After almost a decade in the game, over a dozen full-length projects, and a perpetual stream of leaked music, Young Thug finally got his first No. 1 album with So Much Fun. The release came with several Young Thug interviews, which is typical for most artists during an album rollout but a surprising bonus for Thug fans. Over the years he's been notoriously elusive and rarely does interviews or explains himself in more than a few words at a time. I interviewed Young Thug in 2014 for a Complex cover story and experienced this firsthand—it was the shortest interview of my career.
The Atlanta rapper is only 28 years old, but the influence he's had on artists behind him is becoming more obvious with every year that passes. Dozens of rising stars cite Thug as inspiration, and with his YSL Records label he's successfully launching the careers of up-and-comers like Gunna and Lil Keed. He's evolved from making locally buzzing mixtapes to regularly charting with A-list collaborators like Camila Cabello, Ed Sheeran, and Post Malone. Just last month he was featured alongside Lil Nas X and Mason Ramsey on a remix to the longest-running No. 1 song in Billboard Hot 100 history.
And yet somehow, Young Thug is still something of a mystery, even to fans. And that's not by mistake. Geoff Ogunlesi, A&R at 300 Entertainment who has worked closely with Thug since 2015's Barter 6, explains it like this: "Young Thug will always be to people what Young Thug wants to be to people"
Ogunlesi maintains some mystique himself. "I don't really do interviews. It's not about me, it's about the artists," he says. In December of 2015, he tweeted: "The next time I post on here Young Thug will have a #1 album. Speak it into existence." He stuck to his word, and then on August 24 of 2019, after multiple Young Thug projects and almost four years of Twitter silence, it was confirmed that So Much Fun was the No. 1 album in the country, and Ogunlesi made his return to Twitter. We spoke to him about working with Thug for the past years, why he thinks this album topped the charts, and if he always knew that he'd eventually be back on Twitter.
First of all, I think a lot of people aren't clear on the role of an A&R and what that entails. Can you break down what your job is and what that means on a day to day basis?
It really depends on the artist and the individual and how you like to do it. I think one of the most important things is building a relationship. For me to give my opinion and give guidance to a creative individual's career, I feel like I have to know you to do that properly. I can't be in an office and tell you what I think the single should be if I haven't been out with you, if I haven't sat in the studio with you, if I haven't met your friends, met your family, know where you come from, and know why you want to do certain things and say certain things.
With Thug, I met him in 2014 when he did The Rodeo Tour with Travis [Scott]. I went on the whole tour. I wasn't a tour manager, I'm his A&R at that point. Everyone on tour has a specific job while they're on the road, but I didn't have a specific role on tour. I just kind of stuck around him. We went to a lot of different studios on that tour, and I spent time and really got to know him.
Next thing you know, I'm in Europe with him and then I'm on this tour and that tour. A lot of the actual relationship building comes from doing those other things that aren't, "Okay, let's sit in the studio and pick the album."
So on a day to day basis, the job really varies. A lot of my time is spent with artists, but then I'm on blogs such as yours, I'm on Instagram, I'm paying attention to word of mouth. For me, the best artists that I've ever found and continue to work with are from word of mouth and less from me looking at a viral charge.
Do you remember the first time you met him and what your first impression was?
I met him in Atlanta. I said, "My name's Geoff," and the first thing he ever said to me was, "Oh, my name is Jeff too." To me, that initially just let me know, "Okay, this guy's lighthearted." Because at that point, all I've known from about him is what I've seen in videos and things like that. Now that I know him well I know that he's not quiet, but in that particular setting, he was very quiet. Not in that he didn't have anything to say, but more in that he's observant, he's soaking things in. He's very good at reading people and I think he does that by seeing, and so from that first meeting, my first impression was like, "Okay, this guy's good, clearly very intelligent. He's personable and he's wise."
Did it take time for you to win over his trust or did you guys have a good connection from the start?
No, that took time. He never was closed off in a rude sense, but it's more like, "Okay, I don't know you, I don't know your intentions." I did that first tour, and then we went to Europe together that summer and that was the beginning of cementing a relationship. It took a good six months to get to a point where we could have real conversations.
There are so many things [Young Thug] knows without needing it to be explained. He knows marketing without having to take a marketing course.
How is working with Thug different from other artists that you've worked with?
