To observe Young Thug is to entertain the misdirection of an enigmatic troll. Of course the launch of his debut album—and yes, it’s an album—would be defined by drama and missteps, so-called: first he calls the album Carter 6, then he renames the album when a third party (presumably Lil Wayne) claims copyright infringement, then he calls the album a mixtape and promises a true debut in August. With lackluster promo and two weeks’ notice of its release, Barter 6 is an anti-event. This is not the album you're looking for.
Given the slobbering ingenuity and pop preference that Weezy's Carter series represents, Young Thug’s Barter 6 is not the record you were expecting from the rapper who explicitly jacked that mantle from his idol. Here, instead, we have an exceedingly quirky tape that comprehensively illustrates an exceedingly quirky rapper, hence the bounty of shout-outs to pizza, the animal kingdom, and the letter B. While the running feud between Weezy and Thugger is, ostensibly, a new development, Barter 6 is littered with hints at this rift; "Got 100 mil flat like my motherfucking idol/I might eat it, I might lick it, but I swear I'll never bite 'em," for instance. Alternatively: "Pussy boy, I'll leave you dead and call it dead-ication."
Where Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Part 1 opened with catharsis, Barter 6 opens with “Constantly Hating,” a leisurely yawn that resembles the intro to Drake’s Take Care. Apart from "Check" and "Can't Tell," however, most of Barter 6 is the inverse of such a blockbuster: spacious and muted, with few traces of the power and catchiness of "Stoner" or "Lifestyle." Of 13 songs, only six offer simple, immediately impressive hooks. Of the seven guest rappers featured, only Young Dolph and MPA Duke sound like full-bodied intrusions, with T.I. damn near whispering his threats and résumé on "Can't Tell."
Though Young Thug is an avatar of New Atlanta, producers London on da Track and Wheezy 5th thwart the boom-snicker monotony of that scene with high-noon brass on “Never Had It,” and a campfire riff as the hook of “Amazing." As always, however, the melodies hinge on Thugger’s voice, which could carry most of these songs even if they faded a cappella mid-delivery. His yelps and howls and literal cries for attention are a soundboard unto itself, and his standard rapping voice plays more like a saxophone than speech. And while the beats are innovative, they can sound listless in comparison to Thugger's own dynamic range. "Dome" is a notably weak moment, in which Thugger's hook ("Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.") and Wheezy 5th's sleepiest beat lull one another into a coma, despite Duke's brief attempts to shout life into the track.
I love Rich Homie Quan’s noir yarns as much as the next gal, but Quan's absence doesn’t deflate Barter 6 as much as fans of the defunct Rich Gang might initially fear. By the power of his surreal poetics, Thugger summons the key gangsta rap tropes—libido, camaraderie, angst, intimidation, and addiction—and recasts them in his singular image. Like on "Od," when he babbles to a mistress: “Wipe it, wipe it, wipe it!/I get that pussy, and I just demolish, -molish, -molish/Divide it; all in they mouth, no Trident/No, baby, but I wipe it! I kiss it and goodnight it." Mind you, this is the second half of a verse that begins with somber nods to Mike Brown and Thug's deceased brother Bennie. This whiplash is a glance of the album in general, which dials between playful ("No, teacher, we ain't talking shit!") and morbid ("Wait, let me pick up his remains/Let them gators get their prey") with ease just short of ADHD or some such disorder of thought and imagination. Like Fifth Element’s Leeloo or Cowboy Bebop’s Radical Edward, Young Thug is a scramble of dramatic extremes and subterranean lingo, so unintelligible until you sit still and simply listen to the kid. "Every time I dress myself, it goes motherfucking viral," he says. "No, I'm not gay," he says, and really that's as plainspoken as it gets.
On Barter 6, a rapper frequently dismissed as a druggie dance trapper inverts himself, yielding a passionate and personal record that's as insular as Earl's latest, but with charisma and color. Thugger's visceral illustrations are one-of-a-kind, and he communicates joy, frustration, and dread with unique clarity. Still, Barter 6 is a flub of the grand expectations that many fans and critics have assigned to Young Thug. Who knows what Hy!£UN35 will bring. Like Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug is apparently confident in a course that affords him extreme creativity and, alas, dwindling appeal in the pop marketplace. While the constellation of one-hit novices struggle to recreate their biggest, catchiest records, Thugger, Future, and Chief Keef are the vanguard of a new radicalism within gangsta rap, so undaunted by poor annotation and deaf to the pop critics and rap purists who skim resentfully through it.