Lightning isn’t supposed to strike twice, but somehow Brian “Birdman” Williams has been the exception to this rule. For better or worse, his vision and pull have helped him develop new artists every decade, and in 2014 he did it again. He combined his foresight with the unparalleled talent of Atlanta newcomers Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug to create Rich Gang: Tha Tour, Pt. 1, one of the best first, and last, mixtapes from a group ever.
Birdman’s Rich Gang experiment was something that didn’t have a main attraction. The first compilation album from the project was released to little fanfare in 2013, and included the hit single “Tap Out.” Composed of already established YMCMB artists and Future, Rich Gang was little more than a catchphrase at the beginning of a song. The real inception of the group came when the Cash Money tycoon focused on the young energy of Atlanta upstarts Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, completely leaving his established and, frankly, old attractions behind. The two rappers were looking for an outlet, and the mogul provided the spark to get their music off the ground.
Young Thug was a rebel without a cause but bound to several ironclad record deals that had him stuck in purgatory between Gucci Mane’s 1017 imprint and Atlantic Records (he would later sign officially with 300 Entertainment). Rich Homie Quan was in a similar situation, but he at least had a hit single to his name in “Type of Way,” which impacted earlier in 2013. The two would guest star with each other (on songs such as “Fuck Out My Face”) before releasing a proper single under the Rich Gang moniker titled “Lifestyle,” yet another unlikely anthem that had everyone singing along––even if they didn’t know what Thug was saying. The addition of Birdman, who regardless of his negative image had helped create a decade of new stars, had people rubbing their hands in anticipation of the new version of Rich Gang’s next move. Thug was the wordsmith with a dizzying flow, who could spew outlandish similes that sound like non-sequiturs, yet make perfect sense to the listener who loves to research (or do a lot of drugs). Quan was the soulful and erratic member, who made up for his lack of lyrical dominance with sheer honesty and pain in his delivery. The real Rich Gang was born, and we could smell the money on them.
The announcement of Rich Gang: Tha Tour, Pt. 1 came out of nowhere, and surprised as many of the people working on it as it did the fans. Birdman pushed the promotion into overdrive with a series of Instagram posts, which was incredible if you know how often his own artists’ projects get pushed back. Young Thug’s longtime engineer and tour DJ Alex Tumay worked on the whole mixtape and described the organic, and spontaneous union between the three: “Birdman came around [last June and booked] one session for one night while looking around town for studios,” he said. “We did one track that night, and when Birdman heard it he booked me and the entire four-room studio for three months straight.”
The three members of the newly formed Rich Gang worked on so many songs that the tracklist wasn’t even finalized until two weeks before it was released, according to Alex. The hardworking nature of both Thug and Quan wasn’t surprising, but the thing that stuck out the most on Tha Tour, Pt. 1 is how their styles meshed with each other without overlapping due to their unorthodox methods. Thug’s lyrical abilities were at their absolute best; he blacked out on songs like the opening track, “Givenchy,” or “Keep It Goin,” which surely made more than a few detractors sit up and listen to him surgically bend the production to his will.
The most interesting part of their dynamic was the fact that Thug wouldn’t mind deferring to Quan when they were on songs together. Their chemistry was almost set up to make sure they were creating the best song, and not trying to body each other. These two made hit singles on this mixtape with songs like the bouncy ballad “Tell Em (Lies)” and the stadium-ready single “Flava,” proving that they had more in the stash than just “Lifestyle.” “Everyone was having fun, and really pushing themselves artistically,” Alex added. “It was such a unique atmosphere, because at any point anyone could walk in the booth and start rapping. They'd go bar for bar constantly, which as an engineer was stressful, because everyone has such a unique and different voice and delivery.”
The production was also more focused than their previous projects, handled by just a few producers. London on da Track, Goose, and Isaac Flame handled the majority of the mixtape, giving it a cohesive feel that Thug and Quan rarely had in their previous projects. Goose, who met with Thug through mutual friend Dun Deal, was already acquainted with Quan and described the creation of the project as a marathon: “[We would] just work from four in the afternoon until six in the morning. You’d have Thug in one room, Quan in another room, and I was making beats in a third room. It was very open.” He also said that the process of making songs took less than 20 minutes between the two rappers, which is an impressive stat considering how efficient the songs were on the mixtape. Over 100 unreleased songs leaked from the project a few months after Tha Tour dropped, further highlighting how comfortable Thug and Quan were at making music together in such a short amount of time. “Nothing felt forced. It was just about getting to the next song,” Goose said.
After the mixtape was released, the critical acclaim was enormous. Though Thug’s weirdness remained a focal point of why people refused to get into him, his music with Quan served to help both of them get respect as more than just one-hit wonders. However, there were cracks forming in the seemingly unbreakable bond of Rich Gang. The tour that it got its namesake from, and was promoted endlessly in interludes that sound funny today—such as the one during the last 15 seconds of “Givenchy,” or a DJ Greg Street promo at the end of “Imma Ride,” where he name-drops Tha Carter V (which is still unreleased)—never materialized. Other than a few dates in Chicago and a couple other cities, Birdman, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan never got anything off the ground, for reasons that remain unknown.
Rich Gang released a number of videos for the project as well, as songs like “Tell Em (Lies)” and “Imma Ride” picked up momentum and seemed like surefire singles. The second Rich Gang album, which was originally supposed to be the end result of the formation of the group, also never came out after the monster hit “Lifestyle” petered on radio. To make matters worse, Thug and Quan seemed to be on the outs. After Thug called him “Bitch Homie Quan” while on tour, Quan announced he was leaving the group a few weeks after. As the questions built around that incident, the answers never came. Thug remained aloof about the issue, as usual, and Quan to this day says that there are no issues between the two. His exit was perfect timing, as the fascinating animosity between Birdman and his original protege, Lil Wayne, had grown ugly, and Thug was pulled willingly (or unwillingly, as no one can really tell) into the middle. Rich Gang, as we knew it, was dead.
Of course, there are silver linings to the story. Quan celebrated yet another hit single this year in “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh),” and even made a headline or two with his bizarre actions (like punching a security guard and escaping on a speedboat). Thug remains a critically acclaimed star who is making strides to match his mainstream success with the lofty praise given to him––and staying out of the headlines altogether. They’ve all but left Birdman’s nest, and even he has strangely been silent for the better part of the year. His issues with Lil Wayne have put the spotlight on him, and not even a surefire success story with two new upcoming rappers can get him out of the apparent wrong-doings he’s done to his biggest artist. People close to them think that the Rich Gang story is far from over: “I wouldn’t doubt [that they will make music again],” said Goose. “You have to see what the future holds.” Even in the event that they don’t join together again, or actually give us a tour, their mixtape, Rich Gang: Tha Tour, Pt. 1, is still one of the most accomplished projects to come out in a very long time. Even if the group fizzled out as quickly as they came, the whirlwind marriage of their personalities made an impact that we’ll feel forever.