Inside Young Thug's Wild Studio Life

From wild animals to celebrity guests, Young Thug’s closest collaborators explain how he's cultivated one of the most unique studio experiences in rap.

Inside Young Thug's Wild Studio Life: Young Thug Week at Complex
Complex Original

Complex Original

Inside Young Thug's Wild Studio Life: Young Thug Week at Complex

It’s Young Thug Week at Complex! Leading up to the release of his new album ‘Punk’ on Friday, we’re diving deep on the influential rapper’s career, publishing new interviews, essays, and lists each day of the week. Follow along here.

A little over two years ago, Young Thug decided he wanted to get a pet for Young Stoner Life Records’ main studio. 

“There was one day Thug looked at me, and he was like, ‘Yo, I want to get a snake and a spider,’” Bainz, Thug’s go-to engineer recalls. “Right down the road from the studio, there was this reptile shop that we used to go and just hang out over there. So the next day, a bunch of us went in there and we got two snakes and a tarantula.” 

That was Young Thug and YSL’s official introduction into exotic domestication. Since then, YSL’s main studio, which is most commonly referred to as the Snake Pit, has turned into a “safari” of sorts. They’ve adopted snakes, tarantulas, a Bengal cat, and a mini bulldog that Bainz primarily cares for at his home. 

“They all family,” Gunna tells Complex, referring to the studio creatures. “We treat them like family, and they’re all named Tootie, every last one of them.” 

When you walk into the Snake Pit, you never know what you might find. Any given day, collaborators like Future or Travis Scott may stop by to check out what the YSL team is working on. Between the A-list collaborators, wild animals, and prolific output, it’s safe to say that Young Thug has cultivated one of the most unique studio experiences in the business. 

YSL owns several homes in California and Atlanta that are each equipped with recording studios, at which many of the artists live and record each day. And the Snake Pit, YSL’s commercial recording studio, is where the crew usually convenes as a whole. Across the various studios, Thug has normalized a nearly 24/7 work ethic. “Out of 24 hours a day, maybe 18 [hours are spent in the studio],” Gunna estimates. “We might do six hours at our own houses, then we go back to the studio.” While saying this over the phone, he reveals he’s on his way back to the studio after completing an early session around “eight or nine in the morning.” 

Gunna and Young Thug image via Getty

YSL rapper Strick, who has worked with Thug since 2012, also came straight from the studio before hopping on the phone with Complex. He suggests Thug’s work ethic, even after all his success, has inspired the rest of the team. “Thug just had a No. 1 single [“Way 2 Sexy”] with him, Drake, and Future and he’s still in the studio until the sun comes up. Sometimes he doesn’t even leave the studio,” Stricks says. “I really admire that about him because he sets that example for us. So we all stay in the studio, too. Why would I leave the studio when Thug’s got a No. 1 and he ain’t even left the studio yet?” 

Inside Young Thug studio sessions, the energy is a combination of fun, serious, and a little bizarre. Everyone who works in close proximity to Thug agrees he’s hands-on during every part of the musical process. In fact, he is so hands-on, that he rarely records in the booth. Instead, the bengal cat has turned that into its own “play area,” Bainz says. Thug prefers to record at the control table, where he can work hand in hand with his engineers and suggest changes on the fly. Perhaps the most accurate picture of Thug’s recording style is the now viral image of him sternly looking at a Pro Tools session on a computer screen, as Lil Durk and others observe in awe. “He’s very visual,” Bainz explains. “He needs to be able to jump on the keyboard and stuff because it’s all very visual for him to see the bar, see when it’s coming. That’s how he remembers which takes, as well.”

“Out of 24 hours a day, maybe 18 [hours are spent in the studio]. We might do six hours at our own houses, then we go back to the studio.” – Gunna

Geoff Ogunlesi, who has worked with Thug as an A&R and manager for over six years, notes that Thug wears many hats, including that of a rapper and CEO. Mostly notably, though, is his knack for engineering. While recording songs, Thug studies the Pro Tools session and gives very specific instructions to his engineer about how he wants everything laid out. “It’s funny, if he wanted to, he could literally be one of the best engineers in the game right now,” Ogunlesi declares. “If he decided that he just wanted to record other artists and vocal coach other artists–and mind you, he does it some already—he could. I think his relationship with engineers is very symbiotic.”

