“We are not the same I am a Martian,” Lil Wayne raps on “Phone Home.” It’s an idea that has become an incessant theme in Weezy’s music; with two albums titles that boast he’s not a human being and countless outerspace references strewn across his lengthy career, Wayne has capitalized on being hip-hop’s reigning alien.
But if Wayne’s not from our planet, then Young Thug is from a different galaxy. Over the past few years, he has consistently released a rotation of mixtapes, singles, and guest verses; and with each project he’s pushed the boundaries of a role that seems to be a popular one in hip-hop these days. He’s the guy who’s different. At the forefront of his distinguishing factors lies his voice. Wild and unconstrained, he’s able to seamlessly shift between a lower, more natural range to this high-pitched singing style dressed with colorful inflection. It’s an octave that many rappers can’t (or won’t) touch, but one that Thug has become increasingly well-known for. His lyrics reflect an entertaining and borderline bizarre thought pattern: “My diamonds they say ‘Picacho,’ they gon’ wink at you/I’m a boss bitch I’ma walk through and just peek at you,” he raps on “Picacho.”
From an early age, the now 21-year-old Atlanta rapper (born Jeffrey Williams) has been producing and releasing material independently. After spending the beginning of his career with his local R.O.C. Crew, Thug caught the attention of 1017 Brick Squad leader and fellow Atlanta resident Gucci Mane, who says he was so impressed with Thug that he chased him down and recruited him personally. Young Thug is a little more modest about how their relationship started. He says his friend, Atlanta rapper PeeWee Longway, “made it happen with Gucci.”
Although he came up as a street-oriented artist and associates with mostly local trap rappers, the fascination with Young Thug isn’t one exclusive to hip-hop heads. With his latest mixtape 1017 Thug, Williams has been reviewed on Pitchfork, interviewed by Fader, featured on Stereogum, and covered by outlets that are more likely to be frequented by kids who are front row at a Vampire Weekend concert.
“Do you notice this? Have you picked up on how your music is getting attention across so many different demographics?” I ask him, curious to know if he’s aware of the quasi-phenomenon he’s created far outside the borders of the local following he had during the very early stages of his career. “I think my fans think I’ve picked up on it, but I haven’t really picked up on it. I don’t pay attention to these things unless I’m on stage. But I think my fans think I know this, so I just go with the flow,” he explains in an even-toned voice far less elastic than his high-pitched singing.
While other rappers proclaim their eccentricity by comparing themselves to aliens, claiming to live on other planets, and making songs called “I’m Different,” Young Thug’s individuality seems to come much more effortlessly. On songs like “Picacho” and “Nigeria” he takes some of the most eccentric and compelling qualities of artists like Lil Wayne and Future to previously uncharted territory. Young Thug isn’t trying to do anything. He’s not trying to be different—he just is different. It’s a trait that sits squarely at the core of his character; it’s not an act.
When Young Thug talks about what music he listens to, he rattles off a few names like Frank Ocean, Lil Wayne (his favorite rapper), Usher, and Rihanna. Then he pauses and coyly says, “I listen to a couple people you probably wouldn’t think I listen to.” I ask who. “I listen to that guy who sings that ‘Beautiful’ song, you know? I don’t know his name, but I listen to him.” His associate later confirmed that he was referring to James Blunt.
You have to be different, you know. People won’t recognize you if you have the same style. If you’re not diverse you probably won’t get very far.
It’s a choice that reaffirms how refreshingly at ease he is with his oddities. Young Thug may have grown up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Atlanta, but he can appreciate a sensitive James Blunt song. In a culture that’s preoccupied with perception, Thug is genuinely himself and unconcerned with conforming to the norms or sticking to a certain role.”You have to be different, you know. People won’t recognize you if you have the same style. If you’re not diverse you probably won’t get very far.”
This sentiment seems to have rubbed off on Brick Squad’s leader, Gucci Mane, too. Gucci’s recent Traphouse 3 track “Hell Yes,” which features a melodic flow and heavy auto-tune, sounds like something Thug could have written himself. “Yeah, people are going to think I wrote this song for him,” Thug says. “I wasn’t even there when he did the song. He called my phone at five in the morning and I was asleep and he was like, ‘Yo, could you come to the studio and listen to this song I did?’ And I went and listened to it and I told him it was the best song I ever heard from him in my life. I love that song.”
Dropping everything to rush to the studio isn’t a rare occurrence for Thug. He perks up when speaking about his recording process. “I don’t write. When I’m at home, I’m with my kids.” He is the father to four kids whose ages span from one to four years old. “But if I think of one word that will stick I’ll go straight to the studio because it will be on my mind and I know I can make one song off one word. If something hits me I’ll totally go straight to the studio.”
Young Thug is humble, but that doesn’t mean he’s always modest—he’s quick to brag about his endless flow of ideas and ability to create new songs constantly. In his interview with Fader he claims, “I can rap about anything. I can make a song about the floor. Could have an eight-bar hook and a 12-bar verse in eight minutes. Anything.” It’s another testament to how naturally this music comes to Young Thug, and so far doing what comes naturally has worked extremely well.
Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” With experimentation in hip-hop at an all-time high, recycled styles becoming obsolete, and even the most mainstream rappers aiming to come up with something completely alien, it’s fair to say that rap has gone weird. As for Young Thug, he is definitely turning into a pro.