Rap has a curious tendency to be consumed by its influences. Twitter would have you believe that Beautiful Thugger Girls is in fact a country album largely because of a single yet prominently placed “yee-haw;” Thug himself announced the release as his “singing album,” an exciting proposition but essentially meaningless as a descriptor (and hence, a perfect press release). From all corners, there’s a persistent and pernicious resistance to any flexibility in what we think of as rap. As rap has permeated pop, it has accreted a function-first fandom — those in need of a clearly and consistently-defined soundtrack to turning up, whipping around, or lifting weights. At the same time, diehards are increasingly driven to stake claims about what is and isn’t real rap; while their positions vary (usually anchored by opinions of “old heads” or Lil Yachty), they rarely take a fully inclusive stance. Rap is a zero-sum genre, defined against itself as much as the rest of the musical landscape.
Beautiful Thugger Girls is a rap album, and a very good one at that. If genre descriptors are to have any meaning (their uselessness beyond broad, mutually-understood categorization notwithstanding), this is non-negotiable. Moreover, Young Thug is something of a synecdoche for rap at large, perhaps the single current figure of whom an appreciation is most essential — and, to many, sufficient — to convince yourself that you’re respectably entangled in rap goings-on (it’s him or Kendrick Lamar). A significant swath of Thug’s fandom was brought on board by his distinctly un-rapperly qualities — ostensibly progressive sexual politics, equal precedence of lyrics and exclamation, more-than-cursory coverage on Pitchfork. Wherever his stylistic eccentricities lead him, it’s central to Thug’s appeal that they adorn an underlying, intrinsic rap-ness — perhaps too much, to the point that an album without a thematic gimmick (a “singing album,” for example) would no longer cut it.
That aside, Young Thug has always done a remarkable job of satisfying the full breadth of his fanbase. The style of a particular song or project is more often than not a mere dalliance, woven together with the rest by the common thread of their creator. Being a Young Thug fan feels more like a subscription service than an album-by-album transaction, an act of patronage of the man’s mere existence so as to find out where he’ll go next. Correspondingly, Beautiful Thugger Girls is remarkable because of its Thugger-ness — it’s a clear step forward at the very moment that Thug-derivation is a particularly viable come-up (Sahbabii and Gunna, doubtlessly talented, will have to distinguish themselves at some point). With the exception of “Get High,” the Snoop Dogg feature that’s become a rite of passage for rising rappers, there’s not a song on here that could’ve appeared on anyone else’s album. The production remains distinctive while fitting largely within the trap idiom; 808 kicks, snares, and hi-hats lay a familiar framework upon which compelling studies of dancehall, power balladry, and the acoustic guitar are built — sometimes all at once. It’s only June, but I’m comfortable claiming that “You Said” will be the year’s most Renaissance Faire-appropriate rap instrumental.
There’s not a soul alive still listening to Young Thug for lyrical content, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, it has to be noted that Beautiful Thugger Girls marks the point at which his pure lyricism, absent an unimpeachable sense of melody and flow, has begun to detract from the project as a whole. There’s always been a certain pleasure to deciphering the massive free-associative leaps that explain some of Thug’s more bizarre lyrics, but words here seem to be present only in service of their delivery. It’s impossible not to consider how much the album could be improved were there anything worthwhile being said, especially in light of Thug’s earlier flashes in that arena (“Never been in pain/ I don’t know how love feel,” from Tha Tour’s “Freestyle,” remains the gold standard). I’m simply not at a point in my life where a “Suck me/ Fuck me” rhyme has anything to offer, even considering the tertiary (at best) priority of Thug’s lyrics.
For now, Beautiful Thugger Girls exists in stasis. There are no immediate conclusions to be drawn about Thug’s future plans, just as no sensible assessment of his prior work could have led us here. Young Thug’s trajectory more resembles a constellation than any sort of linear development, likely to continue resisting consideration as a complete body of work until its end. Instead, a new album from Thugger exists in — and overwhelms — the moment of its release, a last-known location about which all rap positions itself relative to Young Thug. Until the next one, at least.