Ogunlesi and Strick both describe Thug as a student of music. Not only has he studied an array of genres, from rap to classical and rock, Ogunlesi says he has also “gained such a great understanding of Pro Tools that he’s able to communicate it in a way that engineers understand, better than a lot of artists.”

Thug’s multitasking can sometimes become a complicated “dance” for his collaborators. “Normally when people work, they do different takes and then they pick each one. With him, it’s so quick that he’ll just do multiple different versions. And in his head, he knows which he wants to take from. So instead of explaining that, sometimes it’s just easier to jump in and do it,” Bainz explains in detail. “So that’s the dance that we do, where he jumps in and I jump back in and I’m just making sure that everything is technically correct. We don’t really talk much when he is working, because any extra talking will interrupt his workflow. It’s almost like a trance he gets into when he’s working. He’ll either just point here or do that.”

Young Thug image via Getty Images

Talking might be limited when he’s actually recording, but there’s never a dull moment when Thug is in the Snake Pit.

“What hasn’t happened in the studio?” Gunna asks, noting that most studio sessions include memorable moments. “We done had all types of crazy things. Crazy women, all types of things coming around in the studio, man… I wouldn’t know where to start at, honestly.” Laughter is even more prevalent. “One thing y’all don’t know about him, is that man funny as hell,” he continues. “He got all the jokes. He’s funny as a motherfucker. All day, everyday, we be trying to find time to be serious because we play too much.”

And of course, it wouldn’t be a Young Thug session without working a little animal education in the day. All of the YSL team has developed an affinity for animals, but Thug is the group’s own Steve Irwin. National Geographic frequently plays on mute in the studio, and Thug is known to spit out random facts at any given moment. 

“He actually knows a lot of really cool facts about many, many animals. Sometimes it’s shocking,” Strick recalls. “We’ll be sitting down and someone will say something and he’s like, ‘Oh yeah. Did you know that etc, etc?’ I’m like, ‘What the fuck? How the hell you even know that about a dolphin?’” 

Recording isn’t just confined to the Snake Pit. Thug can record anywhere in the world, and often invites his team to join him on his global expeditions. Strick’s fondest memory was recording a song called “Die Slow” with Thug in Venice, Italy. The song was made in 2019 in an Italian hotel room overlooking the water, and will appear on Thug’s forthcoming album, Punk. “It was my first time in Venice. It was such a beautiful place,” Strick remembers. 

“Thug actually knows a lot of really cool facts about many, many animals. Sometimes it’s shocking.” – Strick

Thug’s creative process is fueled by unpredictability and confidence. You never know what’s going to happen in the studio, but the result is usually extraordinary. “He’s already got such a cool mystique about him that you’re kind of just waiting for him to do something magical,” Strick says. “He brings out a level of creativity that’s so organic that you just feed off of that. He’s super genuine, so when you’re watching him record, you know that it’s coming from a really pure place.” Oftentimes, that energy manifests in Thug experimenting with adlibs and background vocals that no one else in the industry can duplicate. “You almost got to be there to experience it,” Strick adds. 

Thug’s ability to jump from a small hotel room in Europe with five people to the Snake Pit with 15 people, Ogunlesi says, is what “gives him another sort of energy that he thrives off of. That just highlights his confidence, where it doesn’t matter what is going on, he’s going to make music.”

That self-assurance and fearlessness rubbed off on everyone, including Gunna. “Thug is confident for whatever he faces,” Gunna says. “Like, as long as he understands and knows what he’s saying, the point is gonna get across. He’s going to make sure of that. That’s one thing I learned from him. I know whatever I say, it could sound crazy or whatever, I’m going to get my point across.” 

Now, Young Thug is gearing up for the release of his second studio album, Punk, which is slated to drop on October 15. And from the moment he began recording, Thug perfectly curated the vibe to his eccentric taste, setting up a house in Atlanta with themed recording sessions. 

“It’s a big performance all the time,” Bainz says, summing up his experiences recording with Thug and YSL. “That’s how making music is for them. With Thug, it’s always the first thing that comes to his mind. So you have to be ready to capture that because many times out of ten, you’re going to end up using it.” No one does it quite like Young Thug. 

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