Young Thug's Top 10 Greatest Career Moments: From His Tunic to Announcing a Tour on Horseback

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for iHeart- Power 105.1
Young Thug performs during Power 105.1's Powerhouse 2016 at Barclays Center on Oct. 27, 2016 in New York City. 

Every generation gets the wild card it deserves. For this era, the artist born Jeffery Williams narrowly beat out the refreshingly sardonic Tyler, the Creator by embracing gender fluidity rather than homophobic slurs, opting for creaky sing-rap rather than increasingly thorny boom-bap, and somehow landing on a few genuine pop hits in the process. His very first order of business was giving himself the inauspicious name Young Thug, to ensure everything he did after would surprise. Then he stayed unpredictable. Here are ten shining examples.

“Picacho,” 1017 Thug (2013)

Arguably still Thugger’s greatest song, “Picacho” was the moment the world took notice that something very interesting was going on with Brick Squad’s new protégé. The squishy, toy-like beat was so bright and inviting while the MC himself rapped in the cadence of an indignant old man stricken with dementia, claiming his diamonds “they say Pikachu” and making slightly more sense with the punchline, “they gonna wink at you.” It’s hard to get one’s head around even today, though it remains addictive, and he’d only go on to be weirder.

“Danny Glover,” Black Portland (2014)

Another of Thug’s finest, “Danny Glover” is where he hit his stride as a melodist weirdo, threading together some truly bizarre images: “I’ma save her, yes, like Danny Glover,” “Money stand eight feet just like two midgets,” “I’ma call my papi for her, f-ck her mother.” It was underwritten by a Marilyn Manson-esque video that only made it more of a mystery for the Rap Internet to figure out whom it was dealing with.

Wearing a tunic on Instagram (2014)

Young Thug’s boldest moves as a budding icon have concerned gender roles, and he shocked the rap world by sporting a leopard-spotted dress from the children’s section on his Instagram. He’d go on to explain this year in a Billboard interview that his father would “whoop” him when he was 12 for wearing his sister’s glitter shoes and make him stay home from school lest he embarrass the family. Doesn’t get more punk than becoming famous for doing the thing your father told you not to do, and not many rappers as successful as Thugger have ever thrown such traditional roles of gender and sexuality to the wind as he has.

“Lifestyle,” Rich Gang (2014)

Sure, he finally broke the mainstream with the murmured “Stoner,” but the victorious Top 20 hit “Lifestyle,” by Thug’s short-lived Rich Gang team-up with Rich Homie Quan and Birdman is where it’s really at, with a surprisingly elegant beat, and unforgettable hook that’s nonetheless as confusing as anything the rapper had yet done. His stretchy whine unrolls ribbons of seemingly nonsense syllables that can be parsed (if you squint) into pretty great poetry about “living life like a volcano” and “puffing on clouds.” The word “volcano” later revealed to probably be “beginner,” but the beauty of Thug is you can prefer the interpretation you heard first.

His performance of “About the Money” with T.I. on Fallon

Thug’s fashion choices have been a cause celebré in themselves, sporting pink skintight jeans for Rich Gang’s BET Awards performance, and obviously the spotted little girl’s dress that made him a notorious enemy of previous masculine ideals in rap. But it was the brown, waiter-like jacket he wore on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to perform “About the Money” when the world of television was first wracked by this unflappably confounding character, who didn’t look or act like any rappers before him.

His 2014-2015 interviews (2014-2015)

Don’t let anyone tell you Young Thug isn’t the newest Bob Dylan; when this journalist chased him down for weeks, he eventually spoke one syllable into the phone and handed it back to his assistant. He’d later claim to me over email that he won $25,000 in a craps game as a child, and tell Rolling Stone he got kicked out of middle school for breaking his teacher’s arm, while balancing his toddler daughter on a knee in a smoke-filled room. The most revealing profile of all may have been GQs last year, where he revealed he “doesn’t have feelings,” prefers to not eat for days (his waist is 26 inches), and mentioned his desire to work with Adele.

The saga of Barter 6’s title (2015)

Thugger once described his three favorite rappers as “Lil Wayne, Lil Wayne, and Lil Wayne,” so it’s no surprise that during his hero’s absence from releasing official albums, the young successor naturally decided to pay tribute by naming his first mixtape of 2015, Carter 6, and releasing the cover art, featuring a naked Thug. Sadly, Tunechi himself expressed displeasure at the homage, telling a Mississippi crowd, “I want y'all to do me a favor and stop listening to songs of niggas that pose naked on they motherfucking album cover.”

Complicating matters, obviously, was the news to come out that Wayne would be suing his longtime mentor and label head Birdman -- who was in Rich Gang with Thugger and appears on the finished release -- but the title sounded more like an homage than a diss. Nevertheless, Young Thug changed the title to Barter 6 immediately following Wayne’s comments, and released it to increased national attention.

Announcing his tour via horseback (2016)

While Thugger’s supposed “debut album” Hy!£UN35 may never actually arrive, he keeps fans pretty busy with three mixtapes a year these days, and no shortage of stunts -- like announcing his tour not with a press release but by riding a horse around the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Paul Revere-style. One bemused witness tweeted “If that’s not peak Atlanta and peak Midtown I don’t know what is.”

Jeffery, especially the cover (2016)

Whether longtime fans admit it or not, this fall’s Jeffery is the culmination of our collective, long-term investment in a very fractious artist who’d done all kinds of things prior, but not necessarily something for everyone. Some believe Thug’s increasingly esoteric Slime Season releases were approaching a peak, others prefer the early oddness of 1017 Thug.

But Jeffery is unabashedly pop, focusing its melodies in a direction to actually be sung along to, and with the tropical-flavored Travis Scott smash “Pick Up the Phone” bringing up the rear to show for it. The best thing about it though, is the much-discussed cover art, featuring Thugger in a frilly gown and conical hat best described by Billboard’s own Chris Martins as “geisha couture meets Mortal Kombat’s Raiden.” Considering his promise that “there will be two brides” at his own betrothal to swimwear designer Jerrika Karlae, it’s the perfect image to sum up a pop enigma who’s finally made good on the “pop” there for a whole record.

 

When your mama make u go to the airport and apologize ---- sorry love ones....

A photo posted by ""JEFFERY"" (@thuggerthugger1) on

 

His mom making him apologize to the airport workers he mocked (2016)

Young Thug’s reputation, despite a fairly destructive lifestyle and a near-sociopathic difficulty in bonding with other human beings, has remained fairly positive, even when he drew criticism for his comments on the racist horrors of Ferguson in 2014. But this month, he posted video footage of himself on social media calling two black women who worked at Alaska Airlines “peasants” and “ants” and offering them $15,000 apiece to quit their jobs.

The backlash was swift, as it tends to be, and it seemed like Thug's amusingly alien manner of speaking to other human beings had finally gotten him in trouble. Somehow he managed to make his retribution charming, though, by claiming on Instagram that his mom sent him back to the airport to apologize to the women. As with everything he does, the story could be totally fabricated, but Jeffery's life is such a bizarre fantasy that it could also be totally real. Either way, there likely won’t be any shortage of crazy Young Thug news as we enter 2017.

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