Here’s what Rap Genius isn’t telling you about Thug’s latest project
If Young Thug is known for anything, it isn’t his lyricism. Thug is probably best known for his eclectic fashion sense (as he puts it: “every time I dress myself, it go motherfuckin’ viral“) or his disbelief in the construct of gender, but on his latest project he elevates himself from his previous position as a millennial Judith Butler to a modern day Tolstoy, offering reflections on a range of issues facing our society couched in rich, contemplative prose.
“Got another half a milly in white tees, of course”
Let’s begin with Young Thug’s critique of materialism and overpriced fashion. Lesser rappers have tried to address this issue in the past (looking at you Macklamore) but none have approached the nuance of a single line from Thug. At first listen, this line appears braggadocios. Young Thug is letting us know he has money to spare for white tee-shirts. But, given some thought, it becomes clear that Mr. Thugger is executing a twofold absurdist critique of materialist culture in the style of Volatire. The more obvious critique, given the prominence of this issue in recent years, is the elevated price points of fashion clothing. While it seems ludicrous that plain white tees would run Thug a half a million dollars, upon reflection and research, the proposition is not entirely unbelievable. Given that there exists a tee-shirt priced at 400,000 dollars, it’s not beyond belief that Young Thug might hold 6 percent of his net worth in tee-shirts. In showing us this, Thug is calling to our attention the absurdity of the world in which we live.
Though veiled, an even more piercing critique contained in this line calls back to thinkers such as Louis Brandeis, who took issue with what he saw as the emerging ease-of-access culture stemming from mass production. In Thugger’s terms, as goods like tee-shirts become cheaper and more available through mass production, each individual good means less to us and we are inclined to buy more. The throw-away culture that emerges as a result is one in which a person might spend half a million dollars on tee-shirts over the years, discarding or forgetting previously purchased shirts because it costs so little to replace them. In this biting criticism, Young Thug revives the small business, agrarian politics that many thought died with the industrial revolution.
“Bout to put my d*ck in your mouth right when you yawn”
Hearing this, one might think Young Thug is simply indulging the overt misogyny that has long been central in critiques of hip hop culture. But this is too simple for the eminent Bootygoon, too easy for the man who waited six months before becoming intimate with his fiance. So what is Thug saying? The most obvious interpretation is that Young Thug is engaging with and critiquing those same cultural conceptions of sex and gender that would disparage his choice of dress and attempt to enforce gender on him. Specifically, Thug is critiquing the traditional performance of male sexuality as aggressive and domineering. First, Young Thug is offering an empathetic interpretation of what it is to be a woman with regards to dating and sex, what it is like to have men jumping down your throat, so to speak, at the slightest sign of engagement or opportunity. Women often complain of men who take politeness as flirtation, who take the metaphorical yawn of a smile or a kind word as an invitation to aggressive and entitled sexual advances – the hypothetical dick in the mouth.
But, Thug is not blind to the problems that an aggressive conception of male sexuality creates for men. For every man who takes polite conversation as sexually charged banter, Thug feels, there are ten men who resent that presentation of male sexuality and prefer to interact with women as people, expressing any romantic interest in appropriate and considerate ways. Once again using absurdity to his advantage, Jeffery asks us to consider this hypothetical male sexuality that acts on nothing but a yawn and to realize that, as men, we are not beholden to it, that we may engage our sexuality with the empathy and compassion denied to us by traditional gender roles.
“I’m in a Ghost like Casper, everything going smooth for me like I got my Masters”
The casual listener might take this as Young Thug boasting about owning a Rolls Royce and living life on easy street, but as we know, this is not what Thugger is all about. As we learned above, Young Thug wholeheartedly rejects the materialism and wealth-worship of our time. More so, we know everything is not going smoothly for him, because he confronts the rough realities of life on a daily basis. The obvious self-contradiction of this line leads us into Thug’s critique of the state of modern labor. The Atlanta rapper realizes that today, a college education is paramount in the search for a good life. In the past, one might have been alright without a college education, working a well-paid job and supporting a family with only a high school diploma, but in today’s oligarchical economic climate, Thug reminds us, the working class are kept down through low wages, exorbitant medical bills, and practices of debt slavery such as payday loans.
Which raises another question: if not an expensive car, what is the “ghost” in which Young Thug finds himself? The ghost is, of course, the American Dream. The American Dream of the 1950s – a sole breadwinner supporting a happy, healthy nuclear family with only a high school education – no longer exists. Property ownership, good medical coverage, a household with a stay-at-home parent now all require a college education and, often, a secondary education, such as a Masters degree. Yet, here is Jeffery, quarterback of his high school football team, supporting a fiance and doing well for himself without a college education. Truly, he is living, inhabiting, not quite reviving, but calling attention to, the long-dead American Dream.
A true poet, Thug says more with one adlib than many writers say in their lives. This ostensibly insignificant line has spawned memes and discussion about the innovative way Young Thug bridged the longstanding divide between country music and rap.
me: country music is straight trash
young thug: yee haw
— ᴄʟᴏᴛᴛ (@_clott_) June 16, 2017
Rap and country are two styles of music that seem diametrically opposed, but Thug shows us that they can be united effortlessly. More than that, Jeffery realizes, the cultures associated with the two styles of music can be viewed as proxies for the cultures on either side of divisive political lines in our nation. Country music is an obvious stand-in for “Middle America.” When we think of country music, we think of the bible belt, corn farmers, the white, conservative contingent which believes it cannot understand rap music and the communities of color with which it is traditionally associated. Similarly, Young Thug recognizes the associations of rap music with coastal populations and urban communities of color, so far removed from the Midwest that they feel they cannot conceptualize that way of life. What Thug shows us here is that, perhaps, these two cultures, these two ways of life are not as alien as we might think. Maybe there is more common ground than the politicians who benefit from keeping us divided want us to realize. This adlib, this “yeehaw” is truly a radical act on Young Thug’s part, challenging the divisive rhetoric of those in power who seek to keep us apart and inviting us to consider that we may have more in common than we think.