I’m not sure what to expect from Young Thug's new album Beautiful Thugger Girls and I’m even less certain of what I want. It’s an odd feeling to have expectations for the creative expressions of others since the genesis of another man's idea exists outside of our knowledge.
If we can’t know it, though, how can we judge it? I'm not trying to stop you—cause I’ll be judging it—but the question felt worth raising.
What we do know, however, is the past, which shows us that Young Thug likes to toy with categories of genre, language, and expression in ways that force us out of our “prickly” tendencies. It’s a beneficial service. It converted a rigid idealogue under the spell that rap had to sound like ‘x’ with ‘y’ rhyme scheme and ‘z’ subject matter. As if we can approach art the way we do algebra.
Thug's catalog is as diverse as the nihilistic R&B-esque Barter 6, the vocal experiment that was JEFFREY, and his fan-favorite Slime Season series, whose aesthetic holds so tightly to its name that it still causes my fingers to stick to the keyboard whenever I press play on the grimier cuts. If I had money to bet, it’s that Beautiful Thugger Girls will be more JEFFREY than Slime Season, but with hints of his darker moments. That being said, if Alex Tumay’s clues mean anything, this will be the “danciest” Thug album to date.
If indeed that is the route taken here, I hope it will bring Thug the crossover success he deserves. Regardless, it’s an opportunity to see the new ways in which Thug has decided to challenge his musicality in the nine months since his last release.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. “Family Don’t Matter” (ft. Millie Go Lightly)
Well, that opened in a sexually explicit manner. Some things never change. Smoking Backwoods? Someone tweeted that out today. Or perhaps I was mistaken. We get the “YEEHAW!” we’ve all been waiting for and that drop is punishing. I think I heard a WheezyBeatz tag. There’s still three minutes. Thug’s voice on the hook is softer than a double roll of Charmin Ultra. I wonder if Thug has ever listened to Gene Clark. If this first track is any indication, I may be in for a leaned-out No Other. Millie’s voice complements Thug's vocals nicely. I was curious what Thug's insiders meant by "a country song" and this mixture of trap elements with acoustics is more fitting than straight country. He knows his abilities and limitations. I'm glad that he’s willing to be more firm on genre here, it works in his favor.
2. “Tomorrow Til Infinity”
That opening synth is cold. He might be trying to make me eat my words about the minimal Slime Season aesthetic. He’s continuing to push the boundaries of what it means for something to be a word. After all, they’re (mostly) only sounds we arbitrarily decide to give a particular meaning to. Monoliths by nature will fade away and Thugger is expanding his language game with this add-on. I can identify with his desire for someone to “ride or die” til infinity. Kinda scary to think about. There's no time, though, the next track has already arrived.
3. “She Wanna Party”
More Millie, she opens the track this time. Again, a nice pairing. “Not a dentist, but I’m flossin,” it makes me happy that he reminds us all about our dental hygiene on a regular basis. You’re right, Thug—it is hard to see through someone’s body sometimes. Spirit may be stronger than flesh, but flesh is more visceral. “She Wanna Party” is the most “pop” track thus far. If Biebs decided to make this record, you’d hear it at every sorority function next semester. This light trap is what makes people think they’re “harder” than they are in reality. To be fair, though, Thug has conveyed the rough parts of his life elsewhere, so why not indulge? We all deserve a party.
4. “Daddy’s Birthday”
These are interesting titles. OMG IT’S THE SNIPPET FROM INSTAGRAM. By the way, we need to investigate why laymen can’t flex dance well. You won’t be able to find it because he’s been swiping his Insta lately, but rest assured you’ll never dance like that. Maybe it’s a net worth issue? If I ever find out, I’ll share. The final version sounds more “airy.” “Brand new Rarri, Smith and Wesson” will be the new rapper line I’ll parrot that has no correlation to anything in my life. Goddamn, he tapped into a vein on this track. I thought I’d hyped this snippet up in my head, but it’s my favorite record up to this point. There’s still ten tracks left, though. Slime Thugger is not present here. I was caught up in this song and now it’s over and I want it back.
