The ability for an artist to continually reinvent themselves is not a skill that should be disregarded nonchalantly. For a musician to be able to rework their persona upon the release of new material can prove to be a highly rewarding strength for both the artist themselves and their following, constantly allowing the musician to express themselves in completely different fashions or explore entirely new artistic avenues, whilst their fanbase has the benefit of witnessing them grow and mature as a writer and performer. It’s no mystery, therefore, why an artist such as David Bowie has left such a significant stamp on music history and why his legacy continues to inspire and guide artists from across the musical map to this day, with the late pop eccentric essentially being the monolith of artistic reinvention in the world of music, and the barometer by which other musicians who seek to relentlessly revamp their image are measured. Case in point, Jeffrey Lamar Williams, who has been recording under the alias of Young Thug for the best part of the current decade, has found himself being compared to the likes of Bowie, courtesy not just of his gender-defying sense of glamour, but also due to his recent tendency to alter his artistic identity. Oddly enough, however, looking back on the slew of mixtapes that Williams has dropped up until this point, much of them, if anything, are bogged down by a complete lack of artistic evolution, with most of his projects following trap conventions to the letter, whilst the only vaguely distinctive aspect of Young Thug’s identity that could have been said to make him stand out was the unintelligible yelps and whines that comprised his semi-rapped, semi-sung vocal style, which I personally still maintain is not as unique as many make it out to be. The MC’s breakout commercial mixtape from 2015, Barter 6, was packed to the brim with syrupy, Southern-fried flows, mind-numbingly vapid lyrics and inconspicuous trap beats, with the rapper’s subsequent series of three projects, all entitled Slime Season, and his I’m Up mixtape scoring him a streak of redundancy, with seemingly no attempts being made to progress his stylings in any way, shape or form. Then, however, came Young Thug’s third release from last year, JEFFERY, whose artwork alone managed to nearly break the Internet, donning a photo of the MC in a bizarre, androgynous dress. Musically, too, the mixtape marked a very different approach for Williams, with the rapper applying his freakish vocal style to poppier, sunnier instrumentals that, for once, developed Young Thug’s definitive artistic identity past the point of simply being known for a goofy delivery. Although held back by many of the same songwriting shortfalls that have continuously cropped up on his past output, JEFFREY nevertheless reached dynamic heights that I thought Young Thug was incapable of achieving, and showed signs of the musician potentially striving to continue to reinvent himself on future releases, with his latest mixtape, Beautiful Thugger Girls, reinforcing this speculation. Essentially, Beautiful Thugger Girls is being presented as a crossover for Young Thug into the realm of country rap, with the depiction of the MC holding an acoustic guitar on the cover being an apt reflection of the tone assumed by a handful of the instrumentals to appear on this mixtape. However, the fact that Williams is holding said guitar upside down seems to also be an indication of the underwhelming level of expertise that the rapper brings into this project, with Beautiful Thugger Girls arguably marking somewhat of a one-eighty for Young Thug in terms of quality and innovation. Many of the most mediocre and dispensable aspects of his artistry have returned, with the only difference this time around being that an acoustic guitar occasionally pop ups to support the musician’s contorted caterwauls. Although Young Thug’s latest project is by no means his most underwhelming, following the promising pinnacle of his artistry that arrived on JEFFREY, Beautiful Thugger Girls unequivocally comes across as a squandered opportunity for the MC to continue expanding his artistic identity.