I think every artist I work with is different, but I think Thug is someone that has a sense of self-awareness that is certainly different than some other people I've worked with. There are so many things he knows without needing it to be explained. He knows marketing without having to take a marketing course, he has such an innate sense about him that's so special. He's also got one of the craziest memories I've ever seen, which is insane. He's just so, so aware, even though he seems aloof.
We know Thug has so much music, and so much of it never ends up coming out. What is the process of deciding what songs are officially released? Is that just all him, or does he take input from people around him?
At the end of the day—like, at the very, very end of the day—it's the artist's call. For me as an A&R, I can provide guidance, but as much as I feel like I'm a part of it, it's not my album. It's about the artist first. He definitely makes the executive decisions, but he lets everyone have a seat at the table. When it comes to picking albums, the great thing about him, like you said, is there's so much music. It's not like, "Okay, we need to put together an album, let's go to the studio for two months and figure out." He's in the studio every single day. So when it comes to albums, it really starts as a conversation like, "Okay, what are we trying to accomplish right now?"
There are concepts, but more in terms of sonic palette and more in terms of mood. With So Much Fun, from the jump we knew what type of songs he wanted to put on there, and then it's about, "Okay, let's put together this list of 30, 40 songs. Now, let's narrow it down. Now, it's narrowed down, let's add this." Some of the songs were made very, very recently, and some of them are old, but it's really about picking the mood. We collectively have conversations, but he takes the reins on final call about what goes on.
Part of the reason I wanted to talk to you is because of a tweet. It was 2015 and you were like, "The next time I post on here, Young Thug will have a number one album." And you actually stuck to that.
I 100% meant that. The only reason I did that is because I 100% believed it.
Why do you think that So Much Fun is the album that finally clicked on such a major level?
I think—not just with artists, but in life—everything happens for a reason and when it's meant to happen, and everything that has happened previously defines what happens today. I think the reason that So Much Fun has the success that it has is because of everything that happened previously. It's because we put out seven projects before we put this one out. It's because we tried this and we tried that, we saw what worked. I would also say that this is the first time that we've put out a proper single and said, "Okay, this is the single for the album."
I think all of those things culminate in this, but at the end of the day, it's great music. It's difficult, but it's not rocket science. A great product yields great results, and so he just put out an album with great music and the timing was perfect. He's coming off of "Havana," then he has the "Old Town Road" remix, and he has "Goodbyes" with Post Malone, and he has the feature with Ed Sheeran, so it's all of these things coming together in a perfect storm.
I think the reason that 'So Much Fun' has the success that it has is because of everything that happened previously. It's because we put out seven projects before we put this one out.
In the TIDAL interview, he said that on this album he gave fans what they wanted instead of just doing what he wanted. What do you think the difference is between what Young Thug fans want versus what Young Thug wants?
I think you have to be specific because there's a bunch of different degrees of fans. I think the Thug stans, if you will, the diehards, the kids who are on Twitter and in these communities, they're perfectly in line with what Thug wants. They're the ones that want him to experiment and try things and do things differently and show why he's so different from every other rapper.
I think those fans are in line with him, but then you have the peripheral people that are aware of Young Thug and like this song and like that song, but maybe aren't so, so into him. I think those people, and the people beyond them who don't know about Thug at all, those are the ones that have a bit of a different sensibility than him. Those are the people that—to no fault of their own—like what's current. I feel like a lot of the music that he has put out that he likes is way in the future. "Family Don't Matter" is a perfect example. That song came out years ago and he was doing this kind of wave that hadn't caught on yet. People weren't ready for it yet, but he loved that song, so we put that song out. Timing is everything.
There's some music that's beyond time, which is funny, but you know, another perfect example is the Elton John song. I've had that song since 2015, and it wasn't the right time. And you know, it leaked and we put it out and even still, I wonder if that was too early. People are still catching up.
He's also opening up a lot more. He's doing interviews now. Have you talked to him about that? Was that something he was encouraged to do, or did he just decide it's time to start doing interviews?
I mean we talk about a lot of things, and like I said, he's hyper-aware, so I didn't say to him, "Yo, you should do this interview, that interview." I think he realized like, "Okay, now it's time to start opening up. Now it's time to let people in a little bit, because I haven't." He's aware that people know very little about him. He's hyper-aware of this, and he has a great sense of timing. It's not like he couldn't have done this a year ago. It's fully coming from him and I fully support everything that he does because he's right 99% of the time.
