If you haven’t heard of Young Thug, the chances are you’ve heard someone who sounds like Young Thug. The Atlanta rapper, born Jeffery Lamar Williams, has been a growing force in hip-hop for the better part of a decade. His instantly recognisable alto has been slithering and crawling its way up the charts for almost a decade, but the last 24 months have seen Thug rise to become the sun king at the centre of rap’s solar system.
In 2019, Young Thug became his own genre. He won his first Grammy for backing vocals and ad-libs on Childish Gambino’s This is America. Thug’s last album So Much Fun debuted at number one in the United States, a commercial culmination that displayed the artist’s musical contrasts in all their glory. It’s his answer to Lil Wayne’s career-defining Tha Carter III, a smartly-constructed distillation of his appeal – more coronation than a classic – diluting his berserk experimentation in favour of a restrained fluorescent joy that could appeal to suburban teens discovering vape pens and rap for the first time.
As well as topping the album chart, he briefly occupied 11 spots on the Billboard Hot 100, including his Post Malone collaboration, Goodbyes, which still receives over a million streams daily. And yet, Thugga’s most impressive legacy is his army of imitators; young artists who discovered that there’s money and fame to be made from idiosyncratic rhymes and unconventional sounds.
In the early 2010s Thug emerged from Atlanta, the city that has largely set the tone for hip-hop across this decade. The conventional narrative around Thug’s convention-melting screeches and warbles always considered him far too extraterrestrial, idiosyncratic, and hostile to the promotional demands required to become the chart-topping festival-headlining star that his talent warranted.