes. That's nothing compared to the video that Thug did for mixtape kitchen, though. There are more guns in that video than a Noisey documentary on Atlanta. In his 2014 profile in Rolling Stone, a friend that visited the studio to play pool drops a handgun on the table during the game. There’s a bodyguard walking around with an assault rifle like he’s protecting Tony Montana. It could’ve been because of Birdman, during their shoot with Complex Birdman’s security arrived before them to case the place while “carrying guns with extended clips dangling from their waist.”
"A gigantic wad of cash rests in one of the small front pockets of his trousers, a silver handgun rests in the other. Dolly is braiding Thug’s peroxide dreads while he mixes a fresh batch of lean in two chilled plastic soda bottles, administering a fuchsia syrupy substance from a baby bottle into each. Two assault rifles rest on the sofa only inches away from Amina and the infant." —Dazed & Confused, 2015
When speaking on his arrest at the mall, when he threatened to shoot a mall cop, Thug told NYT, “I literally be walking in there with lean, gun in my pants. It’s no cops in there ever.” It’s possible there’s an AR-15 everywhere Thug goes. But why? How many enemies does one man have to justify carrying a gun into a shopping mall? If shopping for jeans in Macy’s can’t bring you peace of mind then nothing can.
Thug is no stranger to beef online, either. There have been several Instagram videos featuring shooters who have no problem flexing their machinery. His former road manager is currently in prison for shooting up Wayne’s tour bus. He told The Guardian that since he got a girlfriend there are fewer drugs, girls, and gangsters around. Maybe this is the beginning of a new leaf being turned or a temporary distraction.
"The next day around 2 p.m., Thug is hanging out in the studio's rec room/lounge with his girlfriend in one arm and a bag of Funyons in the other hand. He's in an entirely new outfit – gray long-sleeved shirt studded with colorful sequins, white Versace beanie – except for the socks, which are the same black ones with turquoise spots that he had on last night. Thug explains that he crashed at the studio, as he often does: "I never leave," he says in a thick, sedated-sounding drawl. "All day, every day, every second. Gotta keep the money coming in." —Rolling Stone, 2014
One of the most mystifying qualities about Young Thug is the sheer volume of music he’s released consistently since breaking out. He’s quick, lightning fast with recording, and able to complete several songs in one session. His engineer, Alex Tumay, has given several interviews explaining what it's like being in the studio with an artist that makes music with such an unconventional process. Birdman claimed that he has over 800 Rich Gang songs with Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan—over 100 of those songs were leaked last year.
Thug believes he can create a perfect song in 10 minutes. It only took him eight for “Danny Glover” and a little under an hour for “Stoner.” He’s a workaholic and a studio rat, but the space doubles as a safe haven of sorts. If he's in the studio, he isn't in any trouble. It’s been said that he raps instinctively, without pen or a pad, but Dun Deal, the producer who made “Stoner,” told Pitchfork about how he used to write music.
“The way he used to write his music was pretty crazy. He would just draw what he wanted to do on paper. That's how he used to record; he would draw, like, a picture." What kind of picture? "Weird signs and shapes," Deal says. "He'd be in the booth looking at the paper, and one day I went in there and looked at it and said, 'You didn't write any words down.' He looked at me and said: ‘I don't need no words.” —Pitchfork, 2015
It doesn’t get any more left field than that but I can clearly imagine Young Thug in the booth reading from a loose-leaf with words that no other human can understand.
“Whatever I think of, that’s what I do. I wake up and think, ‘I want to buy a car’, I buy a car. I wake up and be like, ‘I just want to lay in bed with my girl’, I do that. I wake up and want to rap, I rap. So whatever I think of. But really, I be on the money.” He turns to me. “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game. You know what I’m saying?” —Guardian
It’s in his first GQ profile that he’s asked about how dressing weird affected him in high school. Since he was 12, he wanted to have the look of a rockstar. Back then he got his jeans from the women's section; now almost his entire wardrobe consists of women's clothing. Internet trolls can do very little to someone who had to face the bullies and that's why he was also respected. He was gambling in the hood with women’s jeans on but he was always ready for a chance to prove himself. A 99% rockstar and a natural-born gangster is how he described himself.
That's Thug, though. A kid in the candy store who only wants to eat gummy bears, a rockstar on the verge of world domination and a gangster whose only fear is not seeing God when he dies with a mafia-esque loyalty to those he loves. In the recent GQ profile, he’s asked whether he would ever back down; the reply is no. Backing down is something he has never done. No matter the controversy, no matter the beef, Young Thug has never faltered or retreated. A former manager predicts that in 10 years, he will be dead or in jail. Thug foresees a future on top of the world.
The question is how long can he last? How long can he make it before he’s swallowed by the eroding world around him? Chaos only knows how to devour, destroy, and Thug is only getting bigger. Hopefully, he makes the right decisions to keep this rockstar party going, but he isn't the first rapper to stand at the crossroads between blowing up and implosion.
By Yoh, aka Lil Yoh From The 404, aka @Yoh31.