Twenty-five seconds into “Family Don’t Matter,” the first song on Young Thug’s latest album, Beautiful Thugger Girls — which dropped last Friday — the braided ATL weirdo shouts “yeehaw!” while rapping about Xanax over a friendly acoustic guitar riff. It’s a jokey moment, and I promise you the rest of the album past Track 1 isn’t some novelty rush to country music. It’s just a young rapper teasing his creative range by launching himself to a goofy genre extreme and then working backward to his real wheelhouse: R&B.
Young Thug isn’t the only Atlanta casanova dropping a for-the-ladies-titled hip-hop project this month. 2 Chainz also dropped a new album, Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, on Friday. That album’s standout track, “OG Kush Diet,” is the most consequential solo record that 2 Chainz has made in several years. The song, produced by FKi and iLL Wayno, opens with snaps and castanets, only for 2 Chainz to slowly leapfrog his way to a higher register and plane, the beat shifting around all the while like a Super Mario World stage.
Young Thug and 2 Chainz: 14 years apart in age, and yet they’re competing for a single generation’s affections. They’re two Atlanta tricksters whose voices, so uniquely deployed, render sharp emotional uplift even as their lyrics sow a mix of confusion and amusement among fans.
Young Thug has, at this point, flourished for three too many years to count Beautiful Thugger Girls as his debut album, though, technically, it is. And yet, he’s already got more than five years of great mixtapes, successful singles, and major rap cameos already to his credit. But his career’s a bit of a mess. Thug’s is a chaotic mind, and former 300 Entertainment boss Lyor Cohen admitted some difficulty in training the rapper to release songs in a timely, disciplined manner. Instead, Young Thug tends to live, and thrive, between proper release dates. For the past three years, he’s sprung leaks, shared Instagram snippets, and sacrificed a few promo singles to the botched rollout void. The mythical Hy!£UN35 (HiTunes), a project once billed as the rapper’s 2015 debut album, has simply disappeared. (The hitmaker Mike Will Made-It produced that project’s lead single, “Pacifier”; he’s missing from Beautiful Thugger Girls altogether.) Drake is reportedly one of this album’s executive producers, though it’s unclear what that means, because Drake has never commented on his involvement, and the album sounds like pure, unaltered Thug, outside guidance be damned.
Beautiful Thugger Girls is the best thing Thugger’s done since the Tha Tour Part 1 — his one Rich Gang duets mixtape with former musical partner Rich Homie Quan — where we first learned that Young Thug is better at ballads than most of his male contemporaries sitting on the R&B shelf. For a rapper, Young Thug is an incredible singer. Generally, we could talk all day about how rappers are the new singers, and vice versa; and about Drake as the lodestar for this musical convergence. But ain’t nobody tryna hear Drake belt, gnash, or wail with the gusto that Young Thug brings to a serenade such as “Me or Us,” or to a dirge such as “Daddy’s Birthday.” Lil Wayne may have pioneered Auto-Tune rap stardom, but here Young Thug proves (where Lil Wayne notoriously failed) that you can successfully set it to guitars.
With Pretty Girls Like Trap Music, 2 Chainz takes a wordier, conservative tack, rapping in (shall we say) the traditional sense. He starts off clenched and self-serious, chopping through haunted-house vibes on “Riverdale Rd” and the screwy lullaby “4 AM,” a collaboration with Houston’s hedonist yodeler Travis Scott. It is by no means the most imaginative 2 Chainz album you’ll ever hear, and it doesn’t really do justice to the great run of guest verses that he has kept up since “No Problem” and “Castro” last summer.
Still, “OG Kush Diet” does capture a bit of the rapper’s old magic when his song’s tropical bridge kicks in: “Your favorite rapper’s got no talent / Homeboy got coke habits / I used to drive a Porsche till I found out it was made by Volkswagen.” That’s classic 2 Chainz writing: a spree of boasts and insults that fold in on themselves for a couple of dozen bars to achieve peak density. But the song overall is a triumph of rhythm more than anything else. As much as fans have long regarded 2 Chainz among hip-hop’s wisest, funniest uncles, “OG Kush Diet” suggests that his unheralded strength is in his ability to dismantle even the most dynamic beats (think of “Castro” and “Mercy,” too) with lyrical rigor that has more to do with pitch and cadences than literal construction. 2 Chainz doesn’t sing, but he and Thug do indeed have a range in common.
It is a truism to say that pretty girls like trap music; who doesn’t? I hear 2 Chainz hopscotch through a dozen, mischievous drum sounds at once on “OG Kush Diet” and I hear Young Thug hit those high, ecstatic notes on “She Wanna Party” off Beautiful Thugger Girls; and then I wonder who, gender and beauty notwithstanding, wouldn’t sing and dance to that?