As is the case with any Young Thug mixtape, the main focus of Beautiful Thugger Girls is on Young Thug himself. It’s at this point that providing an impartial opinion on a project from the rapper becomes somewhat hard to order in a fair fashion, as Williams’ vocal style is so scattershot and idiosyncratic at times that passing comment on it requires an understanding of where the artist is coming from, and that’s something that only he truly knows himself. Of course, with Young Thug having garnered a hefty fan following that praises his supposedly quirky style of rapping and singing, there is clearly an appeal to his admittedly aberrant attitude on the mic, even if this is very much an acquired taste. In this sense, on paper, I personally would be very receptive of such a vocal style, as I enjoy similarly schizophrenic performances from the likes of Oxbow‘s Eugene Robinson, Mike Patton or, if we’re talking specifically about hip hop artists, the wild and wacky deliveries incorporated by Digibro into his rap projects under the pseudonym of Trial of the Golden Witch. My reservations for Young Thug in particular, therefore, stem not from his tendency to whine and wail through a track, but more specifically from his presence as a performer. Whilst I tend to give many trap rappers a pass when it comes to their propensity for penning mindless lyrics, given that trap is a genre more based around a general mood or aesthetic than any artistic depth, I would be hard-pressed to do the exact same for Young Thug. Undoubtedly, I’m more than willing to overlook his brainless bars for the most part, but then again, with his kooky vocal style bringing so much attention to what he’s saying, it can be hard to ignore the vapidity and whiffs of stupidity of his lyrics even if one wanted to. Plus, as opposed to many of his contemporaries, whose verses tend to be lacking in substance rather than being outright bad, Williams, on the other hand, seldom settles for simply penning meaningless rhymes about typical trap topics, rather he goes above and beyond when it comes to exhausting clichés with some especially egregious lyrics that are only highlighted by the prominence of his unusual vocal style. Whilst songs such as She Wanna Party and Daddy’s Birthday are no more or less generic than one would expect of an MC cut from the same cloth as Young Thug, other cuts are genuinely baffling in their nonsensical nature. This is undoubtedly most prominent on Me Or Us, wherein the rapper seems to be attempting to feign emotional depth, despite his hook consisting of illogical questions like, “Who you wanna fuck every night, me or us?”, but there are numerous other instances of Williams’ lyrics being so asinine and juvenile that it’s hard to take the track seriously as a result. Most notably, on songs such as Do U Love Me and You Said, the rapper’s attempts at being seductive in his language amount to the same level of mutual gratification that could be expected from an average man who harasses women on the street, with his sexy talk being so focussed on his own pleasure that it’s difficult to imagine any girl finding his limited vocabulary on the subject at all arousing.
Once again, however, for the most part, I’m willing to take no notice of Young Thug’s poor lyric-writing abilities when he isn’t shoving them in my face, but my other main issue with his presence as a performer is that, for as peculiar as his vocal style is, the MC seldom makes the most of it. Employing such an outlandish approach towards rapping and singing unquestionably leaves a lot of potential for what can be done with this style, but this is not something that Williams takes advantage of, rather his nasal yelping soon loses flavour when the musician does so little with it to return any especially potent results on an emotional or artistic level. Much of the time, it seems as if Young Thug adopts this vocal style simply for seeming strange and eccentric, without necessarily doing anything interesting with it, such as contorting his voice to suit the emotional tone of a track. Instead, whether he be attempting to really pull out his emotions, as he raps about his relationship with one of his children on Oh Yeah, or rattling through your usual trap brand braggadocio relating to women, drugs and guns on Family Don’t Matter, the fact that Williams does little to nothing to alter his delivery leaves his vocal style, as quirky as it may be, feeling one-dimensional and oddly monotonous by the end of a full-length project. Indeed, there’s more to coming off as a true eccentric than singing with a somewhat silly voice, and many of the zaniest vocalists have followed through their grotesque singing styles with a defined sense of purpose as to why such a style works to their advantage as an artist, which is something that I would be hard-pressed to say about Young Thug. What’s more, of the bevy of guest artists that the rapper brings in for assistance on Beautiful Thugger Girls, few of them could be said to complement his vocal style, or vice versa. Despite Snoop Dogg‘s performance on Get High being amongst his better features in recent memory, with the iconic gangsta rapper interpolating some well-worked whiffs of melody into his flow, his deep, uber-mellow inflection comes as an almost jarring change of pace following Young Thug’s usual whining, even if he does seem to tone it down ever so slightly. In a very different manner, Future’s appearance on Relationship could only really be said to complement Williams’ singing in the sense that Young Thug comes off far better when placed next to the off-key, auto-tuned moaning from his fellow Atlanta rapper, whose second project from this year, HNDRXX, already proved him to not be the most adept at singing, to say the least. All in all, despite Young Thug’s key point of distinction from his contemporaries being his somewhat peculiar vocal style, it’s not something that the MC takes full advantage of and, at the worst of times, it could even be said to work against him by drawing attention to his weak lyricism and leaving his levels of compatibility with certain guests rather low.
