Young Thug is the saving grace of mumble rap
Yaaah-ahoooo! Inewanewanewanev like. Inewaevery single girl, betcha. Inewasmoke-daddywholeword nada. Yaaah-ahoooo!
The gibberish above is my interpretation of a melody in the song “Feel It” by Young Thug. On paper, the hodgepodge of vowels and consonants reads like absolute nonsense, but on the track, Thug is able to string these relatively nonsensical sounds together to develop a melody so interesting that his voice essentially becomes an instrument. Young Thug is the melody master of mumble rap, but also much more; he is the saving grace of the fledgling genre.
Today’s mainstream rap is dominated by warbling and mumbling. Stars like 21 Savage and Lil Yachty have made names for themselves by ditching lyricism for a more laid-back sound. The difference between these rappers and Young Thug, however, is that Thug supplements his lack of lyricism with artistic substance, whereas 21 and Yachty leave their listeners with a lackluster and chordless beat void of any creative inspiration. Listen to his track “Kanye West” and you can hear the difference: Thug incorporates a dynamic, syncopated beat into a song with real chord progressions and engaging instrumentation. The track is not your typical trap rap, and Young Thug is not your typical trap rapper.
Thug’s defining quality is his voice. No one can mistake the blend of pleasantly strained falsetto and eerily warbled baritone for any other rapper. Some love it, some hate it, but regardless, it’s unmistakable. The sounds he can produce are certainly unique, but Thug’s real talent lies in what he can do with those sounds. The Atlanta mumbler has the power to make his listeners feel, so much so that his words become irrelevant. Grantland contributor Shea Serrano describes this ability perfectly: “In a lot of instances, Young Thug isn’t making music that you have to unravel in terms of meaning. His whole thing is how do I feel? How am I connected to this verse? He’s just trying to generate this feeling, and the feeling is the meaning. It’s that simple.” Comprehensible lyrics or not, Young Thug elicits emotion in his music, a feat that 21 and Yachty simply can’t pull off with their unrefined deliveries.
Not only is Young Thug a cut above other mumble rappers with his high-quality beats and captivating melodies, but he is also transforming mumble rap into a creative and progressive genre. Similar to The Beatles’s introduction of art to rock ‘n’ roll with their inventive and all-encompassing production of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which brought listeners a creative experience that revealed the artistic potential of their genre, Young Thug is introducing a new art to the world of wordless rap. Young Thug is introducing a new art to the world of wordless rap. The JEFFERY album cover says it all: Posing in a blue and purple pastel colored, Victorian-era dress, Thug signals to his listeners that his music is more than a shallow glimpse at urban life in Atlanta. Mumble rap has become an artistic experience that aims to challenge rap entirely. How many Atlanta rappers will you find sporting dresses?
Thug’s genre-bending is especially evident in his newest album, Beautiful Thugger Girls. With the LP’s first track, “Family Don’t Matter,” Thug surprises his listeners with acoustic guitar and ethereal vocals that one might find on a Lumineers track. Then, a classic and tight Thug beat drops, accompanied by a melody with country undertones and the rare decipherable line, “Country Bill made a couple milly.” The best part: The song retains the “feel good” quality Thug’s music is known for.
This eclectic mix of sounds and genres is exactly why Young Thug is the untouchable king of mumble rap. Would Lil Yachty be able to pull off such a foreign yet incredibly engaging sound? I seriously doubt it — the man doesn’t even know the difference between a clarinet and a cello.