It seems like this album came together quickly, and even the album title was a last-minute change. Is it a challenge in working with Thug and trying to plan ahead of time?
Like I said, I trust in his gut so much that you have to learn to go with the flow. You have to learn what his flow is. The final track list came together quickly, but we'd been talking about this for months. So in our minds, this wasn't quick at all, but I guess from the outside looking in, it looks like this all happened very quickly. You have to learn to move along with the wave or you're not gonna be able to keep up.
Now that you've been working with Young Thug for so long, is it strictly professional or do you still enjoy Thug's music as a fan?
I definitely still enjoy his music as a fan, and actually that's one of the trickiest things for me. I'm so close to all this stuff and the songs that you guys are hearing now, I've been hearing for months. Sometimes because you're an A&R, because you work in the industry, you tend to overthink this stuff. We tend to overthink like, "Is this the right song, is that the right song?" What I try to do is go back to how I felt when I first heard it, whether it's a song that he just did or he's doing it in front of me. On that first listen, you're listening as a fan because you have no other point of reference. For me personally, I'm definitely still a fan of his and I try to think of it like a fan and not like an executive.
Do you have a favorite Young Thug song or album?
Wow. Some of my favorite songs aren't out. It's hard for me to pick a favorite album but Barter 6 holds a special place in my heart just because that was the first album that I ever had any hand in. These are all memories. These are points in time, this is a part of history. I hold a lot of them dear to my heart. Jeffery, Beautiful Thugger Girls, because of the risks he was taking. So Much Fun is one of my favorites. The next album is one of my favorites. I can't pick one.
Young Thug will always be to people what Young Thug wants to be to people. Him being a mystery is a personal choice.
Even with these new interviews, it seems like Thug is still misunderstood by many. Is Young Thug always going to be a little bit of a mystery to people?
I think Young Thug will always be to people what Young Thug wants to be to people, if that makes sense. Him being a mystery is a personal choice.
You know, when you think of Prince and you think of Michael Jackson, these are people that didn't feel attainable. You didn't feel like you really knew Prince. You didn't feel like you really knew Michael Jackson. Even though they did interviews there was a level of super-stardom. There's a level of untouchable. I think Thug goes against the grain of, "Okay, I'm on social media and you can see what I'm doing, and you know what I had for lunch and you know where I'm at right now."
He's been keeping a degree of separation. Even though he's now letting you in slightly, it'll always be on his own terms. So, I think as long as that's what he wants, that's what will be.
Where do you think Thug goes from here? He's a huge influence on other artists and now he's got this commercial success to a degree he's never had before. What are the next steps or next goals?
I think it's always to do better than you did yesterday. I'm so happy, I'm so thrilled, and I'm so proud that the numbers have finally caught up, but it's about elevation at every level. It's about him being a better songwriter and being a better performer. It's always about elevating and moving forward.
Anything you can tell us about the next project?
I mean, I think he laid it out well in the Fader article specifically and in some other articles where he talked about it, but again, this next project, whenever it comes out, is him letting you in. It's him telling you stories. There's some stories that I've heard on some songs that I didn't even know about, and I've known this guy for five years. That's really all I can say. I can't say anything specifically about who's producing what and blah blah blah, but I'll just let you know that it's going to be very personal.
What advice would you give to a kid who wants to someday be in your position? What steps should they be taking if they're interested in an A&R job like yours?
One of the first steps is to find artists and music that you believe in and reach out. There's maybe a little bit of intimidation, like, "Oh, I don't know what I'm doing" and all of this, but reach out. Find an artist who's not signed, who's not popping, who's not viral, and reach out to them, see how you can help them. Maybe you know a photographer that they can use, maybe you start as their manager. If you're trying to be an A&R and you're attached to an artist that a label likes, now all of a sudden you're in a different conversation in their eyes. I would say intern, not just at a label—intern at an agency, intern at a publishing company. Just try to get your foot in, in whatever way you can and just keep pushing.
Anything else you want to talk about?
No, that's it. I'm just so grateful. I don't do a lot of interviews because I personally believe that it's not about me. It's about Young Thug, it's about Lil Keed, it's about Lil Duke, it's about Strick, it's about Gunna, it's about these artists. I'm just so grateful and proud that I get to be along for this journey, and that the world is finally seeing what I saw five years ago and what I continue to see every day.