5. “Do U Love Me”
London on Da Track meets Thugger has returned. Dancehall is a wave and London was surfing it when he produced this. Now that we’re here, it’s odd Thug hasn’t done much dancehall before this. Maybe this could be the crossover. Drake influence? So far, no lines are jarring in that unique Thug manner. Spoke too soon, he’s talking about STDs now. And shaving pubic hair. Eh, fuck it. I’m not playing this at my little sister’s graduation. I’m real curious what getting “thuggish and ruggy” means specifically in this context.
6. “Relationship” (ft. Future)
As soon as Future’s voice kicks in, you know this was recorded during HNDRXX sessions. He was in this vibe then. “You’re in a relationship with all of us,” Thug and Future have unorthodox takes on amorous relations. If I truly believe in freedom, with the caveat of consent, I have no quarrels. I’m glad their beef was either nonexistent or is squashed because their combination of vocal experimentation and futuristic engineering is the fresh sound that “trap” needs to stay alive and relevant. I put quotations around ‘trap’ because that term is loose when used to speak about this album. I’m not sure what type of instrument is playing those chords in the background, but it gives me the same feel of old Shawty Redd keys. But ones that have received the proper Pro Tools treatment. Damn, I know that sound at the very end but didn’t have time to put my finger on it.
7. “You Said”
More WheezyBeatz, good. Barter 6 was my introduction to Wheezy and this feels like an return to the source. The theologian Origen talked about this idea he called apokatastasis. In Greek, it means something like “return to the original condition” and was used to refer to his belief that all things would eventually be absorbed into the Divine, but he was careful about describing what that was/is/ought to be. Thug has a mini apokatastasis when he links up with Wheezy. Sounds like it’s a Barter 6 cut that would have had all the teens swooning if it was released at the height of “boyband” popularity. I need to know what all these producers have been listening to that put them in this mindset. “Squirting on the couch.” I’m not sure why I wrote that because my mother will read this, but I feel like it needs to be noted. The most visceral sexual euphemisms live on “You Said.” As it outros, it sounds like Brian McKnight passed on this instrumental.
8. “On Fire”
I know this is a Thug album, and I’m enjoying it, but I can’t get over Wheezy’s progression as a producer. I follow his Instagram stories and have seen him smoke many a Backwood, but never play his inspirations for us. P.S.A. WHEEZY WE WANT A PLAYLIST OF YOUR PERSONAL LISTENING. About halfway through, the track’s instrumental either gets louder or there’s a new sound introduced. It blends so well that I feel like I’m missing the point quarreling over specifics. Thugger is an intersection of Slime and sheen. He drinks lean and comes from the trap, but works with Calvin Klein. He smokes a blunt while he fixes a model’s clothes. That’s the relationship shown here on a micro level between his lyrical content and his instrumentals.
9. “Get High” (ft. Snoop Dogg & Lil Durk)
Young Chop and Snoop Dogg is a combo I never thought would happen. Trump is also the president soooooo. Soft keys, they remind me of the more contemplative church services as a child. There’s an innocence to the production until Thug talks about fellatio. He’s holding notes longer than I’ve heard before. Yeah, there are effects over it, but he’s got dexterity in the raw vocals. Snoop sounds smooth in the way your uncle teaches you the realest lessons, like smoking and talking shit. “Power preaches patience,” that will take time to unpack. Now Lil Durk has made his appearance. “I don’t fuck with vapors but I’m high.” Huh? That was the most confusing line on this project, and not in a good way. Snoop saying “this shit is a marathon” has multifarious applications.
