Young Thug was one of the last artists I discovered in 2015, making a huge impression as this year began, on constant rotation in my car on slow, snowy drives to work. His off-kilter brand of hypnagogic hip-hop clashed in an exquisitely weird manner with the frigid surroundings and I couldn’t get enough.
Now that summer’s ending and a chill threatens every night, he’s back with his best material yet. This time I was ready.
Just look at that cover art. As a friend on twitter said, Young Thug looks like a boss in a Final Fantasy game. Yes, he’s wearing a dress, and yes it’s some striking imagery. But what about the music?
I know very well that Young Thug is not for everyone, much less the hip-hop community at large. For such a progressive, constantly evolving genre, its most ardent fans are often nostalgic hardliners, demanding fealty to the canonical greats and throwing shade at any truly new developments. Young Thug doesn’t make music for those people.
His vocals are the biggest sticking point: a weird miasma of syllables and warbles wrapped in an effortless, often unintelligible flow. His raps treat the English language as a mere jumping off point for expressionist construction. Sure, you can parse the words out and follow a loose narrative, treating it like normal rap. But you’re not going to get all you can out of this music.
Instead, I appreciate Young Thug’s productions as holistic pieces, the vocals inseparable from the instrumentals. This is the kind of music to be fully absorbed in, losing all thought, vibing with the sound. It’s rap to get lost in, an alien language painted in rare stretches of the color spectrum. Approached with an open mind, it’s almost more akin to jazz or instrumental hip-hop than traditional notions of rap, and that’s okay.
The title No, My Name Is JEFFERY is a nod to the rapper’s real name, Jeffery Lamar Williams, and a sly acknowledgement that he’s getting more personal, supposedly, this time around. Along with the cover art, it shows his gregarious sense of humor and adventurous style. Williams isn’t trying to win over the old guard; instead he’s paving a new road for hip-hop’s future, one that can and will coexist perfectly fine with the myriad other fascinating, embryonic strains out there.
Compared to last year’s definitive Barter 6, a release that landed on my best albums of 2015 list, the sound here is stripped down to the essential elements, with more space, less guest appearances, and a deeper focus on what makes his weird style work. It’s probably the best thing he’s released so far.
Here’s the first track, Wyclef Jean:
Listen to the album on Spotify or purchase it digitally on any major platform.