I color inside the lines. It’s the way I was taught, the way I followed. Young Thug is the kid in school who was defiant, who refused to color within the lines, who would paint the skies orange, oceans purple, the faces of men and women a rainbow of primary colors. He’s the kid that challenges the idea of correct, he cares about defiance and creating chaos. It’s now been three months since my first listen to Barter 6, more than enough time to become accustomed, but chaos is still the first word that comes to mind. The album just sounds like rules being broken, laws being pummeled, an audio diary of a destroyer of traditional structure.
Young Thug took some of the worse Lil Wayne qualities, when he was at his most inebriated and unintelligible, and morphed them into a sound that can hardly be defined. He represents how influence and idol worship can birth originality, even if it’s a mutated hybrid style that’s almost unbearably unorthodox. For example, “Can’t Tell” begins with an awkward groan before he displays the energetic zest that made T.I.’s “About The Money” into a street anthem. The hook and the addition of T.I. and Boosie made this an early favorite but it’s Thug’s verse that I found perplexing. He displays the eccentric, offbeat rapper that I have trouble labeling. He can switch from intelligible rapping that’s pseudo-broken English, to crooning, to a gargle, and then make sounds that I’m certain aren’t from this planet, all in a single verse. He’s so strange that it’s engrossing, a level of weird that creates its own charisma. “Check” is another strong record, fun and catchy enough to soar up charts while still containing the kind of wordplay only an oddity like Thug would think to record.
The energy that Thug exudes is what keeps the album entertaining. He’s a lot of things, boring isn’t one. I love his enthusiasm but it's numbing trying to decipher the cryptic, tongue-twisting lyricism, especially since he switches tones and flows more than Birdman gets sued in a year. He reminds me of the graffiti artist David Choe. Choe is notorious for creating images that are peculiar, in the realm of splatter painting, his art is like viewing the intricate beauty of chaos. That’s Young Thug, his rapping on songs like “Dome,” “Numbers” and “Halftime” are jumbled and cluttered, chaotic and messy, without focus or formula, and yet somehow they work. Production is a huge reason why he’s able to wreak havoc on the English language and retain some appeal. Each beat hits with the strength of a drunken dwarf swinging his axe. The instrumentals aren’t intricate, constructed to simply hit hard, drums explode, the basslines are drenched in the same syrup he boasts about drinking, and his off-key, high pitched voice doesn’t overwhelm the beats but works in a strange unison adding the extra color that brings it all to life. While London On da Track laid a solid foundation for Thug, the lack of Metro Boomin is disappointing. Two of the most esteemed Thug performances, “Blanguage” and “Skyfall” are produced by Metro, for him not to appear on Thug’s biggest project thus far is criminal.
I enjoy Thug most in small doses, even though 13 tracks aren’t many, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. His voice is both a strength and weakness. At times I can enjoy his uniqueness and there’s others where I’ll relate it to a dog whistle for human eardrums. If he just rapped it would be easier to endure but all the singing and crooning is enough to stop the album mid-listen. He also lacks any substance, there’s only one song where he gets reflective, “OD.” It’s eerie to hear him admit a problem with drugs, a big enough issue where overdosing is a fear. Of course he compiles the statement around a bunch of other thoughts in a stream of consciousness. It’s difficult to grasp the man from the persona.
Overall, the album suffers from being in a field much more left than I care to indulge in. To simply label the album as garbage would be an injustice, but hailing it as good or grand would result in lightning falling from the skies as punishment for exclaiming such a lie. At times it sounds terrible, than other times it’s tolerable, and there’s moments where Thugger is simply transfixing. Definitely an acquired taste, for listeners that enjoy a hip-hop artist born in a different spectrum. It’s unlikely that I’ll return to the album after today, there’s a few songs worth revisiting, but mostly I walk away with an appreciation for Thug’s madness but understanding he’s not the kind of artist that I found compelling for longer than it takes to warm a Hot Pocket. If he would stop creating music in bulk like a 2007 Wayne and apply a bit of discipline, his promise would shine brighter, but that wouldn’t be Thug. To apply any structure or rules to his creativity would be no different than attempting to tame chaos. Chaos can’t be tame, the Barter 6 is 13 songs of him announcing this to the world.
Thugger is in this weird place, where Rich Gang is disbanded, Birdman has brought him into a beef with his hero, and the pressure is on to make music that can outshine all the tabloids and controversy. The Barter 6 doesn’t contain that music, it isn’t strong enough to solidify Young Thug as the heir to any thrones, definitely not the kind of project that could continue the legacy of Wayne’s Carter series, especially considering the album’s remarkably low sales. He has a lot of growing to do before stepping into the shoes of Dwayne Carter, if he doesn’t attempt to 187 his idol first.
Can Young Thug ever truly be bigger than the headlines and memes? Is he just a momentary event that will be forgotten in a few summers? He is unique, the kind of oddity that can exist in a world where Lil B is on ESPN for cursing basketball players and Future has the number one album in the country. Hunter S. Thompson famously once said, “It never got weird enough” but he never met Young Thug. It’s a great time to be weird. Who knows, love him or hate him, maybe one day his art will be in galleries next to Picasso and all the other artists who refused to color in the lines.
[By Yoh, aka Hunter S. Yohmpson, aka @Yoh31]