If there’s anything that was made abundantly clear in Young Thug’s interview on Sway in the Morning, it’s that he’s a family man. His success has made him and those close to him tangibly happier. He recently bought his eleven siblings homes. His six children are all his number one priority. And on top of all this, he’s getting married soon. This all-around positive energy seems to blanket over any allegations of attempted murder and near daily Twitter feuds, thickly seeping into his newest music. On I’m Up, more than ever, he seems to be taking notes from the Book of Lil B.
Young Thug may be most popularly renowned for his half-singing half-mumbled staccato delivery style and unorthodox ad-libs, but there’s always loomed an aura of violence and hatred throughout his past releases. The self-proclaimed gangsta rapper is not unfamiliar with Atlanta’s brutality. Despite his relatively young age and even shorter time as a rapper, his spanning discography has always delved into his relationship with cops, his experimentation with drugs and alcohol, and his amusing-but-genuine threats to his enemies. But now, with I’m Up it seems that his abundant successes have softened him, clearing his mind of the hatred, at least momentarily.
Originally pegged to be the third addition in the Slime Season series, Young Thug dropped the surprise I’m Up instead. And really, this album would have been out of place as a Slime Season, which traditionally featured significantly more ferocity-driven trap tracks. Of course, this is still a Young Thug album and it isn’t complete without its Thuggerisms, but can they be sustained atop an array of world music-fueled trap beats and a newly selfless-inspired reign of good times?
Unsurprisingly to those who worship him and surprisingly to those who’ve written him off as a one-note flavor-of-the-month artist, Young Thug thrives on I’m Up. He’s coping with the death of Keith Troup. He’s reveling in the successful surgery of his friend Boosie Badazz, but irritated and confused he was diagnosed with cancer to begin with. He’s proud of all he’s made for himself, but he’s even prouder of those he loves in his life. Two of his sisters, Dora and Dolly, close the album with their features and ruthlessness driven by Atlantan family values. It’s not just a hip-hop-infused love letter to his friends (specifically Lil Durk, Trouble, and Ralo); it’s also the apotheosis of his collaborating producers. It may not have the liveliness of the Lynchian atmospheres found on Barter 6, but with the assistance of Wheezy, Metro Boomin, and Mike WiLL Made It, Young Thug manages to offer yet another ornament to the modern Atlanta trap scene.
The production lent by these big names works in isolation, but remains transparently inconsistent as a whole. Whereas Barter 6 felt contained within the singular red room found on its cover, I’m Up feels scattered across Thugger’s unhinged mentality that’s been swirled around by extravagant liquor and copious amounts of lean. And although the inconsistency in production can be somewhat excused through the mixtape motif, the varying tones in theme are a bit more unjustifiable. The intentions are always clear, but the delivery is sometimes bemused. It can be difficult to leave with a feeling of positivity when standing up for your people can end in the death of those who don’t. This muddled feeling doesn’t stop at the lyricism, it seeps deeply into the rushed, poorly mixed instrumentation, likely brought about by the sudden change in track listing and quick-ditched Slime Season concept.
But even with the occasional oddities, it still feels weirdly expected from a Young Thug output. The sci-fi banger beat on “Ridin” is a great host for his eclecticism. The sparse, piano-driven “Special” is the least layered on the album, a bizarre choice for the most boastful point of I’m Up. But what’s potentially the weirdest part of this is just how unorthodoxly un-Young Thug it feels. The ad-libs are toned down (there’s barely a skrrrrrrrrr to be found) and the hooks feel more fleshed out, something even the biggest Thugger fans couldn’t see coming.
Really, these small imperfections and overall unpredictability only further his flamboyant persona (maybe even more so than the homoerotic undertones of “My Boys”). It’s an odd play of character vibrancy mixed with genuine, if not slightly misguided, well-wishing and hopes for the future. The final title card of the music video for “F Cancer” shows the unofficial tagline for I’m Up: Stay Fighting, Keep Living. It’s a bold, deeply personal view on life that best summarizes where Thugger’s mindset’s at while also giving a glimpse for what his future may entail.
– Zach W.