“The only way you're ever gonna be anything in this industry is if you make yourself sound like Thug. If you’re trash and you don’t sound like Thug, just sound like Thug.” —Trippie Redd
An artist's newfound success typically triggers widespread mimicry. Chunks of “Next Up” playlists quickly become aural embodiments of Spiderman memes, with upstarts sounding practically identical to well-known and established artists. A few acts who follow the formula break through the cracks, and then it’s on to the next wave.
In 2018, Lil Baby and Gunna rose victorious as two of rap’s most prominent newcomers, and having just released the star-studded mixtape Long Live Mexico, Lil Keed is set to follow suit this year. All hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, the three artists share a familiar affiliate and influence: Young Thug. Whether they channel the ardent melodies of JEFFERY or the unconventional grit of Slime Season 2, each of these artists—and many of their contemporaries—adopts a sound characterized through the lens of Thugger’s discography.
Across hip-hop's current soundscape, we can hear Thug’s trademark vocal manipulation, screeching delivery, and syllabic acrobatics—from Roddy Ricch’s “Every Season” to NoCap’s “No Jewelry”—which makes Trippie Redd’s hot take on the permeation of Thug’s style both accurate and fascinating.
Young Thug is a critically acclaimed artist and beloved hip-hop icon, but, nearly a decade into his career, he has never been a juggernaut on the charts. None of his seven solo projects released since 2016 have risen above No. 7 on the Billboard 200, and none of his singles as the lead artist have cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.
At 27, Thug is no longer the shiny new object in the store window, so for the recent wave of emerging talent to gravitate so heavily to his sound is peculiar. On paper, the imitation should be entirely against their best interests, but that hasn't stopped countless artists from navigating through Thug's particular brand of slime. In less than five years, Thug’s position has shifted from potential genre-bending popstar to cultural phenomenon and immense influence.
“There’s no box. He’s all over the place. To do those things he does, you have to have big fuckin’ balls. It’s almost harder than the guy who’s portraying hard, you know? It’s kind of mind-fucking people. It’s saying, ‘Don’t get too comfortable with me.’” —Andre 3000, Complex Interview
Slime, the viscous goop Jeffery is synonymous with, is a sticky shapeshifting substance known for elasticity that, whether by design or pure luck, shares several attributes with his catalog. The stark contrast of Beautiful Thugger Girls and Young Martha, which were released just two months apart, epitomizes Thug’s tendency to morph from one style to the next on a whim. In a 2017 interview with Complex, the genre-fluid Three Stacks noted the ability of his fellow ATLien to amalgamize, citing Thug's "big fuckin' balls." Spot on analysis.
André 3000 is far from the only established name to offer a polite expression of admiration, with both Drake and Lil Uzi Vert incorporating Thuggerisms into their material. On “Mob Ties,” Drake taps into Thug’s flow, ad lib reserve, and vocal styling, especially on the first verse where he raps, “GLE, ‘cause that Lambo movin’ fast (skrr) / S-Class, G-Class, lotta class (sss, sss).” Much of Uzi’s work contains similar components as well. The pitched up vocals on the “WDYW” hook mirrors Thug’s shrieking vocal patterns, and “No Wait,” from the beat selection to the flow, sounds like it could be a Slime Season 2 outtake.
Somewhat akin to how a soul sample repurposes familiar melodies or production to enrich a song, these Thuggerisms are hints of elements that are characteristic of the rapper, repackaged by another artist. Hence, why everyone "sounds like Thug."
But that’s the fucking anomaly—because Thug has established such an expansive style, those inspired by him have been able to latch onto various facets of his sound and mold them into something else entirely.
Sure, instances such as Lil Baby’s hook for “My Dawg,” the almost indiscernible Gunna feature on “Tomorrow Til Infinity” and the Beautiful Thugger Girls-esque “horses in the back” line on “Old Town Road” bear extreme resemblance to Young Thug, and the untrained ear wouldn’t be amiss to assume they were the same person. However, as each of these artists has grown, they found their niche and procured a sound of their own, as evidenced by Lil Baby’s “Out The Mud,” Gunna’s “Who You Foolin” or Lil Nas X’s “Rodeo.”
Unfortunately, no matter how stretchable it is, slime eventually snaps. Since releasing the monumental Barter 6, the Cleveland Avenue native has since manufactured more solo projects than Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole combined, which points more toward a lack of material longevity than it does his ravenous work ethic.
While it is an impressive feat to release projects at nearly the same rate as Future, Thug’s releases don’t perform as well, commercially. A cynic might cite these numbers as the reason for the outrageously long hold up of his official debut, and the mixed reception to 2018 releases Hear No Evil, Slime Language, and On the Rvn, but suggesting Young Thug is past his prime doesn’t matter because his sound isn’t.
Despite rapid artist discovery plaguing the streaming era, the spread of slime continues. Young Thug can arguably take credit for inspiring or breaking at least one XXL freshman every year since 2016:
- Lil Uzi Vert built a style around some of Thug’s best qualities and was predominantly featured on the intro to Slime Season 2 the year before his freshman cover (2016).
- Playboi Carti, who has leaned into Thug's lingo and tonal experimentation since 2018’s Die Lit, graced the cover in 2017, but the slatts riddled his eponymous debut commercial mixtape, released that April.
- Trippie Redd, who earned a spot on the cover in 2018, exhibits Thug's howling melodies, which are refined derivatives of his tonal inflections on Slime Season and Barter 6.
- Gunna, as the first signee to Thug’s YSL Records, landed on the cover earlier this month. Kindred spirits and frequent collaborators, Thug has been an integral part of Gunna’s success.
Contrary to his infamous interactions with his idol Lil Wayne, Thug refuses to shun those who embrace his style. Instead, he shows love, often helping to propel their careers through collaboration. Recent examples include features on Calboy’s “Chariot” and Trapboy Freddy’s “Smoke.” That authenticity has undoubtedly led artists to channel their inner Thugger without being fearful of being written off as imposters by their role model.
"[Young Thug] let me be myself. He don’t really try to critique or criticize what I say or do. He really just tries to enhance whatever I’m working with.” —Gunna, The FADER Interview
Any successful artist can inspire tasteless mimicry, but only genuinely influential artists can inspire an entire generation. Whether or not we understand any of the words coming from Young Thug's mouth doesn't matter much—a hoard of emerging talent has heard him loud and clear. Until further notice, Slime Season is still in full effect.