On Friday afternoon, while I was walking around my local grocery store, I had rap weirdo Young Thug's latest mixtape 1017 Thug 2 blaring through my iPhone earbuds. Despite the sequel to 2013's engaging 1017 Thug having just dropped the afternoon before, I'd already racked up four complete plays of the tape on my phone and was on my fifth go-round as I combed the store for guacamole ingredients. Somewhere in the chip aisle, a Cheshire cat smile crept across my face that I couldn't shake. I tried counting different tortilla chip brands, staring at the store's pristine white floors, and scrolling through my Twitter feed but nothing worked. Standing in the checkout line and leafing through tabloids didn't cut it either. The smirk affixed to my lips must've scared the new cashier who made no attempt to chat while I was paying.
I have no way of knowing if anyone else has this reaction, but listening to 1017 Thug 2 fosters giddiness in me I can't control. From the opening Autotuned mumble of "get along little doggy" in "1017 Lifestyle" to his comically antithetical croak of "I creep silent" in closer "Warrior," 1017 Thug 2 is a marathon sprint through the funhouse that is Young Thug's life in 2014. In mid-June the Atlanta native inked a deal with fledgling indie label 300 Entertainment. On July 1 Thugga appeared alongside fellow oddball A$AP Ferg and Indiana fire breather Freddie Gibbs on the mesmerizing dark twinkle of "Old English." And if all of that wasn't enough, in a five-day span he dropped a pair of tracks from two separate rapper/producer projects he promises will see light before the year ends. Needless to say these are incredibly busy times for the 21-year-old born Jeffrey Williams, which makes 1017 Thug 2 feel all the more like a victory lap.
Though 1017 Thug 2 is effectively a clearing house for Young Thug tracks in the Brick Squad vaults, the songs blur together like a Magic Eye picture. The production work is best described as "effervescent stomp" and when efforts like Migos feature "Sub Zero" shade towards "dark," they still inspire infectious head nodding. "Oh Ya" initially sticks out with its ghastly background vocals moaning the hook to Haddaway's "What Is Love?" but fits right in when the reptilian hi-hat tics come through. Even "Run It Up"'s opening, that reminds me of the sinister Donkey Kong start music, bleeps along with joy. Listening to such a cohesive work, you'd never know it was created by piecemeal unless you were told so.
A lion's share of the credit for 1017 Thug 2's cohesion goes to Young Thug himself, who imbues every track with the kind of atomic energy only he possesses in 2014. A big part of my (and a lot of people's) fascination with Thugga is inextricably tied to the way he'll yip, mumble, bellow, scream, bark, and laugh in the span of a single song without taking a break and somehow making it work. Occasionally Thug will need an assist, like on the C4-produced "Trigger Finger" where the glossy keyboard has to stop so he can adjust his sliding Autotune croon. Or Thugga will be in such a steady groove of stream-of-consciousness that he'll have to snap out to explain to struggling listeners what the hell he's saying. How else can you explain Thug adlibbing "green thumb" in the joyous opener "1017 Lifestyle," right after bragging "count so much money with my thumb everything I touch turns green?" He's well aware of how opaque his eccentricities can be and doesn't mind letting a little light in.
Most often though Young Thug goes nuclear without batting an eye. Atop the urgent S.O.S. keys and willful machine claps of "Let Up" he yawps what might be the tape's best line: "I've got a big mink on I'm a walking gorilla," right after promising "I'll n** on her like Milli Vanilli." He does all of that while strutting around in a pair of Air Jordan 9s, which were the first shoes Nike released after Michael Jordan retired for the first time in 1993. Rappers constantly brag about the Jordans they rock, but Thugga's one of the only ones I know that's taking it back to the retiree years. "Take It" similarly skirts "traditional" gangsta rap by wrapping threats in honest concern. "Let them choppers sing to you like Pandora and I hope you've got insurance on your daughter," he chirps over the trap-techno beat in reverse. Thug's showed up in a leopard print dress to a photo-shoot, so looking "tough" or "manly" isn't a top priority of his.
Nowhere is that more evident than on the syrup sipping love ballad "Strange Things." Young Thug's practically cooing "she say she wants to drink up some lean" as a synthesizer is gently fluffed like a goose-down pillow and bubbles steadily pop in the background. Far too often rappers and R&B singers will get lecherously forceful on bedroom songs; not Thug. He's lying on the mattress asking "do you know lean makes you do strange things?" before the druggy sex can begin. Instead of speaking the language of love, he's worrying aloud about going to prison and "making it" in his career. Thug knows romance isn't about pleasant sweet nothings, but honesty.
Ultimately its Young Thug's candor that sets him apart. Plenty of rappers would admit to being scared of incarceration, few would make that confession as they puff out their chest. While brazenly indirect, his approach is fearless. He has no problem slurring his delivery or letting out exhaustive sighs to drive home a point. Other than Migos and MPA Wicced on "Warrior," there aren't any posse appearances on 1017 Thug 2, which furthers mixtape Weezy comparisons. When Lil Wayne was in the midst of his legendary 2005-2008 mixtape run, few (if any) rappers dared to show up on his beat jacks for fear of embarrassment. So it is with Thugga. A rapper following an extended run of his vocal contortions would be 40 points down before the ball is tipped. Young Thug's so much "bigger" than most rappers right now that even "compilation" releases turn into events.
"Run It Up"
You can download 1017 Thug 2 now through Audiomack.