Young Thug and his many, many clones: A creation story

Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 9:08am

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It’s undeniable: Young Thug is the current rap generation’s most prominent influence. 

Before Thug, it was Lil Wayne. Wayne inspired an entire generation of rappers, including Kendrick Lamar and Young Thug himself. Interestingly, Kendrick’s mixtape C4 showcased him as nothing more than a Lil Wayne clone. When I say “clone,” I mean that Kendrick and others were attempting to build a career based on what made Lil Wayne famous. The same goes for Thug; at the beginning, he, too, was a Wayne clone. Just listen to “Take Kare” featuring Lil Wayne. The resemblance is uncanny. 

Today, Kendrick Lamar and Young Thug are two rappers that will always turn heads with any of their new material. Few have attempted to be a Kendrick clone, but many, many rappers in the new generation are attempting to channel their inner Thug.

Thug’s career has been a tour de force and has given his army of understudies plenty of material to expand upon. Throughout his career, Thug has sputtered out countless different flows, vocal inflections and non sequiturs. It’s too much for one individual to even attempt to imitate. Because of this, each Thugger clone sounds distinct. It’s as if Young Thug reproduces asexually via fragmentation, like a sea sponge, with each clone latching onto a certain part of Thug’s persona and building an entire career out of it. 

Interestingly, Young Thug has embraced his clones and has even signed a few of them to his label, YSL Records, as if to raise them. Plenty of rappers are affiliated with YSL Records, including superstars like Drake, Lil Baby and Lil Uzi Vert, but few are actually signed, demonstrating the effort it takes to make it as a Thugger clone. 

The Clones

Lil Duke

The first of Thug’s clones is none other than Lil Duke, also known as YSL Duke. Duke is perhaps the most straight-laced of Thug’s protégés, and he is also the longest tenured. In fact, he’s been signed to YSL Records since 2015. 

While he doesn’t share any of Thug’s sartorial tendencies, Duke was born from Thug’s slick-talking, greasy street raps. He twists tales of sipping lean and hustling with a spitfire, gravelly flow, just like Thug. However, he varies in his delivery and beat selection, often sticking to a low vocal register and the typical Atlanta trap-type beats. He is essentially Young Thug if Young Thug were purely a street rapper, and it’s glorious.

Required listening: “Good Luck” featuring Young Thug and “Run It Up.”

Gunna

Gunna is the most famous of all Thug’s clones. In fact, he’s probably even more popular than his forebear. He is essentially the Reader’s Digest version of Young Thug. He doesn’t rap about much more than his drip, but he uses autotune as impeccably as Thug does. Gunna takes Thug at his most melodic and processes it to make it even more accessible. He has evolved into a more independent artist at this point, but early in his career, the Thug influence could not be shirked. And, as an added bonus, he shares Young Thug’s left-of-center fashion choices.

Required listening: “Pedestrian” and “Mayors” featuring Hoodrich Pablo Juan.

Strick

Strick, similar to Duke, is a much more subdued version of Young Thug. Take Young Thug at his vibiest and turn the animation and fanfair down to zero, and that’s Strick. He also takes on Thug’s more calculated and lyrical side, as he is a multi-platinum songwriter who has written for the likes of Travis Scott (“Coordinate”) and Juicy J (“Ballin”). He is the most up-and-coming of Thug’s signees, so keep an eye out for his new releases.

Required listening: “Wishing on a Star,” “Vevo” and “STS” featuring Young Thug.

Lil Keed

Imagine the craziest of Young Thug’s flows and vocal inflection, and make a rapper out of it. That’s Lil Keed. In fact, Thug frequently refers to him as his son, which speaks volumes to the figurative passing of the torch from Thug to Keed. At one point, Thug even gifted him “Proud of Me,” an old, very sought after demo. Keed is the latest YSL signee to make a splash, especially with his recent tape Long Live Mexico. His only downfall is that he often leans too hard on his voice’s high pitch, a problem that Thug does not share, thanks to his use of modulation. 

The student is quickly approaching the skill of the master, so it’ll be interesting to see how Keed’s career develops.

Required listening: “Proud of Me” featuring Young Thug and “Zoned Out.”

Lil Gotit

While Lil Gotit isn’t signed to YSL Records (he’s signed to Alamo, home of Lil Durk, another YSL affiliate), he is more heavily affiliated than it seems. He’s actually the younger brother of Lil Keed, who is no doubt a big influence on his sound. Gotit is like Thug at his most energetic. He’s bouncy, he’s having fun and he’s sure to leave his mark on listeners. He also has the same penchant for off-kilter beats as Thug does. 

He’s not trying to be conventional by any means, just like Young Thug.

Required listening: “Surf,” “Da Real HoodBabies”and “Drop the Top” featuring Lil Keed.

Dolly White and HiDoraah

Even Young Thug’s own sisters are his clones. These two embody the side of Thug that’s dedicated to flexing and shit talking. They’re really good at it, probably better than Thug is. HiDoraah has a full voice and on top of rapping, is good at singing too. Dolly White is little more gravel-voiced but is a better rapper. They complement each other well. They’ve got flows for days, but they can get a little stale. However, they just started rapping seriously and don’t have many songs yet, so it’ll take time for them to develop their sound. That said, they are a great duo and are bound to be noticed in today’s rap climate.

Required listening: “Expensive” and “Lay Down.”

Anyone can try to croon and chirp like Thug does, but it takes effort to do it and stand out from the clone crowd. Though the rappers on the list started off purely as clones of Young Thug, they all show signs of breaking this mold, which speaks volumes to how influential Young Thug has been. Without Wayne, we wouldn’t have Kendrick or Thug; without Thug, we won’t have rap’s next superstar.