10. “Feel It”
I’m suddenly aware of how peculiar these song titles are. It’s a phrase that encapsulates the ideas and nuance of a whole track. Deciding that is too much pressure for me. These keys are simple, but they remind me of relaxing video game menu music. Think Harvest Moon mixed with notes of Zelda. “I won’t feel it,” I’m assuming he’s referring to drugs and his increasing tolerance. A comment on what he views as abuse. I hope you’ve never been in a place to identify with this. “I swear to God she want a filet,” I hope I’m hearing that right. Maybe she wants the tenderness that comes with a sweet temperament instead of the toughness, but with the flavor of the ribeye. My steakhouse background is coloring this too much and I don’t like it.
11. “Me Or Us”
More country influences. Specifically, Norah Jones. Oooooh I like this beat. It feels right that I’m listening to this in the business center of my hotel in Oklahoma while traveling across the country. The intersection of art and appropriate place is a phenomenon I pray you experience. I watched the sun set in a wide open field today and I wish this song soundtracked that experience. The Grand Canyon is coming up, though, so hope is not yet lost. There’s a new light drum, or maybe a strong synth that comes in. Man, I wanted to see where that went, but the song’s ending.
12. “Oh Yeah”
Wheezy is deep in this album. [Editor's Note: He's one of three executive producers.] Thug’s first verse starts with incoherent mumbling, at least in my current normal state of consciousness. Still, I could listen to a short EP of him just crooning. “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,” I’m happy I’ve enjoyed this album. There are still a couple songs to go, but I genuinely believe I overhyped this in my head and can say I didn’t. I can see his growth with regards to instrumental exploration and comfort in his own skin. He’s no longer trying to make music in a specific formula. Those formulas have produced too many inferior clones. They sufficed in the weeks leading to this, but you can’t drink decaf forever.
13. “For Y’all” (ft. Jacquees)
Billboard hitmakers, “Harambe” creators are back. This has a more triumphant feel. I’m a sucker for horns in a song. He’s making “SpottieOttieDopalicious” proud with this instrumental. Noticeably a more “pop” presentation, though. “Make sure everybody flossin,” put Thug in health class videos and I would have brushed seven times a day. I know he’s probably not playing it, but I imagine Thug in a dark singer-songwriter bar with an acoustic guitar and a small MIDI keyboard playing these songs solo. If this happened and social media didn’t document it, then the Internet was for naught.
14. “Take Care”
We've arrived at the last track and it's a recycled title, kind of. Let’s see what kind of difference a change from ‘k’ to ‘c’ can make. Whoa. This sounds like a crossover record with an EDM DJ, and not the good kind. No hate to whoever produced this song, my disdain for EDM says nothing about my feelings toward it. This works with Thug’s voice. I might have been able to handle more of those Bonnaroo sets if Thug provided the vocals. The synths convey the chaos of Thugs lyrics, despite being objectively simple. It’s in the way they’re pitched. Okay, there’s a minute left and a build-up has begun. What’s going to happen? The culmination of the song, reconcile your issues. He tells us to “take care” as the song closes and it’s a fitting end. He knows I spent just shy of an hour trying to decipher the direction he wants to go sonically and confidently declares that I don’t know shit about the music I’m trying to get paid to think about.
I’m sitting in silence trying to comprehend what I heard.
It’s a positive reflection, though, the kind you have laying in bed after a killer set. You want to replay the whole thing, pick out the high points, and construct a nuanced interpretation of it, but the curious way our memory filters past events impedes your wishes.
I wish I could go back and cross out my assumptions about the album's sonic identity. Sure, there were elements of past projects, but to classify this in the same vein as anything he’s released is as egregious as some of those XXL Freshman picks.
If you’re not a Young Thug fan, you won’t like Beautiful Thugger Girls, but then I’m not sure why you’re reading this review. He saw his fans appreciating his wild experiments and wanted to flex his alchemical skills. I’m glad I have over 24 more hours of driving to process this album and what it means for rap in 2017.
It will take much longer, but the hardest part of a goal is generating momentum immediately after the inception.
All I can say to close is, “YEEHAW!”