Louis Sanger, Contributor
On January 16th this year, Young Thug released the music video for the song “Wyclef Jean,” from his latest controversial mixtape, Jeffery. On said mixtape, Young Thug seems to aim slightly more towards the mainstream, trying to capitalize on the dancehall trend that has been popularized by artists like Drake. Thug, however, is unable to create a boring pop hit. On the track “Kanye West” (AKA “Pop Man” and “Elton John”), the sunny Caribbean beat is affected with a creative dexterity that allows him to do whatever he wants. What it is that he wants to do, it seems, is screech, moan and hum into the microphone, offering barely intelligible lyrics that mostly end in “wamp-wamp, ehhh”. Jeffery is classic Young Thug, just like the “Wyclef Jean” music video.
The video begins with a message from the co-director, Ryan Staake. The title card and following inter-titles tell the story of a disastrous shoot. A $100,000 budget was spent on kiddie cars, models, police cars, and a rental mansion. Young Thug turned up to the shoot ten hours late, only to leave without exiting his car. Staake’s video feels familiar: like a rock documentary about a particularly difficult band. Young Thug, then, would be the difficult rock star, but instead offers something more than that.
He certainly has the attitude for that rock star stereotype. Last December, he posted a video of himself abusing an airline employee, calling her a ‘peasant’ and offering her money to quit her job. He rarely gives interviews, and when he does, he always seems to give different answers to the same questions. He’s unpredictable and rude. But other things Thug does are what sets him apart. In an advertising campaign for Calvin Klein, he stands in front of the camera, itching his skinny naked body, saying: “In my world, it don’t really matter. You could be a gangster in a dress or a gangster in baggy jeans, ya know? … I feel like gender don’t really exist.” The ad, along with his repeated appearances in women’s clothing, his bizarre style of ‘rapping’, and his sporadic but always intriguing public appearances give off the sense that he’s holding back. It feels as if this lean-guzzling Blood member from Atlanta only exists because of circumstance. It feels as though had he been born somewhere else, in another time, he’d be completely different—but just as influential. Watching Young Thug, I’m reminded of David Bowie: His enormous canon of music is always presented as a package with the persona. Like Bowie, the art and the artist are inseparable. The music comes along with the attitude, the clothing, the backstory.
Often, Young Thug’s music falls short. Many of his songs are too long, too loud, or just too weird to be enjoyable. His lyrics, in the rare instances when one can understand them, are usually obscene and offensive. The allure of Young Thug, then, is in his bizarre and unexplained moments. It’s those moments that hint at something beneath the surface, something that’s never fully comfortable. It is this weirdness, this constantly hinted-at side of Young Thug that is constantly intriguing and inspiring people. I can’t help believing that Young Thug is more than the entitled, rude, rock star rapper presented to the world in the “Wyclef Jean” music video. He is a character that has never before appeared in rap music, a character that breaks boundaries naturally. Never the same, never quiet, and never easy.