The most impressive music careers are those that convey an evolution in a creative sense: The Beatles and their growth from Please, Please Me to Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Kanye West and his growth from The College Dropout to Yeezus. Ideally, a musician's respective genre should follow their creative advances, making for a fascinating display of an artist’s capability to mold peers and followers and to guide an entire genre toward a more creatively inspired realm. Similar to The Beatles’ impact on rock and Kanye’s impact on hip hop, Young Thug has been on his way to trap immortality as his artistry has evolved and the genre has responded with appeal.
From his debut on Rich Gang’s 2014 single, “Lifestyle,” that had listeners marveling at the warbling vocal style that would become Thug’s most iconic trait, to the lavender dress worn on the cover of 2016’s JEFFERY, Thug has planted himself at the vanguard of trap music, constantly breaking conventions to advance the genre from generally nonmusical and hypermasculine to beautifully melodic and accepting of femininity. His discography is covered in hard trap, groovy funk and homey country, and has become increasingly complex with each release (he has even received nods from Kanye and Elton John for his originality and capacity to push hip hop’s envelope.)
That these trendsetting and creative characteristics are so ingrained in Thug’s artistry makes his most recent release, Slime Language, a bit of a head-scratcher. The mixtape is bogged down by unoriginal features, outdated beats and a lack of thematic focus. Even its cover, with green and red slime oozing over hands miming the words “Young Stoner Life” in sign language, is confusing and uninspiring.
Slime Language’s first knock is its features. In such a collaborative era in hip hop, it’s never a surprise to find a few featured artists on an album. In fact, it’s actually quite rare to come across a featureless project (see: J. Cole’s “platinum with no features” trend). Oftentimes, collaborating with other artists on a track allows a rapper to pool various fan bases and create a super-team effect. Because hip hop is such a personality-driven genre, each star has a unique voice and style, so listeners find a little extra excitement in hearing how their favorite personalities tackle a track together. The formula is typically fun and successful, but only when the personalities merged on a track each provide something different and impressive; on Slime, this almost never happens. Thirteen of the tape’s 15 tracks feature an artist other than Young Thug. What’s more, nearly every featured artist seems to be doing their best Thug impression, sounding indistinguishable from him and the other featured artists and accordingly eliminating the multi-personality benefit of features. Additionally, for an artist who is perhaps most known for his catchy hooks, Thug outsources the choruses of his Slime tracks to other artists too often, leaving listeners craving more of his anthemic vocal acrobatics.
Slime also falls short in the music department. Nearly every track has a beat loop with loud 808 bass tied to each kick drum, a template popularized by producer Metro Boomin in trap’s early days, but one that more complex and musical methods of production have left in the dust. Ironically, Thug was one of the artists to transcend this simple template, incorporating elements of funk into JEFFERY and elements of country into Beautiful Thugger Girls. With Slime, though, the beats seem to have slipped back into 2015, a concern especially noticeable in the wake of Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD, a project that raised the bar for trap’s musical standard just a few weeks prior. (Perhaps Thug could benefit from Scott’s eclectic production process.)
While the actual content of the project is nothing special, Thug did manage to bring progress in one regard: women. Trap has always been and still is a genre dominated by men, often braggadociously rapping about how they mistreat women. Thus, female features are almost unheard of. On Slime, however, three tracks feature female artists, and not in the conventional way with sung hooks in a pretty voice to counterbalance the masculinity of the verses; these female rappers have full verses and rap about fucking shit up and making money behind heavy autotune. So, even with a sonically lackluster project, Thug continues to make some waves.
Realistically, the mixtape does have a handful of bangers. Just because it sounds outdated and simple doesn’t mean it won’t augment your party playlists; “Audemar,” “Chanel (Go Get It)” and “Scoliosis” are highlights that provide the raw vocals and hype-inducing flow that Thug fans crave. Still, in the broader lens of music as something that breathes and grows with time, it seems like the rest of the trap world has finally caught up with Young Thug, leaving Slime Language stale and unoriginal. We’ll just have to wait for the next slimey project to see if Thugger can still turn heads.