Courtesy of Atlantic Records

November 10, 2021

Is Young Thug Rebellious in ‘PUNK’?

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Young Thug is a valiant innovator in hip-hop. The Atlanta born rapper’s outsized influence comes in part from his eccentric voice and unorthodox delivery, as well his 19 successful mixtapes and two albums that he has put out since 2011. Notwithstanding his prolific discography, Oct. 20 was the first time we heard a solo project from Young Thug in over two years. Following up on his debut studio album, So Much Fun in 2019, this new full length LP, Punk, takes a drastically different approach. 

While predominantly a trap artist, Punk is all about stripped-down production. There are acoustic guitars and soft pianos, but rarely the hard-hitting drums that have long defined the rapper’s sound. Most tracks feature Thug’s distinctly high pitched and mellow crooning that is layered lightly over ambient music. Punk is not the rock-influenced project that the title may suggest, but the album’s rebellious nature through genre-blending still closely aligns the music with its title. 

Young Thug popularized abstract rap that flows like a stream of consciousness, sometimes incoherent, often frivolous, but enjoyable nonetheless. Punk’s lyrics attempt to tackle more serious topics like police brutality, fame and Thug’s traumatic past. He does this through his emotive voice and oft-ethereal production.

The first track “Die Slow” is atmospheric and vacillates between spoken word and melodic rap. Thug explores his troubled past which climaxes with “My mom came outside to goddamn stop the fighting / the lady had got in the car…ran my mom over / She had a stroke and shit, but she alright.” This is immediately followed up with, “Yeah / I always knew I wasn’t gon’ be gay / I had her sendin’ pictures to my mom phone when I was like eight.” Despite the vulnerability which Thug shows, his penchant to skip from topic to topic often undercuts his sincerity. 

The track-list is full of other open and heartfelt moments, like on “Love You More” where Thug professes his love for a significant other with the help of Nate Ruess and Gunna. On “Contagious,” the rapper wishes “keeping it real” was contagious. Yet despite Thug’s newfound maturity, he expresses it mostly through the production and his voice rather than in his lyrics. The project is leaden with materialism, drugs and women, the same recycled topics that Thug has long explored. 

This isn’t to say that Thug doesn’t deserve credit for taking a step in the right direction or that the album doesn’t have redeemable qualities. In fact, this album highlights Thug’s ubiquitous influence that has permeated even the highest levels of rap. Drake, J-Cole and ASAP Rocky feature on the project and alter the cadence of their verses in a distinctly “Thug” way. 

On the project’s second to last track, “Hate the Game,” Thug sings “I fucked her the first night and then I never called again / Next time lil’ shawty seen me, I was ridin’ with her friend… Do not hate me, hate the game, baby.” These lines show Thug’s keen eye for the dynamics of relationships in our society but also serve to undermine his credibility as a cultural maverick. Here, he concedes to cultural influences, the same ones which he labels himself a leader of. This is not rebellious but distinctly confirmative. 

The album’s cover artwork is inspired by Octavio Ocampo’s 1942 “Forever Always” painting. Ocampo’s work features an old couple whose faces are made up of their younger selves. Punk’s cover is two versions of Young Thug each made up of a younger self. This album serves as a transformation of sorts featuring maturation and vulnerability. Perhaps the album cover represents Young Thug coming to terms with his tragedy-ridden past. If so, maybe he is accepting what it has made him become. Furthermore, on songs like “Hate the Game,” he acknowledges all parts of himself whether he is expressing a sentiment of the past or the present. All these mannerisms are relevant to who Young Thug is today. Punk is rebellious against the notion that change must be definitive, distinct and everlasting. 

Max Roitman is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]