In a rapid-fire bout of creativity, vocalist Jeffrey Lamar Williams, known onstage as Young Thug, has capped off a series of mixtapes with last week’s “Slime Season 3.” With three numerical installments and the intermission EP “I’m Up,” Thug is preparing for a 2016 tour of the United States with additional stops in Western Europe. While the release of a polished studio debut album is rumored to coincide with this tour, waiting fans have a profusion of material to sift through with his off-kilter take on Atlanta trap rap.
Thugger, as his fans call him, has many one-offs and collaborations that have been leaked through the Internet since the release of “Barter 6” last April, appearing on filesharing sites like MediaFire and Dropbox. Consolidating such an expansive collection of songs, demo and experiments into a series of mixtapes allows for a more organized way for fans to hear these tracks as opposed to receiving several .zip files from the Internet that may be misnamed or even missing some of a track’s runtime.
Thugger teased at “Slime Season 3” when he released the single, “With Them” at Kanye West’s Yeezy Season 3 fashion and music event back on Feb. 11, and then the two singles “Digits” and “Problem,” which both appeared on Beats 1 radio on March 24. The instrumentation on this mixtape is sparse, as these straightforward eight cuts contain simple synthesizer melodies that are bolstered by warm 808 sub-bass lines overdubbed with punchy kick drums. Here, the production team built minimal compositions as a platform for Thug’s vocal acrobatics.
For example, the frantic adlibbed yelps on “Memo” are interpolated by Thug’s calmly sung refrain, and these serve as a solid foreground for the auto-tuned verses. Here, Thugger’s voice spirals skyward, only to explore a sweeter low registry later in the song. The constant contrast created through his lead melody in conjunction with his backing vocals is effectively disorienting, grounded by London on da Track’s production.
With a delivery that incorporates a Lil Wayne rasp into Danny Brown histrionics, Thug’s spastic approach to the human voice is the greatest asset in his music. Using his precise ear for melody and a fantastic control of pitch, his singsong style of rapping pivots around stream-of-conscious lyricism. Lines about girls that “play more games than the NBA” from “With Them” or the drawn-out refrain of “ten racks” from “Tattoos” move “Slime Season 3” away from an in-depth prose and toward an overall sound.
While Thugger has displayed poignant lyricism on tracks like “I’m Up’s” touching “F Cancer,” his difficult diction lends his voice to becoming more of an instrumental component of his music with his melodies driving the majority of his songs. This elicits an onslaught of comparisons to trap crooner Future, or Swedish producer and emcee Yung Lean, given that the production and composition on a Thug song takes precedence over a singular lyrical narrative.
This is unlike the birth of trap rap, an aural document of the “trap,” which literally refers to lifestyles of crime as told by many American musicians from the south in the 2000s. Atlanta emcee T.I. first coined the term for the genre with his 2003 album, “Trap Muzik,” and his gruesome retellings of urban decay were followed by emcees like Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti. The result was the blossoming of a murky hip hop sound with grim tales told over thudding 808s and rattling hi-hats, sonically similar to Thug, but with a focus on lyrics over beats.
As an Atlanta native, Thugger’s music is especially close to this lineage, but he continually proves to be more than just a carbon copy of its emcees. Thugger’s absurdity sets him apart from the grit of many of his contemporaries, like with 2011 song, “Haiti Slang,” where his rapped verses forgo discernable words in favor of extreme consonance, or the 2014 song “Bricks” that opens up with a sample from children’s show “The Wonder Pets.” Thugger’s catalog is consistently inconsistent, as putting one of his tapes on shuffle can lead to anything from the oversaturated guitars on “Should I” to the smoothly-sang R&B harmonies on “Amazing.”
The diversity of such a discography precludes any expectations for what “HiTunes,” his incoming studio release, will sound like. While his latest mixtape, “Slime Season 3,” is effective through its contrast of Thug’s haptic vocal lines over its sparse instrumentals, Thugger is not always at a song’s forefront. As featured on Jamie xx’s “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” and Kanye West’s “Highlights,” Thugger’s sweet singing is ample competition for his rapping skills.
While fans can currently buy tickets with the certainty of seeing him perform, Young Thug’s unpredictability remains intact. His album’s release date, what to expect from his shows, and where he plans on taking his music are well past guessing. Thugger is a musician constantly evolving, and this is best demonstrated through one of his lines on “F Cancer,” where he sings, “My life a video, Imma let you caption it.”
Jeffrey Holmes is a fourth-year student majoring in philosophy. They can be reached at JH791223@wcupa.edu