50/50 – Barter 6

Actual Final Barter 6

For the inaugural post in the 50/50 segment, writers T. Pennington and Zach W. discuss the merits of Young Thug’s Barter 6. The following is the transcript of their conversation, with T.’s dialogue denoted by bold font and Zach’s denoted by italicized.

Do you remember the first Young Thug song you heard?

The first Young Thug song I heard was…I wanna say “Old English“. But that track was a pretty bad introduction for what he’d be known for and sound like on all of his other songs.

“Old English” was my introduction too and I only listened because the production credits featured A$AP Ferg and Freddie Gibbs. What would you say makes it a lackluster introduction?

Yeah, same. But it’s just misleading. The Young Thug on that song is like this really comprehensible, verse-driven rapper. Which isn’t what he became.

I wouldn’t even say he started off as focused as he was on “Old English”. But that song instantly hooked me at the time. The way Freddie and Ferg were able to fluidly maneuver between these stereotypical personas and hypnotic verses had me transfixed. And Young Thug was the crazy glue holding this song together. So what happened in the span of less than a year? Why did he regress to this boring, leaned out caricature on Barter 6?

I mean, I don’t think it’s a regression at all. Maybe in terms of technical rapping and traditionalisms in hip-hop it is, but in terms of artistry and innovation you can’t say Barter 6 is a regression. Because on “Old English” you have a rapper acting as the glue for other rappers, all rapping really well in a catchy way. On Barter 6 he transformed into this staccato-spitting, half-annunciating blur of hip-hop delivery in a way that hadn’t been done before (and instantly sparked a fire in Atlanta trap).

Holy fucking shit; you’re blinded by ignorance. Young Thug literally called this the Carter 6 because he was not only NOT innovating, but copying an artist’s style. He hasn’t really sparked anything in Atlanta because the one song that’s played on the radio is “Best Friend“. If anything, Future is revolutionizing the radio, whereas Young Thug is doing his own thing. You can apply all the veneer you want, his “staccato” is just lazy mumbling that serves no purpose. Sonically, it’s tiresome by track two as the flow is consistently the same rapid fire for a whole album. And Lil Wayne did it better a decade earlier.

If you look at someone like Lil Yachty or Burberry Perry and DON’T think Young Thug is already influencing the surrounding area, you’re being willfully ignorant. Carter 6 wasn’t titled that because he thought “I’m stealing all that Lil Wayne has done”, it was meant to be an homage and slight diss at Lil Wayne. There’s an Instagram video where he gives a shout out to Lil Wayne and follows it up with this snarky laugh. It’s all pretty disingenuous. The “tiresomeness” that comes with the album is, in my mind, a strength of Barter 6. The flows are similar because it’s meant to be a mixtape that feels alive, as if it were recorded in one session. After the end of “Just Might Be” you can hear him leave the studio, and at the beginning of “Constantly Hating” he opens with the foreshadowing “It’s ours”, signifying the start of the session. Sonically, it’s similar in that it all captures the same tone, but I think it really balances similarities and differences, especially in the hooks. Instrumentally I can see you making the case that they occasionally become borderline repeats, especially with the warm, soft bass lines. But each song has its own life. When I look at the tracklist, I don’t question how any of the songs go. They all have their own identity, their own place in that one isolated red room found on the cover.

You won’t like this comparison, but in terms of sustaining one sonic tone while still maintaining differentiation between tracks, Barter 6 reminds me of “Unknown Pleasures“.

There’s a difference between a new TREND in music, and other rappers noticing gimmicks work and emulating. If he’s not genuine, then why should I take his impact seriously. He’s a character within rap and has taken notes from Lil B to say, and be, the outlier on the Internet. And so that’s what he is. You can say the opening line represents the beginning of a session (it doesn’t) and that him leaving the studio creates the same bookended feel of other albums, but it feels rushed. You can’t admit the songs are repetitious, but each feel alive. By the time I get to “Halftime“, it just becomes a chore to finish because there’s nothing interesting going on. It’s a mixtape that Young Thug did an incredible job marketing and forging controversy for. But at the end of the day, his carelessness shows. It’s moodiness, that you liken to Joy Division, is to make up for the lack of true powerhouse that his contemporaries have.

I like Young Thug. He’s an interesting persona and maypole of discussion. But Barter 6 is a symptom of his lack of focus and artistic discipline.

I think it feels rushed because, again, it’s meant to have a certain sense of improvisation. I personally think “Halftime” is one of the weaker tracks but I know it’s a lot of people’s favorite, which I don’t really get. But in that regard, it’s a very polarizing album, one whose highpoints can’t be agreed upon easily. I think there’s enough variation in tempo that it never feels overtly repetitious. I think looking at it small-scale, some of the tracks can give off a sense of monotony in their similarity, like with “OD” followed by “Numbers“. But then that’s followed by “Just Might Be” and preceded by “Knocked Off“, which feel almost nothing like the other two. I’m not sure how that exudes carelessness. I wouldn’t say it’s a meticulously planned mixtape by any means, but it’s certainly thought out in its structure and delivery.

I, in no way, want to make excuses, but it is a mixtape, and as such it’s bound to have some conceptual redundancies and inconsistent outlay. It isn’t a flawless LP, but I do think it’s an innovative hip-hop release.

