Critical Voices: Young Thug, Jeffery

September 27, 2016

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

After the release of two mixtapes, a modeling gig with Calvin Klein alongside Frank Ocean, and features on Kanye West’s extremely popular The Life of Pablo, Young Thug has dropped his latest mixtape, Jeffery, released on September 16. Immediately evident about the work is Young Thug’s intention to take his music in a new direction, seen in the androgynous Alessandro Trincone outfit he sports on the cover, and the eccentric track titles he chooses. From “Wyclef Jean” to “Kanye West” and “Harambe,” Thug seems to have little to no intentions behind his naming of the songs aside from listing people who inspire him.

In the mixtape, Young Thug ventures into new sounds and develops the aspects of his music that have helped him establish his fanbase. He opens with “Wyclef Jean,” which builds on the Caribbean sound he began developing in his previous mixtape, Slime Season, with a simple guitar riff. The production behind the song is solid, with a hard-driving bassline that supports Young Thug’s lilted and at times indecipherable flow that he has become so associated with, and well accented by horns and his gleeful ad-libs that work as vocal accent marks. This verbal punctuation is replete throughout the mixtape, lending consistency between Young Thug’s earlier works and Jeffery.

Young Thug displays more varied emotional range through his ad-libs in this latest work, creating a more genuine and refreshing sound than he has produced since Barter 6 (2015). In “Floyd Mayweather,” Thug pulls in Travis Scott, Gucci Mane, and Gunna for six minutes of laidback trap. The song’s sparse instrumentals push the focus onto the vocalists, who resort to the usual stunting about women, drugs, and money that are comfortable themes for the four artists. Travis Scott’s fingerprints are all over the bassline and supporting vocals, and the rappers deftly trade off between verses, giving a dynamic feeling to the otherwise loose tone of the song. “Swizz Beatz” revisits the sounds in Slime Season 3 with Young Thug’s almost frantic flow, repetitious hook, and trap soul crooning. Dropping immediately into a quick beat and heavy bassline, “Future Swag” draws on the deep electronic production and drug-infused but melancholic style of its eponymous artist, while bringing Young Thug’s energetic and distinct voice to revive the somewhat played-out sound.

“Riri” and “Harambe” share well-developed production and beats that are expected from Thugger, and put the full range of his voice center stage. These songs push him into unexplored sounds which are at first somewhat grating, but prove to be some of the most catchy and memorable parts of the mixtape. In a more subdued turn, Thugger pulls in Quavo, Offset, and Young Scooter for “Guwop,” a pseudonym for Gucci Mane. The song takes a much more standard form, with the artists switching between each other in a more abrupt manner than was seen in “Floyd Mayweather” and with a chorus that is so recurrent that it feels tired by the end of the song’s five minutes.

Rappers commonly take a more reflective turn around this point in their career, usually turning from their braggadocio for a moment and focusing on the things that brought them their fame, and how their lives have changed since they got their start. “Webbie” begins like a standard Young Thug song, but takes a more personal tone as the song progresses, talking briefly about his experiences growing up in an impoverished neighborhood and the effects of gang life on himself and his friends. At the end of the song, a simple piano backs a short monologue from Young Thug himself, in which he candidly speaks on the simple beauty he has been able to find in his decidedly opulent lifestyle.

Young Thug returns to his Caribbean tone in “Kanye West” and creates another head-banging and energetic song. The standout moment of the song is when Wyclef Jean takes the mic and lends his serious Haitian chops to the song. In many ways, the track is a union of the new generation of music that Young Thug comfortably leads, with the traditionally recognized musical elite that Jean has ascended into.

Throughout Jeffery, Young Thug challenges traditional rap conventions by venturing into purely emotional ad-libbed expression and by balancing homage to his idols with his indomitable Young Thug style. He does a fantastic job of challenging the hypermasculinity and deeply entrenched stereotypes in the rap industry with his androgynous taste and unashamed acceptance of himself. Overall, Young Thug is able to stay true to the roots of his music that have brought him so much acclaim and a cult-like following, while bringing previously unexplored sounds, emotions, and ideas into his music.

Gustav Honl-Stuenkel
College class of 2020. Culture and music writer and peanut M&M fiend. Minneapolis native.


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