With the rapid musical output of Young Thug comes the inevitable fall of his novelty. And it’s about time, for it’s seemed like an eternity of responses to Thug being almost unanimously self-righteous and intensely visceral, negative or positive. Modern Atlanta rap as a general movement calls for these immediate reactions more than anywhere, thanks to its consistently weird and conventional-bashing artists. Still, Thugger remains an anomaly with his melodic high-pitched squeaks and screams. Now removed from his remarkably publicized 2015, it finally feels possible to approach Thug with a clear head, with novelty aside and music at the forefront. Slime Season 3 is a solid entryway to do just that. It’s Young Thug’s least cluttered, most streamlined and approachable tape so far, and it solidifies him as a clear staple of the rap scene, your personal feelings aside.

All of the elements of a classic Young Thug release are here. There’s the undeniable banger, “With Them,” which is the more labored and paced cousin of “F Cancer.” “Worth It” is a lavish love song, and perhaps his most heart-on-the-sleeve dedication to fiancé Jerrika Karlae yet. The tape is a tasting board of sorts, with the most obvious signatures of Thug stretched out and applied to an entire release. Absent, though, are the far left field experiments that appear on his less linear works.

This newfound focus acts as a double-edged sword. The majority of criticism weighted against Thug’s earlier releases revolved around a lack of project cohesion. The two previous tapes in the Slime Season trilogy sprawled for over an hour each, and alternated between greatness and filler, like a gold mine that needed to be hacked away at. With his last release, I’m Up (billed as a “retail mixtape”), we saw Thug taking heed of that criticism, offering just nine songs and cutting his normal release output in half. The result was an improved project, but an underwhelming collection of tracks. There were no clear stand-outs, and the replay value was minimal. Slime Season 3 sees Thug applying that same reductive hand to a more successful result. There are no serious lulls, which can mostly be attributed to the hack-job that was done here — the tape clocks in at just 28 minutes. But there are also, unsurprisingly, far less gems than the earlier Slime Season tapes.

That’s not to say Slime Season 3 doesn’t have highlights. “Digits,” the best here, is a nihilistic shrug that still manages to achieve anthem status. “Why not risk life when it’s gon’ keep going? / When you die somebody else was born,” Thug asserts, demonstrating deeper lyricism than his non-sequiturs (“I’mma pull out screaming hokey pokey okey”) lead on. Opener banger “With Them” is an exercise in word acrobatics, weaving double and triple entendres together with deceptive ease. But, like I’m Up, the best moments here don’t reach the level that Thug’s 2015 stand-outs did. Nothing here is as oddly cathartic as “Calling Your Name,” as arresting as “Just Might Be” or as irresistible as “Best Friend.”

In many ways this is the commercial release that debut album Barter 6 was expected to be (but wasn’t): less experimental, more straightforward and easier for the masses to consume. But that’s dangerous territory for the Atlanta rapper, who thrives on the unpredictable. Where Barter 6 succeeded in eschewing typical notions of who, or what, “Young Thug” could be, Slime Season 3 leans on the safer side. Thus we get the first release by the artist that could have actually been anticipated. For now, this doesn’t take away from the artist’s work — Slime Season 3 is a solid tape front to back. But consistency has a tendency to dull, and we can only hope that where he goes next, no one knows.

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