Five years ago, Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, and Birdman’s star crown tattoo combined forces for “Lifestyle,” and though people have tried really, really hard, no one is any closer to parsing Thug’s moonspeak on the hook. However, Justin Charity and Micah Peters can say with reasonable certainty that the eventual Tha Tour Part 1 mixtape—released a half-decade ago this Sunday—is the best collaborative rap project of the 2010s, and, with slightly less certainty, that it’s the best rap project of the decade, period. The two discuss Tha Tour’s influence, the tragedy of there never being a Tour Part 2, and where on earth Rich Homie Quan is now.
Micah: So, the “Rich Gang” mantle may just be one of Birdman’s reliable promo tools, like a deeply memeable radio interview meltdown or Big Tymers. Remember how Future and Mack Maine and “Kevin Rudolf” were all in Rich Gang at one point? And now, according to an unsubtle post on Birdman’s Instagram, Rich Gang will return in Rich Gang 2 (which is technically Rich Gang 3) but now there will be 100 percent more Jacquees. Charity, how do we feel about this?
Charity: “Rich Gang 2”: We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, though generally—some days, shamefully—I feel pretty good about Jacquees.
But first, can we agree that Tha Tour Part 1 isn’t just “the best collaborative rap project of the decade.” It’s the decade’s best rap album, and its most essential rap album, full stop.
Yes, I get the key differences between mixtapes and albums, even in the streaming era, but “mixtape” sounds like yet another hedge in this context. There’s only three months left in the decade, and Tha Tour Part 1 remains the best rap album of the 2010s. Disagree?
Micah: No, obviously, and for a number of reasons. For one, the unlikeliness of it. Thug was signed to, without looking, 500 different airtight deals with 500 separate publishers, distributors, and boutique labels—Quan was right there with Thug, snared in the industry finger trap, except he’d already scored a national hit with “Type Of Way.” Plus, as I was saying, Birdman had already tried the whole Rich Gang thing before.
It would’ve been a surprise if they had just come close to matching “Lifestyle” for energy and execution; it was unthinkable that Thug and Quan could produce an 84-minute album that drags in precious few places, evincing … perfect chemistry?
Charity: Oh, “Lifestyle” resembles other songs on Tha Tour—and, if Cash Money had released Tha Tour a couple years deeper into the modern streaming music ecosystem, Tha Tour would have definitely included “Lifestyle,” if only to boost the mixtape’s overall streaming count—but I think the mixtape’s overall “execution and energy” are radical improvements, if not a departure. I remember Tha Tour striking me as a curveball. It was very dynamic, and—owing crucially to London on da Track’s bleak flourishes—it was noir. London produced “Lifestyle,” too, but Tha Tour demonstrates London’s style, and his talents, far more definitively.
Micah: I’m gonna assume you’re referring specifically to deep-space dread coursing through “Imma Ride,” or the sci-fi horror synths that kick in two seconds into the chorus on “Flava,” mutating a wistful, bright-eyed ballad-ish song into something more maniacal, and therefore, more fun. London was, as they say, on some (alien) other shit.
Charity: I’ve interviewed London before, and he told me he’s always on some low-country church shit. But, altogether, London, Thug, Quan, and Birdman do amount to some uncanny sounds on Tha Tour.
Tha Tour was sophisticated without being even remotely prestigious. Think of all the middlebrow signifiers Odd Future has had to hoard, for a decade now, to sound one tenth as interesting as Tha Tour. “Freestyle,” such an unassuming title suggesting an unstructured demonstration, turns out to be this vivid and tricky composition with the faintest, luxurious hint of a choir behind Quan’s voice. Listen to “Tell Em (Lies),” and it turns out Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan are Mariah Carey and ODB for a new generation.
Of course, Tha Tour de force begins with “Givenchy,” Young Thug’s orgasmic introduction to a whole new musical paradigm. I roll my eyes when considering how many top-tier pop musicians open their blockbuster studio albums with grandiose kayfabe statements, e.g., Drake opening Scorpion with a knock-off James Bond cinematic theme, Taylor Swift opening Lover with clickbait, etc. These statement pieces always suck. They’re too big, too ornate, too self-consciously important and yet, ultimately, too vapid. These songs all pale in comparison to Young Thug wailing, with rising volume and disintegrating grammar, about God knows what (“my toes and my bros and my hoes,” for sure).
Micah: It’s a simple, loving act of friendship, Charity: If he’s buying studded wingtips for himself, he’s also buying cocktail dresses and slides for the homies. Yes, it is me, it is he, the Rap Genius.
Charity: Musically, Tha Tour overwhelms me. I haven’t gone longer than a month since its unceremonious release five years ago without at least thinking about Tha Tour. It’s one of those albums in which musicians sound out all their ideas so profoundly, through sounds, without needing to tell you very much in explicit terms. It’s one of those albums where even beginning to explain what any given song is “about” would reveal you to be an artless dweeb.
