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There are a lot of rappers like Young Thug, but there is only one Young Thug. There is no better evidence of this truth than the genre-bending, caterwauling Atlanta rapper’s official major-label debut, So Much Fun, which proves that no matter how many rappers are influenced by Thug’s experimental, avant-garde approach, they will never come close to being the original, one-and-only Young Thug.
Ever since his introduction to the world with the 2014 singles “Stoner” and “Danny Glover,” the eccentric, pitch-shifting hip-hop impressionist has entranced and mystified audiences with his convention-challenging antics and his bewildering, but catchy guest appearances on some of the hottest songs in music. While he slowly bubbled his way up from the underground with mixtape after mixtape, showcasing a work ethic and presentation influenced by his onetime hero Lil Wayne, he also ingratiated himself with the public — and, in some cases, alienated rap purists — with his over-the-top stunts and unusual, yowling take on trap music, becoming a pop culture icon along the way.
He’s as quick to start a genuinely dangerous rap beef with contemporaries like YFN Lucci — with whom he spent the weekend trading thinly-veiled threats and menacing gun talk — as he is to make Rap Twitter go haywire with his mixtape covers. In 2016, his Jeffery tape drew the ire of hip-hop conservatives whose minds were blown when Thugger appeared on the cover art in a samurai-inspired dress designed by Alessandro Trincone. Hip-hop’s fraught relationship with gender norms and toxic masculinity are well-documented; Thug’s open embrace of androgyny not only cemented his place in pop culture but also summed up his creative philosophy in one photo. He’s a rule-breaker, hell-bent on upending social norms as he establishes himself as one of rap’s most prominent cultural leaders.
Thug addresses the controversy on So Much Fun‘s “Just How It Is,” noting with one clipped bar: “Had to wear the dress ’cause I had a stick.” The line is a prime example of Young Thug’s style, revealing that his unusual sartorial selection hides the usual trap-related menace. That dress, which might lull you into a false sense of security, is just hiding Thug’s AK-47, which might blow you away. Non-sequiturs become profound explanations. Surreal, stream-of-consciousness musings take the place of introspection. Where rappers bragging about their sexual conquests is nothing new, Thug turns his sex boasts into eye-popping punchlines on the Southside-produced “Big Tipper.” Thugger has a weird sense of humor too — behold the song titled “Lil Baby” sequenced immediately after the song featuring Lil Baby.
The album’s features only highlight how influential Young Thug has become in his short time in the public eye. On “Surf,” “Bad Bad Bad,” “What’s The Move,” and “Big Tipper,” his guests — Gunna, Lil Baby, Lil Uzi Vert, and Lil Keed — all rap in variations of styles Thug originated. Each is his stylistic offspring, yet none save Uzi have ever innovated the way Thug does.
Their performances here define the shades of contrast between Thug and his successors. Lil Baby is nearly as lyrically dynamic but not quite as brilliant. Gunna utilizes a slippery flow like Thug but is more constrained and consistent. Lil Keed isn’t as bold, although at his young age he has time to grow into his rapper persona. Thug shines no matter who he raps alongside but is at his best when pitted against more established rappers whose styles offset his; 21 Savage, Future, J. Cole, and Quavo all stand out but also bring out the best in Thug.
Thug’s elastic flow is his best quality on So Much Fun, even allowing him to overcome the major flaw in most trap rap albums from the last year or so. Ordinarily, the repetitive, tinny beats provided by Quay Global, Wheezy, and other usual suspects of trap production would be boring and monotonous. Trap rap compilations can get stale quickly since not much complexity or creativity goes into the production. Each usually only has two or three layers of sounds outside the drums and bellowing bass, owing to the assembly-line style automation of their creation. Instead of a drawback, Thugger turns their simplicity into his greatest weapon. He’s able to stretch and twist his voice from a nasal mumble to a yodeling growl, using himself as the missing instrument and keeping the listener’s focus firmly on his vocal gymnastics.
So Much Fun is exactly what its title advertises. It’s not a debut album, insomuch as any rap album can be one in the modern age of streaming mixtapes, quick-release EPs, joint projects, and compilations. However, if you missed out on Jeffery and Barter 6 and Slime Season 3, it is a great place to start getting familiar with Young Thug’s music. While its musical palette is limited, Thugger is a colorful enough character on his own to turn the project into a vibrant, engaging work of art.
So Much Fun is out now via 300 Entertainment / Atlantic Recording Corporation. Get it here.
Young Thug is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.