What is Young Thug all about? To understand the trapper’s dominance and influence on the music industry – whose career reached its zenith in the years 2015, 2016 and 2017 – one has to look at the very turbulent Zone 3 from where he hails. The Silicon Valley of trap, this southern district of Atlanta has given birth to names like 2 Chainz, Rich the Kid, and Ludacris. This zone (so named in accordance with the divisions of Atlanta’s municipal police departments) has long been considered the most abundant hood for finding new trap talent. Future and his label Freebandz, as well as Gucci Mane’s Brick Squad are regularly found there looking for new artists to sign.
Young Thug’s first contract was drawn up in a strange transaction with Gucci, the details of which only the trap houses of the Southern ATL are party to. Initially, Gucci was going to sign another Zone 3 rapper, Peewee Longway. Peewee - he would join the 1017 Records team sometime later on - would decline the $25,000 offered by Brick Squad’s boss and instead make way for the label to sign a kid with a snake-like body, a face full of piercings, and with a nasal, strangely high-pitched voice: Jeffery ‘Young Thug’ Lamar Williams. Gucci has a nose for these things: the three volumes of his 1017 Thug mixtapes with the now cult sung parts – stemming straight from his admiration for Lil Wayne – his sense of improvisation and his swagger, supported by the best producers in the South from Metro Boomin’ to members of the 808 Mafia, Young Thug established himself in Atlanta and beyond. Slime Season 3 placed him on the throne, and the Jeffery mixtape (which has all the qualities of an album) saw him crowned king of the South. This crowning would pave the way for a number of transformations.
Beyond his musical brilliance with atypical physique – a 1m90 tall, tattooed, braided hair – amplified by off-centre clothing habits that break trap’s usual codes (he can sometime be seen wearing skirts) he would open the floodgates for a new scene, much like Andre 3000 and Kanye West before him. Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby and more recently Roddy Rich all rushed into the space he created. If Travis Scott is well known today, it’s thanks to the fact he featured on the track “Pick Up The Phone”, released in 2017. That same year Young Thug had already released more than twenty mixtapes, projects and EP’s. He’d just turned twenty-six.
Avant-garde and disruptive, Young Thug and Travis Scott did well to find each other. ‘He is one of the only ones who understands me. We’re identical. There’s a connection between us’, coos Thug. A man of paradoxes, he has both feet firmly planted on the ground, as well as having indisputable street cred. He calls his mates ‘bae’, ‘hubby’, ‘lover’; wears UGG boots; he’s hard-hearted, hot-blooded, and never goes out without an AR-15 under his arm. He appeals to everyone – hooligans, the shy and retiring, the mainstream, the underground, Gucci Mane, Drake, Elton John, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Kaaris, and Booba. His ambiguity is his marketing strength. A fascinating mix.
A shape-shifter, a strange beast in UGGs, the virtuoso hypnotised an international audience. As early as 2015, Sir Elton John confessed his love for Thugga’s music. In Canada, he fascinated Drake. In Japan, he captivated the Tokyo rapper Kohh, and exerts a heavy influence on members of Bad Hop, a trap collective from the Kawasaki industrial zone. In France, Vald and big underground influencers like Alkpote never stop going on about their obsession for Young Thug’s genius in interviews and on social media. In Belgium, it’s hard to imagine the rise of Hamza without the legacy of this Atlanta chameleon.
From contractual difficulties to a couple of arrests, sometimes out of control drug use and leaks, Thug’s artistic direction became, from 2018 onwards, more erratic, and less arresting and visionary. Whilst his fanbase has remained solid, the general public has found it harder to stick with him. However, Thugger’s second studio album has been announced for… soon. It will be called Punk.