Ah, a man and his guitar. So much of the worst music of the last 100 years has been made by dudes crooning about women over four-chord loops. But some of it has been good, too. At best, romantic, sing-song-y guitar ballads can be emotionally piercing and refreshingly honest; at worst, they can be made by guitarists from Illinois who go by “The Plain White T’s.”
Young Thug, born Jeffery Williams, is the latest of a long line of rappers to willfully assert hip-hop culture into something more, ahem, progressive. In his wake, a long line of adolescent weirdo-rappers with multicolor hair. That his latest effort, officially then unofficially titled Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls (now just Beautiful Thugger Girls) would be “alternative,” even by his standards, has been a poorly kept secret over the last six months. Snippets of album cuts have been in circulation for years, and the album intro in particular, with Thug croaking in the southern drawl of a country singer, was clowned on immediately.
Less than a year ago we’d seen Thug mocked for donning a dress on the cover of Jeffery, and now, he returns with even greater style — this time, with a guitar. He joins a relatively short list of MCs who’ve survived near-fatal encounters with the instrument; recent survivors include André 3000, Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi and, I guess, Frank Ocean too. All are revolutionary Black male rapper-singer-songwriters who blur gender lines and have no regard for tradition; Thug is certainly not in bad company.
To be perfectly clear, Beautiful Thugger Girls is misleading. Perhaps it’s being marketed as some sort of 2017 Rebirth, but it’s really not that much of a radical deviation from Thug’s traditional album structure. While his earliest mixtapes (and even recent Slime Season installments) tend to run amok, Thug cleaned up his act on the uncharacteristically polished Barter 6, Jeffery and now Beautiful Thugger Girls. Safe to say it’s not uncharacteristic anymore, but the untamed nature of his music has almost permanently branded him with these sorts of lazy labels.
Thug’s desire to belt out in song was always there, and in his own words, this is his “singing album.” He mainly sings about sex. Sex, to Young Thug, is like cocaine to Pusha T; they simply never run out of things to say no matter how narrow the scope. You get the sense that Thug simply has too much emotion to express himself within the confines of rap, men’s fashion or any human language. There is singing, yes, but there’s a lot of rapping too. There’s a lot of whatever you want to call what Young Thug has been doing for the last five years, really. Kanye always joked that 808s & Heartbreak could have been a country album, but Thug actually managed to incorporate acoustic sonic elements into Thugger Girls while still maintaining his largely undefinable pop-rap lane.
Album-opener “Family Don’t Matter” sees Thug harmonize with breakout London vocalist Millie Go Lightly, with what is maybe supposed to be his best George Strait impression. He lets out a “yee-haw” less than 30 seconds in, and Thug actually fools us all into thinking this might seriously be a country album. You can practically hear him strain his face to annunciate “Country Billy made a couple millie / Tryna park the Rolls Royce inside the Piccadilly.” But relax, there are features from Future and Snoop Dogg later, and lyrics like “’Bouta put my d*** in your mouth right when you yawn.” Still, it’s funny to see Thug be so tongue-in-cheek about the whole idea of the album.
He takes the backseat for the latter half of the song, letting Millie’s sweeping vocals shine. She has a prominent role throughout the first few tracks, which feels appropriate for an album so fixated on Thug’s relationship with women. She appears again on “She Wanna Party,” which is another early highlight on the first half of the album where Thug front-loads so many standout tracks.
“She Wanna Party” has shades of “Good Times,” the Jamie xx collaboration from 2015. While you won’t find any guitars here, Thug actually does belt out some hilariously country-influenced melodies, singing “Her heart beat, mine racing / But we gotta pace it.” This time, it doesn’t sound like he’s forcing it. But in true Thug fashion, he follows with even more comically lewd sexual fantasies. You just can’t nitpick with him.
Thug hits his Givenchy-level machine-gun flow on “You Said,” which is actually one of the more guitar-centric tracks. The up-and-down guitar rhythm suits Thug’s tendency to find nooks and crannies in every beat; mumbled words like “Right now she’d rather have my d*** than a watch” come out as afterthoughts, but in one of those awkward moments where the room gets unexpectedly quiet.
There’s also “Me or Us,” which samples Bright Eyes, and might have just birthed an entire subgenre of acoustic studio-rap. You’d think Childish Gambino would have beat him to it, and thankfully Thug has spared us the thought. “Who you loyal to? / Me or us? / Who you trust the most? / Me or us?” is maybe the most traditional-sounding songwriting we’ve ever seen from him. Of course, he follows with “Who you wanna f*** every night? / Me or us?”
There are definitely more conventional “rap songs” on Thugger Girls too, like the speaker-knocking “Tomorrow Til Infinity,” which would fit seamlessly in the first tape from the Slime Season trilogy. He almost summarizes the entire album with “Yeah I’m the Black Christian Grey, know what I’m sayin’? / I got 50 shades of baes with me — 50 shades of b******.” That’s not to say that the album is completely misogynistic (though it definitely is a little) so much as it’s Thug’s best attempt at bedroom music. He means well: “I got Chanel on my socks / Silk and Versace her crotch / Ben and Jerry’s / bouta eat her ice cream.”
It should be noted that the album was executive produced by Drake, too, which means he likely just nodded to the dancehall-tinged tracks in the studio. They’ve formed an unlikely friendship, and on tracks like “Do U Love Me” it’s easy to see why. Drake probably wishes he could ride a “riddim” the way Thug does.
The album closes with “Take Care,” which is one of those left-turn curtain-calls at the end of a beautiful but perplexing performance. At this point, Thug acts a bit more naturally, slurring “Sexin’ on drugs / Leave a little money on the counter / You remind me of Erykah Badu, you’re on go / Thinkin’ ’bout masturbating to your nudes / Take care.”
At his most comfortable, Thug is all things at once. He is romantic, brash, self-destructive and loving. There’s no “new Young Thug with a guitar” — he’s just always had sides we might not have been allowed to see. There’s no point in trying to understand, and I don’t think language is his best channel for communication, anyway. Ironically, Beautiful Thugger Girls shines most when Thug doesn’t even seem to know how much of a natural popstar he’s always been.