Young Thug & Bloody Jay
, January 28th, 2014 06:29
Rap music has a history of costumed extra-terrestrials, but it wasn't until Young Thug emerged that I actually believed a rapper had come from outer space. Sure, you might point to Kool Keith's time-travelling alien gynaecologist, Dr Octagon, or DOOM's tri-headed space dragon, King Geedorah, but were these high concept alter egos really fooling anyone? OutKast's ATLiens is nearer the mark, and you might even find interplanetary undertones in the eccentric characters of Nicki Minaj. But, in an unforeseen twist, the first rapper to sound truly unearthly is a guy whose rap moniker is as hilariously generic as they come. Young Thug's alien qualities are not written into the lyric sheet but radiate through his performance – his scrawny, tattooed body a lean-fuelled vessel harnessing a chaotic and unpredictable energy. His stylistic make-up might be traced through the last decade of Southern rap, but still – no rapper has ever sounded like Young Thug, who now, amazingly, stands on the brink of stardom.
The obvious forerunner to Thug's otherworldliness is Lil Wayne, whose drug-addled rap experiments are undoubtedly his greatest influence. By the time Wayne released 'I Am Not a Human Being' in 2010, though, his weirdness felt as much a construct as Geedorah or Octagon – a handful of Martian metaphors drowning in a void of miserable pussy puns. During his golden period he dominated rap by sounding both central to and detached from it. Thug's approach is the same, his beat selection not radically different from his Atlanta peers, but his vocal delivery follows its own majestic path. While Wayne manipulated his voice through auto-tune to create a sense of weary distance, Thug yelps, hollers and staccato raps to the tune that's playing in his head – a tune that nobody else can hear and yet somehow translates perfectly – capable of sounding aggressive, fragile and playful all at once. His lyrics too are written in the same stream of semi-consciousness as Wayne's, and while not quite as jammed with wordplay, Thug's songs arrive at satisfyingly odd metaphors and concepts. Last year's triumphant 'Picacho', for instance, seems to be a song about how Young Thug's diamonds look like a Pikachu – and boy, "they gon' wink at you."
Black Portland, then, is a rap duo consisting of Young Thug and relative newcomer Bloody Jay – a more straightforward Atlanta livewire, but one who is no less excitable. In fact, there are a moments of Black Portland where Jay is the more jacked-up of the two, his voice shaking with intensity on the Three 6-sampling 'Signs' and often balancing Thug's higher-pitched cadences with an opposite but equal force. This shared range means that the tape's 11 songs offer a delectable selection of treats, from the booming operatic trap of 'No Fucks' to the loopy major key melodies of '4 Eva Bloody' and 'Let's Go Play'.
While you can still hear the erratic, fractured genius of Young Thug's I Came From Nothing 2 and 1017 Thug, Black Portland is refined to just the most successful components of those tapes. Being a rap oddity is all well and good, but the likes of Lil B and Danny Brown have never looked likely to find the record sales to match their Internet ubiquity. A year ago you might have said the same for Young Thug, but he now looks set to bridge the commercial gap with hits like 'Stoner' and 'Danny Glover'. The latter – which features on Black Portland and was recently endorsed by Kanye and Drake – is a perfect display of Thug's alchemical skill, transforming an eerie if simple 808 Mafia beat into a song that feels transcendent. Thugger pops in and out of the beat at will, hopping between flows and even stopping short as a new idea enters his head – "I fronted you bands but you / I don't like using profanity but the young thugger will cut you."
Bloody Jay is equally adept at switching from violent to playful. When not hollering at the top of his lungs, he delivers some of the tape's most memorable lines, such as on 'Movin' – "Are you an author? Huh?! / I guess that's why you get goosebumps when you see me, no RL Stein." Or his tongue-twisting turn on 'No Fucks' – "Anybody get it nigga you know we gon' buss, like a pipe with pressure / me and blood posted at the spot with more Ps than Peter Piper Pick a Pepper." Elsewhere he's adding eccentric adlibs or following Young Thug's lead on the twinkling slur-a-thon 'Florida Water' – "Fluurda-wurrder" repeats the hook through barely opened jaws.
As loveable a mess as last year's 1017 Thug was, there has been a noticeable fat trimming on Black Portland. Young Thug is in that sweet spot in his career that one wishes he could stay in forever, benefitting from heightened production values but still retaining his creative edge. We've been here enough times to know that there's probably a falling-off point on the horizon, but on the evidence of Black Portland he may still be some way away from his peak. If that turns out to be the case then Bloody Jay won't be the only rapper queuing for a sip of Thugger's Fluurda-wurrder.