When I first heard the music of Jeffery Lamar Williams, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. The song was “Lifestyle” by Rich Gang, a 2014 romp of which I understood literally none of the lyrics, but that also had a strange listenability that couldn’t quite be dismissed. Williams—better known by the moniker Young Thug—kept popping up that same year, appearing repeatedly in Pitchfork’s Top 100 Songs of 2014. This guy was putting himself into my consciousness, and with a style truly unlike anything that I’d ever come across; I had no idea what to make of it.
A few years later, things look different. No longer does his presence so perplex me; rather, his name on a track trigger’s another very specific emotional response: excitement. Today marks the release of Thug’s third commercial mixtape of the year, No, My Name Is JEFFERY, and the excessively prolific rapper—he’s released 12 projects since the start of 2014—is certainly an acquired taste, but one that I’m glad to have positioned myself to enjoy.
Even if you don’t seek out music from the artist himself, it can be hard to escape the Atlanta native’s unmistakable flow, as he pops up for features almost everywhere. This summer he’s spit a verse on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, appeared on Usher’s R+B banger “No Limit,” helped Gucci Mane re-establish himself on “Guwop Home,” and all of this coming a year after proving himself to be Jamie XX’s greatest muse yet, providing all the vocals on “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times),” a ray of sunshine and brightness in a time that sorely needs it.
Thug’s ubiquity is part of what makes him so unique and, in a way, stimulating. He appears everywhere, through song credits and his undying artistic efforts, but the same goes for his image: he was pictured on a giant Downtown Manhattan billboard a few weeks back, and his aura is purely encapsulating of the time that we’re living in. From upending gender norms in a genre with a long history of solidifying them—he’s pictured in a dress in the Calvin Klein campaign, as well as on the cover art of No, My Name Is JEFFERY—to literally naming a song on JEFFERY after a meme: “Harambe.”
But that brings us back to the art. He’s not just an activist or outspoken, elevated by his public statements: his music backs it up. I can’t tell you quite why the song on the new project is called “Harambe,” but I can tell you this: that song BANGS. That track is going to be a pregame staple for the foreseeable future, and that’s exactly what Thug exists for. Like anything great in the world, it may take a bit of warming up to, to fully jump on board. The first time I ever had coffee, as a little kid, I literally gagged on it. But I gave it a chance and, years later, holy fuck, now I’m addicted. When I first heard “Lifestyle” a few years ago—what the fuck is this?—it didn’t quite click. But there was something there. And as he’s blown up with time, I think a lot of people are with me. A hip-hop aficionado that I follow on Twitter, @Trilladelphian, put it pretty astutely a few weeks ago in a Tweet:
The young thug listening cycle:
2. Ok catchy but still trash
3. Ironically like
4. Secretly enjoy
5. THUGGER THUGGER BABY
— DJ think piece (@Trilladelphian) July 21, 2016
Imagine never giving coffee a second chance after your first try. Think about all you’d be missing out on—lattes, cappuccinos, americanos, and so much more. Getting past that initial impression is tough, but it can prove invaluable—and addictive. There’s a plunge to take, and it’s one that may take commitment, but I promise that it’s worth it. It’s hard to imagine a world without coffee, and it’s getting harder to imagine one without Young Thug either.