Where’s the innovation? From his beat selection to his lyrics to the “moodiness”. It comes off as a one-off gimmick. There’s no dimensionality to his character. It’s flamboyant and at 100 percent, but anytime he tries to speak on something with some brevity, on any mixtape, it just comes off as sad. He’s got nothing to say. A lot of style that doesn’t achieve anything as innovative as what Drake did in 2011. People have projected on to Young Thug and now he plays this character up. It’s a facade that doesn’t really break any norms. So why should that make-up for the mediocrity on the album?

What are you talking about? His lyricism has never been his strong suit, or the point of discussion people point to when they explain why Young Thug is a hip-hop innovator. Like, I certainly am not from the school of thought that says “lyrics don’t matter”, especially in a genre where lyrics are probably the most important aspect, but Young Thug, on Barter 6, transformed the genre by shifting the focus away from lyricism and onto vocalizations. Words became incomprehensible and it didn’t matter, because the stylization of his murmuring, singing, and ad-libs were something people hadn’t seen before. He could go from rapid-fire delivery to these enunciated and separated words that rode the tempo precisely. His “character”, to you, seems to only extend to his lyricism, a point that very few make the case for. His character extends beyond that. The personality, one that you’ve admitted is phenomenal (albeit not enough to sustain an album alone), is really the selling point. He’s taken moody beats, atmospherically dark cloud rap, and wrapped it all together using a vocalization that feels out of place in any genre, but one that’s still unorthodox in hip-hop. And I think when you pull all of that together, it makes a highly unique mixtape, one that can be described as a lot of things, but never mediocre.

I seem to remember a certain reviewer saying that the familial issues on “I’m Up” added to the biographical aspect of that tape and made it better. And nothing Young Thug is doing is innovative or is something hip-hop fans haven’t heard before. Young Thug isn’t the first to shift to vocalizations and certainly won’t be the last. And it’s incredibly naive to think that no one has heard this style before. If anything it’s something tons of people have done BETTER. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Missy Elliot, 50 Cent, and even his contemporary Rich Homie Quan handle the vocal and melodic aspects of rap with better songwriting and variety. If anything Young Thug is a new pastiche to a tried and true style. And yes, it’s cool to see a new artist blur the lines of the old and new. The singing with the rapping. But he needs to deliver on more than just ideas. He needs to craft songs and spend time on his work and prove he has something to say besides the wallpaper personality and paper-thin atmosphere. And he’s yet to prove that his philosophy regarding music or his recent output of work can create a full-length album that sustains for longer than three songs. 

I’m Up was the first time he had ventured into familial lyrical territory. It was worth noting because it gave promise to his future direction. Unfortunately, he ended up going pretty much nowhere with it, leaving Barter 6 to be his unmatched pinnacle, at least so far. I just feel like all of those artists you listed did such a smaller version of what Young Thug is doing. He’s like an exaggerated hyperbolic take on what hip-hop lends itself to, at least in terms of what the emcee can vocally bring. I agree with what you’re saying on a conceptual level as an artist, and I think his lack of what you stated is why his past tapes have been so dull and lifeless. But just because he isn’t developing in a fresh way in no way takes away what he captured on Barter 6. There are missteps, it’s not flawless at all, but it does channel what he does best in a way that subtly highlights them. The liveliness aids to his franticness, and the moodiness adds to the believability of his many, many threats. It’s weird to imagine Young Thug was/is actually a gangster, but I think that’s somewhat important to keep in mind, especially when taking into consideration his irreverent personality.  

Fundamentally, the borderline personality of Young Thug just doesn’t show up on Barter 6. He’s not as manic as ODB, and he’s not as moody as Bone Thugs. He’s not really unparalleled, but rather a product of his generation in his lack of concern for what he does. And I can appreciate that. I can see him as a character. But the same way I view Lil B is the same way I view Young Thug. There’s no doubt some semblance of importance in terms of their work. But musically, the Barter 6 is left in shambles with songs feeling unfinished and the energy just being drained as the record progresses. It’s a husk of a record that can’t really sustain itself.

He certainly is a character, and he does bear resemblance to Lil B in his aesthetic of “how much of this is meant to be taken seriously and how much is an ironic play on the medium”. I just don’t agree with your viewpoint that Barter 6 is a shell of potential that’s been left unfixable due to its unfocused man at the helm. To me, it’s an exploration of innovation, told through this eccentric lens that occasionally misses the mark but never fails to keep its tone. And for a mixtape to maintain that wholeness is pretty impressive.

But it’s not innovative. Just hemming together ideas that don’t really belong to him into a cartoon. And it’s not really fair to say it’s impressive for a mixtape when that’s a medium with expectations that have significantly grown since the mid 2000’s. From Lil Wayne’s Da Drought 3 to Danny Brown’s XXX to Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late to Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book. Mixtapes can’t be given passes anymore when so many are of such high quality. That’s why Coloring Book‘s reaction has been met with so much polarizing discussion. We expect a lot from mixtapes, and Barter 6 is an example of why a mixtape should be vital to an artist’s career. It’s just as potent a statement as an album.

And I think Barter 6 has lived up to its role for the decade. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion in the 2000’s, but our decade has a semi-joke, semi-real mixtape being as divisive and considered as ever.

What a time to be alive.

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