Lifestyle is a rap song about two sirs who are excited about not being poor anymore, which is for sure a thing to celebrate. Young Thug’s bizarreness had already been proved a creative commodity. “Lifestyle” showed it could be a commercial one, too, and that legitimized it, which offered it up for appropriation for rappers to come.
“Lifestyle” is a song by Rich Gang, which maybe you figured out because the title of this chapter says exactly that.
Rich Gang is a supergroup, and that’s just a more political way to say there are more members than in a usual group and things are often disorganized. One is a rapper named Young Thug and another is a rapper named Rich Homie Quan, which maybe you also figured out because the art in this chapter is of their faces, though that seems less likely because Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan are not famous in the way a sizable portion of the rappers in this book are famous, which is to say very famous, or recognizably famous.
While Rich Homie Quan is talented and fun and very likely a more technically proficient rapper, Young Thug is uniquely mesmerizing, and it feels easy to say that, between the two of them, he already has been, and will remain, more important to rap. Of course, all of that is to say: Most of this article is about Young Thug. Thank you.
Let us not pretend that you or I really know anything about Young Thug, and maybe that’s the entire point of Young Thug, and if it’s not then it’s definitely (at least a very small) part of the reason he’s interesting. Through the last quarter of 2013, Young Thug existed mostly as a product unknown to everyone who either wasn’t from Atlanta, which is where he’s from, or who wasn’t actively involved in the upkeep of a website devoted to rap music.
Then, right at the beginning of 2014, separate from each other by about two weeks, a clip of Drake enthusiastically rapping along to a Young Thug song in a nightclub in Miami and a clip of Kanye West doing the same thing at a nightclub in Paris began pinging around the Internet, and it’s just that easy.
There’s this tool on Google that allows you to identify trends based on the number of times something is searched on the Internet. It displays the results as a line graph. Until October 2013, which marked the official release of “Stoner,” Young Thug’s first song to wiggle its way into prominence, the quantified search return for “Young Thug” was basically zero, and it should be made clear that Young Thug had been releasing mixtapes since 2011.
From October 2013 to January 2014, there was a rise, and then, when Drake and Kanye high-fived him, there was a sharp, definite incline, and it’s semiweird to be able to see the recalibration of rap aggregated into a line graph, but that’s exactly what it is, and I guess it all makes sense because everything about Young Thug has always been weird, or at least presented that way.
These are the reasons Young Thug is important: Because of the way he dresses, because of the way he talks, and because of the way he raps. None of them are intentional challenges to what came before him, but they all have become that. Let’s go in reverse order of their gravity:
3. THE WAY HE TALKS, SPECIFICALLY THE WAY HE TALKS TO MEN
He calls them “lover” and “hubby” and “bae.” He’s explained several times that he’s not gay, simply that he is not uncomfortable making other people uncomfortable, and that sounds right. I asked Tom Breihan about Young Thug once. Breihan is a music writer who I know to be eager and intelligent and concise. His response included the sentiment that Thug was inadvertently challenging homophobia in rap just by existing. That sounds right, too. More on that:
2. THE WAY HE DRESSES, BECAUSE HIS CLOTHES ARE OFTEN VERY TIGHT AND OCCASIONALLY A DRESS
(1) The tight clothes: Young Thug did not pioneer wearing tight clothes, but he certainly embraced them as enthusiastically as any rapper had (or has). His shirts grab his arms firmly and his pants grab his legs just as firmly. When he stands straight up, he looks like a flamingo in black Levi’s. He wears a flimsy white button-down shirt in the “Lifestyle” video and his arms look like straws in unopened paper sleeves. It should be ridiculous, but it’s not, like when Jared Leto wore that fanny pack, or when Shia LaBeouf wears anything. (2) The dress: Young Thug posted a picture of himself wearing a dress at a photo shoot on Instagram. During an interview with Complex, the interviewer tried to give him an out (“Now, was that a shirt or was that . . . a dress?”). Young Thug smiled and explained that it was a dress for a “seven- or eight-year-old” girl, because Young Thug doesn’t need an out.2 Young Thug is a beautiful evolution.
1. BECAUSE OF THE WAY HE RAPS, WHICH IS TRANSCENDENT
On “Lifestyle,” the most moving moment is when he wobbles out the line, “I’ve done did a lot of shit just to live this here lifestyle,” because he says it with the exultation of a person who’s gone from a very poor lifestyle to a very rich lifestyle very quickly, because that’s what happened to him. It’s meaningful for another reason, too, and one that is way heavier.
“I’ve done did a lot of shit just to live this here lifestyle” is not an altogether original proclamation, and that’s fine, because Young Thug is not altogether interested in original proclamations. His focus slants in the reverse direction; he’s interested in proclaiming things originally.
He yelps and mumbles and takes words and strips them of all their meaning until they’re just sounds and then splashes them on the floor. Imagine if you could hug your own happiness. Imagine if you took both of your feet and stuck them in a bucket full of warm mud and wiggled your toes around, except that mud isn’t mud, it’s your soul.
That’s how Young Thug raps. He’s maybe the first post-text rapper, in that he doesn’t even really need words. The most obvious comparison to make to Young Thug is the loopy, ephemeral, post-drugs-phase Lil Wayne, who turned stupor-rambling into true prose. That’s where Young Thug’s center is.
He took that, then advanced it, adding the humdrum brilliance of Gucci Mane; the electricity of Waka Flocka; the spazzy, auto-tuned gargling of Rich Homie Quan; and the rubble of all the rest of the new wave Atlanta rap satellite scenes and mushed them together into a glob of ectoplasm. He’s like a human coagulation. The result became a powerful and new style that also felt warm and familiar.