There’s a scene in the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, where an apprehensive Eazy-E struggles to lay down a verse for what will inevitably materialize into their debut single, “Boyz-n-the-Hood”. “I’m not a rapper,” Eazy proudly tells the packed room, who’d probably agree had he not been the personification of the Compton streets they’re putting on wax. And eventually, with the guidance of a young Dr. Dre, he manages to stay on beat and capture the song’s intended message. Still, in spite of his continuous efforts to stay on beat and rhyme words, Eazy’s flow and delivery remained largely unbroken from those pivotal “Boyz-n-the-Hood” recording sessions in 1987 until his tragic death of AIDS in 1995. Musical limitations aside, Eazy helped shift hip hop’s focus from its ostensible dependence on radio play to creating art off the strength of street knowledge. Twenty years later, you’ve got street-centric rappers like Atlanta’s Young Thug completely bending all of the rules on what you can do to and with your voice to add fresh paint to an old car, and ultimately using the radio to work for him rather than with them. Things Eazy had trouble understanding; the latter costing him his reputation. And fortunately for Thug, he also doesn’t have a Dr. Dre stopping him any time he raps crazy shit like “I’m’a eat that booty just like groceries” in the booth either.
Still, because this 24-year-old maneuvers like a bull in a china shop, it’s doubtful that Dr. Dre would ever grant Young Thug access inside those luxe studios that double as $50 million mansions. Unlike Eminem or Kendrick Lamar, Thug cannot be administered let alone pinned down, which would explain his unorthodox recording process and freewheeling sensibilities. When he’s not recording hundreds of songs in cramped closets across Atlanta—usually at a minute’s notice to complete—he’s laying low in studios crammed with guns, drugs, and junk food. He’s currently signed to Atlantic, but has as many deals in place as designer brands on his person. Of course, no record exec has any idea of what to make of him, further outlining why a proper commercial album has yet to see the light of day. Thanks impart to his sheer unpredictability and flamboyance, this outsider we’ve come to know as Young Thug, born Jeffrey Williams, has caused quite a media firestorm over the last few years. But what happens when all of the hullabaloo gets played out and every article about his androgynous outfits have been written? Will he end up like neighbors Migos, whose once exciting triplet flow has since been relegated as a mere technicality? Thug’s latest musical endeavor, however, is a free mixtape called Slime Season, and it looks to establish him as a rapper who is very much in control of his own brand and how he wants his product to be presented to the world.
Slime Season arrives four months after Young Thug’s last project, Barter 6, a digital mixtape backed by Lyor Cohen’s tech-savvy start-up, 300 Entertainment. Although the project marked a noticeable creative shift for the Atlanta rapper, the record label—boasting investment capital from Google and data-sharing agreement with Twitter—did very little to acclimate Thug to a broader market like New York. (Commercially, Barter 6 moved a measly 16k copies in first week sales.) Initially billed as a joint tape between himself and frequent collaborator, producer London on da Track, Slime Season actually finds Thug standing confidently on his own two feet. At first glance, the project may read like a traditional rap tape from the LiveMixtapes dustbin, but it actually plays out like a set of miniatures in a compilation; there’s no label backing, zero local DJ support, scarce feature spots, and very little in the way of a cliché media roll-out à la Lil Wayne’s Sorry 4 the Wait 2. And although fans will be hard-pressed to dismiss Slime Season as a tape chock-full of throwaways from this summer’s wave of unauthorized leaks—in which reportedly over a hundred songs were shared across the net—that doesn’t put a damper on the overall enjoyability of the music collected here. In fact, Slime Season’s scattered tracks look to give listeners a taste of what’s to come from this rising star in rap music.
In many ways, Slime Season is the companion piece to his breakthrough mixtape, 1017 Thug, that was mysteriously lost in the ebb tide between its release in early 2013 and now. Musically speaking, Slime Season’s swirling gangsta luv ballads share the same mutant DNA as those tender moments littered on 1017 Thug; tracks like “That’s All” shimmer and sparkle as bright as “Miss U” or “Scared of You” before it. However, the balance between nervy ballads and caustic bangers is apparent on Slime Season than on any other Young Thug project, solo or collaborative, which unexpectedly makes for a varied listen from start to finish. At eighteen tracks, and with all but three having been compiled from previous leaks and unofficial releases, this sentiment couldn’t possibly resonate. But it’s truly a testament to Thug’s radical talents as a rapper (with seemingly endless vocal dexterity) for keeping the listener thoroughly engaged, even when the studio experiments sometimes aren’t entirely convincing (“Mine,” “Overdosin’,” “Udiggwhatimsayin'”). When they do work, like on the Ricky Racks produced standout, “Best Friend,” Slime Season is an exquisite project—one that arrives only in waves of delirious colors and indistinguishable textures.
Where producer London on da Track sadly doesn’t receive a co-starring credit on Slime Season as promised (“Ask 300,” he tweeted after fans flooded his timeline with questions), he redeems himself with tracks “Take Kare,” “Power,” “No Way,” “Again,” “Draw Down,” and “Wanna Be Me”. All six London numbers here delineate the sort of reciprocal working relationship he has with Young Thug—that spawned a platinum hit in “Lifestyle” last year—and from the grand piano on “No Way” to the nebula of “Draw Down,” he still sits at the precipice of crystalline contemporary rap production. Elsewhere, Metro Boomin and WondaGurl bring a bouncy and bright flare to Slime Season, giving room for Thug to mix insight, humor, and menace that fuel his best songs. “Grabbing my cock, I don’t give a fuck/ I’m serving the cops,” he breezily raps over Metro’s playfully dizzying beat on “Be Me See Me” before suddenly finessing it with sneering urban humor: “Liquor smelling like a bird on the block/ Thugger pitch a nigga, curve with the rock.” Thug’s usual lyrical litany of drugs, crime, and random acts of violence congeal into a messy gumbo that, when infused with his stupefying vocal spices, make even the hardest M.O.P. lines feel like they’re tissue paper soft.
Early Slime Season trap bangers “Quarterback,” “Rarri,” and “Stunna” certainly hit hard, warrant plenty of headbanging, and will surely get any dorm room jumping on a Friday night, but unless you’re looking for a wake up call these tracks won’t hold up in Thug’s metastasizing catalog of music. And with his signature vocal malleability drastically downplayed, the replay value of these tracks is greatly diminished as well. Thankfully, WondaGurl’s ghastly percussive-heavy “Freaky” reinvigorates the wide-eyed trickster in Thug; he pulls psilocybin rabbits in the form of improvisational raps from his hat (“Eh, I pull up and arson all over your garden”), paints carnal pleasures in odd colors (“I’m’a catch a bitch, then fold her like a centipede”), and revels in jaunty skirmishes (“These niggas fake ballin’ like a Powerade/ Damn, this might be coward day”). Closing track “Wanna Be Me,” backed by London on da Track’s innocent, head-in-the-clouds beat, is perhaps one of Thug’s most joyous outings in the booth to date, with the rapper floating like he’s in the lap of the gods. “I’m’a make her nut and yes I want that nut on me,” he exclaims, reassuring that his hard work has finally paid off and sex is waiting at the finish line. And the reward also includes multiple partners: “I’m’a fuck them both and yes, they want that nut on we.”