On a stylistic basis, there is certainly much to be admired in the direction pursued by Young Thug on at least a portion of Beautiful Thugger Girls. Although country rap is by no means a new concept, not even for a mainstream artist, the fact that Williams is at least continuing to attempt to branch out into new territory and strive for growth as an artist is respectable. Then again, this newfound stylistic purpose takes up such a small portion of the record when compared to Young Thug’s typical banalities and the handful of new clichés that the rapper picks up across the album that it’s difficult to praise the execution of this direction as much as one may feel inclined to in principle. Firstly, although the supposed appropriation of country sensibilities on Beautiful Thugger Girls amounts mainly to simply incorporating acoustic guitars into many of the instrumentals across the album, rather than actually integrating stylistic principles associated with the genre into these songs, there are nevertheless instances in which it seems as if this could have been done to good effect if Young Thug was willing to truly follow through with this concept. For the points across Family Don’t Matter wherein the acoustic guitars are actually audible and not being drowned out by a rudimentary trap beat, it becomes apparent that the bright timbre of the guitars plays quite nicely against the tone of Williams’ voice, to the point that it’s a shame that the track fails to completely commit itself to the country rap concept, as it would have been interesting to have heard some interplay between the MC’s vocal melodies and some guitar parts that expanded beyond simple strumming. Instead, however, most of the other appearances from acoustic guitars on the album are inhibited from having any exceptional impact due to some poor production choices. This is most notably the case on For Y’all, wherein the guitars are horribly overly-sanitised, as are the horns that dominate much of the cut, whilst the rest of the instrumental is cluttered with backing vocals that are drowned in overblown effects, a thumping 808 kick drum that’s pushed far too close to the front of the mix and one of Young Thug’s least inspired performances on the entire record. For the tracks across Beautiful Thugger Girls that don’t strive for any country rap gimmick, most of them tend to simply stick to a relatively derivative brand of pop rap and trap, and the fact that none other than Drake is listed as one of the album’s executive producers likely had no small part in influencing this direction. In fact, the Canadian artist’s impact on Beautiful Thugger Girls becomes laughably obvious on Do U Love Me, which stands as yet another shallow attempt at riding on the coattails of the dancehall pop zeitgeist led by Drake and his lackeys. Outside of a handful of examples, however, very few of the instrumentals featured throughout the tracklisting stand out for any particular reason, whether that be good or bad. Instead, with many of them simply toeing the trap and pop rap line, Beautiful Thugger Girls witnesses Young Thug stray dangerously close to the levels of redundancy marked by his earlier material.
Although far from perfect, JEFFREY marked such a refreshing change of pace for Young Thug, and began to genuinely put to work the promise that he displayed up until the point of its release, that to see the MC make such a half-baked attempt at a different direction on Beautiful Thugger Girls is all the more disappointing. As has unfortunately been the case with so many of Young Thug’s mixtapes, the only vaguely singular characteristic of the rapper’s latest project is his vocal abilities, and even in this regard, Williams could take advantage of this quirk far more than he does here. For the most part, however, Beautiful Thugger Girls is by no means a bad project, rather it seldom achieves anything more than the degree of mediocrity for which Young Thug has settled for most of his career, as if he’s a student who’s simply putting in enough effort to pass his classes, without putting in any of the extra work that could truly make him stand out from his peers. Indeed, despite having the potential to reinvent himself into whatever he wants, Young Thug unfortunately remains unwilling to capitalise on these prospects.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5/10