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.
In the early 2010s, the blueprint for what an MC could be was changing. A hoard of genre-bending, crooning artists had collectively expanded the confines of the rap game, and from those margins came Young Thug, an Atlanta rapper with a melody-driven sound and an unfettered eccentricity that defied the straightforwardness of his name.
His dynamism has captivated a worldwide stanbase, but threatened rap traditionalists from seemingly day one as he released bemusing breakouts like “Stoner” and “Danny Glover.” And it only intensified when he put on a dress. Young Thug has been rapping for just under a decade, and in that time he’s helped inspire a generation of chart-topping protégés, sold millions of units, won a Grammy, and affirmed just how left-field hip-hop can go. As of late, he’s been embracing his role as a young OG by putting on the next generation of artists.
The rap game is one of the only communities that empowers Black men to do just about whatever they want. So often, we see hurtful manifestations of that power, and Thug isn’t above those moments himself, but his pronounced impact on rap comes from his willingness to thwart cultural norms, whether it’s preconceived notions about how he should be rapping or what he should be wearing. Some accused him of merely attention-seeking when he achieved notoriety in 2014, but as his career has progressed and he’s divulged more about himself, it’s become more evident that he’s not fixated about toeing the line as much as he is heedlessly stepping over it. He’s marching to his own drum. Thug’s innovation, subversion, and illimitable vocal talent has made him one of the most compelling rappers of the 21st century.
It’s fitting that Thug, like so many other 2010s ATLiens, came up from Gucci Mane’s Brick Factory studios. He grew up in Atlanta’s Zone 3 in Jonesboro Projects, an area that informs the harshness of some of his lyrics. His childhood friend and rapper Capo has told a story about beefing with neighbors and having Thug knock on their door to lure them to the front where Capo shot at them, a gruff indication that Thug’s bars aren’t far removed from his upbringing. He put that experience into his music, and Peewee Longway, another neighborhood friend, helped him get his first break. One might assume Thug’s origin story would be someone hearing his high-pitched crooning and being instantly hooked, but Gucci says he signed Thug for $25,000 without even hearing a song. Who knows how many bets Guwop has made in his life, but the payoff from this one has to be high on the list.