Tha Tour wasn’t a mixtape designed to resolve the common complaints about mealy-mouthed Atlanta rappers who had the nerve to be younger than André 3000. It was a mixtape designed to prove how small-minded and tasteless the complaints would prove to be in posterity. These guys wrote songs, and those songs defied all contemporary skepticism about what “mumble rappers” could musically achieve.
But then, I suppose there’s an obvious counterpoint to be found in the failure of anyone, including Rich Gang, to exceed Tha Tour.
Micah: There’s a lot to be said for giving two rappers Who Matter Right Now a big funhouse to play in and just, you know, seeing what happens. The best thing about Tha Tour is how dedicated Thug and Quan seemed to be (with a noted few exceptions like “Throw Your Hood Up,” which might have been twice as good were it half as long and just a little more focused) to making the best song possible, rather than trying to “win” with their contributions.
It’s a far better moment of synthesis than, for instance, 2017’s Super Slimey, on which Future and Thug were occasionally in sync, but often felt at odds with each other.
Charity: Super Slimey sounds like a neutral, demilitarized zone in a way Tha Tour very much doesn’t.
Micah: The best songs were the solo ones; Thug felt screwed onto “All Da Smoke.”
Tha Tour is also more even than Without Warning, where 21 Savage was frequently shown up by a more engaging Offset, and far more interesting than Huncho Jack, which felt like 13 attempts at another “Oh My Dis Side” for Quavo and Travis Scott.
Everything seemed to suggest Tha Tour would be marginal—it was announced two weeks before it was released, and the artwork is, I’ll just say it, terrible!
Charity: The cover artwork certainly reminds you that Tha Tour was first available via DatPiff.
Micah: And yet here we are, five years later, hailing it as the best rap album of the decade, distraught that there was only ever one stop on the eponymous tour, and that we’ll probably never get the Part 2 that we want. In February 2015, Quan stepped away from the group to work on a solo project, Thug called him “Bitch Homie Quan” onstage, and that, apparently, was that.
Charity: Young Thug got pretty trollish in his underdog phase. He would go on to irritate Lil Wayne in a startlingly passive-aggressive fashion.
Micah: And also possibly had his tour bus shot up, maybe. It still throws me that Thug was going to name his debut album Tha Carter VI, when Tha Carter V was still on ice. At least when Birdman and Wayne released 500 Degreez, 400 Degreez was commercially available. Thug really said “[Wayne did] 1-5... I’m going to do 6-10,” and Birdman was just there, in the cut, seeing no potential problems with that and saying nothing.
Wayne threatened legal action over the prospective album title… and then Thug still called it Barter 6!
Charity: His feud with Quan was the bigger mystery. I’ve always assumed Thug and Quan must have clashed while recording those songs; the vocals can sound so difficult, and I have to imagine Thug micromanaged Quan in many respects. I have to imagine they left everything on the field. Hence, I can’t quite imagine a proper sequel.
Micah: I can’t even fathom how it’d sound, either, because they’re in such different places creatively and career-wise. Quan has tried his hand at a comeback with 2017’s Back To Basics, which slapped, and 2018’s Rich As In Spirit, which sounded as if it could have come out at any point between 2013 and 2015. Most recently there was The Gif, which I’ve only just become aware of, scanning Spotify for this piece.
Thug meanwhile has evolved into a legitimate, virtuosic, bankable pop star. So Much Fun, out last month, is the proof. It synthesizes all the most exciting threads of Thug’s musical acumen—the screeches, the yelps, the various other vocal curlicues—and the zany, freewheeling improvisation. It’s great, and I love it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was missing something despite having so much …
Charity: I think your earlier note about the Barter 6 controversy, and Thug’s strangely defiant admiration of Wayne, reveals the key problem with modern-day Thug. For the past five years, the music industry has neutralized his more rebellious and improvisational tendencies. I remember reading the old stories about Lyor Cohen begging Thug for hit singles. I remember reading Lyor’s pleas as repudiation of Tha Tour and a rush to move past Barter 6 and into cheesier territory. I remember when I first heard “Pacifier,” which I love, actually, but I remember fearing some longer shift toward Chris Martin. Turns out, Chris Martin was J. Cole.
Micah: Lyor Cohen begged Thug for just a crumb, a morsel, a milliliter of predictability, of pop star convention. There was this weird 300 BTS segment on CNBC titled “Tough Love” a few years ago, filmed on a number of shaky cameras outside the open door of a boardroom. In retrospect, it’s weird how much it borrows from The Office visually, and I feel cheated that there weren’t any straight-to-camera confessionals afterward. Anyway, Thug says, as if he’s placing a lunch order, that in the next year he wants “10 no. 1 singles.” And Lyor says he could, if Thug actually works on his music: “You just record so many songs and you leave them like little orphans out there. You have to come back to them.”
That is sort of a direct repudiation of Tha Tour and the process that spawned it, or at least trying to introduce a level of control into something that needs a certain amount of volatility to be the best version of itself. Tha Tour was flawed and perfect and singular, owing to an unrepeatable set of circumstances, and a rejection of better judgement, not unlike a gold terlet. At least we can say we shined—really shined—for one summer.