The moments that act as the best summarizers of Young Thug’s sophomore effort, Punk, come at both the very beginning of the album and the very end. The first ten seconds of the track “Die Slow” tell a very different story than the first ten seconds of all of his other projects. Instead of lively trap drums and thumping 808s, the listener hears a melancholy guitar riff, with Thugger waxing poetic about his upbringing. No drum beat. What follows is a foray into previously unexplored territory for Thug, as he embraces an acoustic soundscape throughout much of the album’s duration.
‘Sophomore effort’ is a misnomer for the Atlanta-bred icon’s newest full-length work, as he released music for nearly a decade before dropping his debut studio album, 2019’s So Much Fun. In that time, he went on a mixtape run that many consider rivaling Lil Wayne’s from 2007-2009 as the greatest ever. It also cemented his place as one of the trap genre’s most important tastemakers, and a mentor for many of its most talented upstarts.
This artistic expedition is marked by both spectacular peaks and disappointing valleys. The highlights of Thug’s acoustic work include “Stupid/Asking,” the first half of which is a heartfelt guitar-driven ballad about a maligned lover. Thugger’s trademark whine works surprisingly well over the mellow guitar and flute. He also successfully tries his hand at a sultry R&B croon on “Contagious,” showing a versatility and unpredictability that his loyal fans have always loved. However, the best of these acoustic moments must be the anthemic “Livin it Up,” which includes both a soaring Post Malone hook and a criminally underrated A$AP Rocky verse. These two features are definitely among the best on the album, and the fact that they are on the same song boosts “Livin it Up” even further into the stratosphere.
Despite all of the hidden acoustic gems Punk boasts, there are a few songs that make the listener wish that Thug had asked Metro Boomin for some hi-hats. “Insure my Wrist,” featuring Thug’s protegé, Gunna, is one of these misses. Thug’s flow is idiosyncratic as usual, but falls flat on a poppy piano beat that seems like it could have been put to better use by someone like Polo G. Subtle hi-hats in the song’s second half couldn’t save Gunna, who put in a subpar verse.
However, the album is more than redeemed by its aforementioned wonderful ending. Another acoustic song, “Day Before,” is the project’s closing track. Though Thugger puts forth a pretty good verse, he is upstaged by a brilliant hook and verse from the late Mac Miller. Titled “Day Before” (Miller’s verse was recorded just a day before his passing), Miller’s contribution is not only the best on the album but one of his best ever. It serves as another parting gift from a beloved artist that was taken from us too soon. With strong feature work, as well as even more innovation for an artist who was already considered a trailblazer of the genre, a Punk listening is definitely a net positive human experience.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.