Readers indulge from page to page of a book in order to understand and appreciate its entirety. The protagonist, that eventually is defined in a manner that makes him/her most relatable, is the bait at the end of the hook that continuously reels us in further. We dissect, inspect, investigate, question, and even reject certain aspects of the said artist’s creation.
For the sake of this article, the “artist” is hip-hop and the “creation” is Young Thug; however, it’s looking like this book is never ending.
Whether it’s GQ’s perplexed views on how the Atlanta-bred rapper can rock “women’s Ugg boots” yet “travel with AR-15’s everywhere he goes,” or Vogue’s commentary on his entirely new “concocted” look, hip-hop has created a protagonist whose self-assurance is inherent, leaving him vulnerable to more criticism than even thee most controversial of them all (Kanye West). The only difference? He loves it.
Is you mad ’bout Instagram, or how I keep my pimpin’? (Power)
He’s known to be standoff-ish with interviews and people in general, partially because of his “I don’t give a fuck” mentality and lifestyle, while the other half stems from his disinterest in explaining himself. Quite aware of the fact that everyone is out to understand who he is, where he came from and why he does what he does, he plays puppeteer with anyone that tries. Yet, knowing what he wants us to know, which is the fact that he comes from a very poor upbringing with not much more than family, it’s almost as if we can finally begin dissecting this protagonist.
…until he begins calling his close male friends sexy, wearing dresses and lipstick, and simultaneously insulting and praising his music idol. That’s when Thug sends us back to chapter one to re-read whatever it is we must have missed.
Every time I dress myself, it go mutha f**kn viral. (Halftime)
While he is in fact the most interesting protagonist to follow, his alter-role in hip hop mirrors that of the antagonist, as he acknowledges what the industry expects and instead regurgitates the complete opposite. You get the sense that he’s created an entirely new pot for himself, all the while plucking from his inspiration tree with Lil Wayne and Prince as two of the branches. He also, admittedly, adds “doses” of J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar for “realness”.
This jambalaya is working for him: “Thug’s put out 76 solo tracks in the past two years. He’s at a spot now where he can make at least $50,000 for a verse on another rapper’s song, at least $50,000 for every appearance. Last year he did his first tour and sold out 17 nights” (Devin Friedman, GQ).
His sound is familiar, but not quite “close to home” for many. His lyricism is unparalleled, but not quite enunciated enough for the average listener. Thug’s songs are praised for production and emotional impact, while his thoughts are related to lack of intelligence. The ignorants will blame it on the “drug-induced sound”, while writers will try and find every angle to explain why it’s good even if you can’t understand it. Then, there are the true fans (the stans) that actually listen.
R.I.P. Mike Brown, fuck the Cops. Screamin’ R.I.P Bennie shootin’ up a block. (OD)
On May 2nd, 2016 NYC witnessed what would be considered the closest thing to a “dissection” of Young Thug. Whether listeners caught it or not, he vocalized some of his beliefs, morals, and priorities from beginning of set to end without dedicating one full song to any topic in specific.
1. Musical inspiration
As he graced the stage to open his sold-out set at the Playstation Theater with “King TROUP”, the delicate purple lights spotlighted him in his Prince-influenced outfit. Flared at the wrists and snugged around the torso, the shirt screamed “confident”, while the skin-tight black pants echoed “f**k what they think.” Taking a moment to remember the late musical genius, he displayed the talented Prince in the graphics behind him and created space for dedication.
2. Personal Beliefs
By performing songs including “Fuck Cancer” and “Digits”, songs about the injustices of nature/life, embracing what you have and supporting yourself, Thug effortlessly expressed himself without trying. And, for a person who comes off as unemotional, he made it very difficult for fans to leave the 45,000-square foot venue without feeling inspired.
He undeniably catered to his main source of inspiration: his fans. Playing throwbacks like “Stoner” and “Danny Glover”, he reminded us all why we became invested in the rapidly evolving yet never-changing-style artist. He took moments in between to praise his own circle (“Bestfriend” and “For My People”) and continued on to welcoming the newer fans with “Slime Shit” and “Hercules”. It wouldn’t have been a proper show if he didn’t also highlight his early artistic progression by performing “Through with It”, “Halftime”, and “With That”.
Getting his nickname “Slime” from his gambling lifestyle and slyness, according to right-hand video director Be EL Be, Young Thug is and has always been about his money. He touched on that by going back to the time where he had just began to bubble with “Aint About the Money”, causing the entire crowd to croon as if they really pack 11’s and shoot at reverends. He commended the young folks that are still in school, but complimented the ones who are also about their grind right before performing “Power”.
If we had to base it off of this show alone, his foreword would include mentions of his fans, his girlfriend, his family and the money. His art, ironically, turns him into an open book, yet there’s still that innate need to know more. There’s still that craving some have to click on the spark notes or wiki page to better understand, and that’s just it: we all have to keep reading in order to understand, which for Thug means we’ll be reading until he ends.
Young Thug unapolagetically takes risks with every song, mixtape, and show he creates. He performs, and I don’t mean the ‘jumping up and down, shaking his dread’ kind of performance. He recites every word, every line, every adlib from his mastered-down tracks without any breaks or pauses. He interchanges between acoustic and full sound without enhancing his voice to the point of annoyance. His stage voice is much more attractive than his radio voice, which drops jaws and draws in bigger crowds with each performance I witness.
Earlier I mentioned hip-hop being the “artist” and Young Thug being the “creation”, and, while that is still the premises of the article, hip-hop simply created the cover. The industry and most of the fans are still not ready to open the book of which the creation itself, Young Thug, has taken complete control over.
Maybe this article itself is too deep, too close to trying to dissect an artist all in the name of shedding light, opening minds, and praising talent. But, considering this story and journey is entirely in the hands of Jeffrey Lamar Williams, who is as meticulous as a chess player, it’s hard to chalk his career up to a random ATL rapper that was in the right place at the right time. That’s just my innate need to want to know as much about one of my favorite artists as possible.
Either way, Young Thug is one of the most interesting books anyone can get their hands on, and only time will tell what the future chapters have in store for us. For now, he’ll remain the greatest protagonist for the simple fact none of us get him.