I’ve had quite the love-affair with Young Thug.
At first it was just a little bit of flirting. I remember when “Stoner” crashed him into most people’s ears for the first time, but I didn’t think much of him or the song. This was just the initial encounter. Then “Lifestyle” happened, and his nearly indecipherable lyricism propelled him into the stratosphere as far as overall recognition is concerned. He still hadn’t caught my eye too much, but I could see that he was now the cool kid of the new school.
And then he really pissed me off, and for one simple reason. Lil Wayne was my first true love, the prom king, an artist I had adored since I started listening to hip-hop. Every release, every song, every feature. I was obsessed, a first-hand witness to his rise to the best rapper alive. When Thugger announced his Carter 6 project, I couldn’t believe someone had the audacity to even TRY to step on Wayne’s toes in such a disrespectful manner. To me, it was the worst instance of biting I could ever remember (keep in mind I’m a millennial). Even after he changed the name, I was forever in a “Fuck Young Thug” state of mind. I refused to listen to his music and cursed the day that Barter 6 came out. To this day I’ve still never pressed play on the project.
By the time he released I’m Up, the semi-beef seemed far enough removed that the hatred had simmered. I still condemned him as an artist, but with a wink and a smile, he caught my attention with a single track my friend played in his car: “Hercules”. I loved it. I immediately felt the sting of love lost; I was cheating on Wayne. It was nothing serious, and I promised myself it would be a one-time thing. My connection to Wayne was too strong, I hoped he could forgive me.
A month later, Thug returned with Slime Season 3. I couldn’t help but give in to the temptation, and I caved in and listened to the project start to finish. Multiple times. I had betrayed my first true love, abandoning him for someone I once thought an imposter. Thug was coming into his own, but I could never shake the feeling that he was stealing from Wayne, who still hasn’t gifted us with anything but loosies and a disappointing tape this year. His ongoing battle with Cash Money isn’t stopping him from touring or being a mainstay figure in the culture, but the lawsuits on top of lawsuits are continuing to work against him. In the meantime, Thug has steadily risen through the ranks, even gaining some of the admiration I had harbored for so long. Slime Season 3 quickly became my soundtrack to the summer. His eeks and squawks pierced through drunken nights and clouds of smoke. If you’ve never driven through your city in the middle of the night to go pick up drugs, trust me, Young Thug’s music represents the allure of that feeling.
After enjoying Slime Season 3, I was eager to see what Thugger had in store for us with Jeffery. Based on Lyor Cohen’s comments about it, I knew it was going to be a major artistic step for the artist now formerly known as Young Thug. And he didn’t disappoint. As soon as I heard the staccato guitar on “Wyclef Jean”, I knew this was something different and totally new. I knew, now, what everyone had been seeing in him the whole time. Jeffery has Thug at his most cohesive, clean-cut, and mainstream, but no less aggressive or intentionally gangster. His words drip from his mouth like hot chocolate and he delivers them with more vocal variations than a professional ventriloquist. While some old heads are quick to accuse Jeffery of being a major contributor to the new “mumble rap” phenomenon, it’s his distinct ear for melody and rhythm that sets him apart from his contemporaries in the sub-genre. And I’ve been missing it this whole time. While Slime Season 3 was the project that finally saw me jumping on the Thugger Train, Jeffrey is the one that, in my mind, fully establishes him as his own independent artist, separating him from the past stigma of a full-on biter of sound and style. No more will I look at him as “that douche who stole Lil Wayne’s vibe”. Now I look at him as just Young Thug. Or just as Jeffrey. Whichever he wants.
Lil Wayne will always be my first hip-hop love, nothing will change that. But with this new class of rappers, it’s clear that they share the same admiration for these stars that I do (excluding Lil Yachty). And it’s not something that I should hate them for, especially considering they’re the leaders of the New School. Jeffrey, in my mind, is now just one or two projects away from surpassing Aubrey as the biggest rapper in the world, and maybe 10 years from now some kid will hate on some new-wave rapper for ripping off the great Young Thug’s sound. That’s just the way the cycle of inspiration works. Embrace it.