Young Thug turns hip-hop Upside Down
Jimmy Kemper | Tuesday, September 6, 2016
In a scene in this summer’s smash Netflix hit “Stranger Things,” middle school science teacher Mr. Clark explains a parallel dimension called the Upside Down to the young protagonists. Mr. Clark uses a paper plate to draw a wonderful analogy involving an acrobat and a flea standing on a tightrope to explain this alternate landscape: a sort of reverse of our world that we, the acrobats, cannot see, but unusual creatures such as the flea can reach by hanging onto the opposite side of the rope and reality.
Young Thug’s latest mixtape “No, My Name Is JEFFERY” is the Upside Down of this summer’s hip-hop music. Thugga has created this bizarre, uncharted, alternate dreamscape that exists somewhere between hip-hop and pop music. While the Upside Down of “Stranger Things” was painted with dark shades of blue and filled with a deafening silence, Young Thug paints his world with bright colors and loud, bombastic and almost inhuman noises.
Speaking of inhuman noises, Upside Down’s sole occupant is a faceless humanoid creature that speaks only in screeches. The kids of “Stranger Things” call it the Demogorgon, in reference to the prince of demons from their favorite game, Dungeons and Dragons. A quick look at the much-talked-about album art for “JEFFERY” places Young Thug in a similar light: Wearing a gender-obscuring dress and a massive hat, Thugga has become a formless and faceless creature.
While many deride the album art as a gimmick and a marketing ploy, it maintains an important place in the mythology of Young Thug’s “new” identity, Jeffery. From first glimpse, the artwork establishes themes of transition and identity by creating this image of a mysterious, otherworldly Demogorgon that is radically different from the young and upcoming rapper who decorated the covers of “Slime Season 3” and “Barter 6.”
At least for the purposes of this mixtape, the artist has fully embraced this new identity, declaring that he no longer wants to be known by his stage name of Young Thug but rather by his birth name of Jeffery. It’s unheard of for a hip-hop artist to switch back from his stage name — his public identity and way of communicating with the world.
Now that Young Thug’s music exists in the Upside Down, perhaps it’s time his identity does as well. On “JEFFERY,” Young Thug throws out the sharp lyrics of “Barter 6” in favor of expressing himself entirely through the sound of his voice rather than the content. The result is an emotionally driven and fully realized work that places Young Thug in the realm of the sublime.
This is most apparent in the album’s closer, “Kanye West.” Here we see Thugga at both his most experimental and his most refined. Here, Young Thug forgoes a traditional chorus in favor of a hook based entirely on scatterbrained chants of “wamp-wamp” and “wet-wet,” creating an otherworldly aesthetic unlike anything else we’ve heard from hip-hop this summer. To balance out this stunning work, Thugga employs Wyclef Jean, whose repeated, pleading cries of “Jeffery” sooth a potentially alienating track. No magnum opus of hip-hop is complete without top-of-the-line production, however. Cassius Jay, a protégé of Atlanta producer–superstar Zaytoven, builds out the foundation for this gorgeous track to rest on with airy piano melodies, humming 808 beats and buzzing synths.
Together, these disparate elements create the emotional apex to an album that transcends the status quo of rap music. In “Kanye West” and the overarching “JEFFERY” mixtape, Young Thug has designed a bold, experimental, refined yet upside-down world that deconstructs our notions of what hip-hop can be by blurring the lines of identity and voice.
Tracks: Kanye West, Harambe, Wyclef Jean
If you like: Future, Travis Scott, Rae Sremmurd
Label: 300 Entertainment