Young Thug’s minimalist album impresses

Young Thug’s “Barter 6” emerges out of the fumes of competitive inter-rapper gossip-drama, same as Kanye West’s 2007 “Graduation,” released, on none other than September 11, alongside yet clearly in counter to 50 Cent’s “Curtis,” or his “Yeezus” premiere in 2013 challenging J. Cole’s dropping “Born Sinner.” In agreement with his twisty, elusive nature, Young Thug’s new release challenges something not altogether real—and, does it really challenge it?

Thug (née Jeffrey Williams), who is 22, announced this year that his debut album would be called “Carter 6” and act as a continuation of fellow hip-hop artist Lil Wayne’s self-titled “Carter” series. Wayne’s all too predictable outrage is an indication of nothing but the self-aggrandizing melodrama of the rap game, its least interesting component.

Thug’s move could be seen as meaningless chauvinism, but this artist is distinct in that, bestowed with an oddball, delighting sense of humor, he’s nonetheless refreshingly earnest. Ignore the banter as always, and skip right to the text, a lively, thrilling, impressively polished work that indeed recalls Weezy while taking ten steps more toward the beguiling the tenderly expressive.

Surprising with all of its prerelease bombast, what strikes the ears first about “Barter 6,” hastily, barely renamed in response to its reception, is its minimalism. When I first heard lead single “Check,” a kind of modern, subdued banger version of “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,” I was admittedly underwhelmed. The song’s initially tiresome-seeming, repetitive hook, “Got me a check, I got a check,” doesn’t seem to illuminate much beyond the obvious innocuous celebration of the accumulation of wealth. However, on repeat listens, both the deceptive emptiness and Thug’s ebullient commitment in the face of such vapidity shine their way through.

The rapper’s enlivened delivery brings to bear the joys of societal and economic upward mobility, and the song’s lyrics’s fearlessness to pit personal discomfort and pain against the small, relieving saving grace of having earned a bit of money is poignant—“Geeked out my mind, man I’m tripping out, I don’t know none of these people…/ Yes, I got threats, I’m not worried bout that…/ Got me a check, I got a check.”

Like several songs on the album, including the later “Dome,” it mixes a slightly sad and threatening sound with an irresistible southern-fried melodic groove, a vibe that’s well-represented by the album’s beautifully moody cover art.

A less-is-more style approach may seem antithetical to an artist like Thug. With such a discernibly huge personality, but as colorful as his persona is, he’s also boldly opaque: as was also established on his excellent 2014 mixtape with Bloody Jay, “Black Portland,” Thugger is prone to nonsensical, almost dadaist lyrical content, rife with jokes both stupid-obvious and dastardly. It’s interested less in outlining and exploring organized themes and narratives than staking out and idiosyncratically defining a unique persona and personality via music.

The artist hangs on to certain phrases and concepts, using repetition and presentational flair to morph and alter their meanings. Thug will squawk, caw, screech and holler over his beats to pronounced effect, and his flow and verbal rhythm often reaches new realms of organizational originality and ingenuity on “Barter 6.” This makes mediocre words seem revolutionary based solely on delivery and tonal modulation, quite an artistic and expressive feat for a kid barely out of his teens. In a way, this is his most loving tribute to his beloved Lil Weezy: shaping a wholly new self in a vat of hip-hop weirdnesses.

Though his new 13-track album is primarily concerned with defining to the audience who Young Thug is as a sonic presence, he still plays remarkably well with others (“Yeah I show love for my partner” goes a verse on “Od”), a skill carried over from past teamed-up efforts with Jay and the Rich Gang collective, including Rich Homie Quan and Birdman, who appears twice on “Barter 6.”

A collaborative standout is “Amazing,” which employs constant sonic rug-pulls to shift its beats and form to match the tenor of the given verse. Featured (and equally prodigious) singer Jacquees and Thug have a contrasting interplay, with the former crooning extendedly over generous beats and the latter shattering his costar’s progress with staccato rhymes and anxious spitting.

Not all of the collaborative voices on “Barter 6” jive so harmoniously, however; the guest-list favors pulse-deadening heavy baritones like Duke and Young Dolph, who halt the pace of their respective tracks with awkward or dull contributed verses.

Similarly, despite its definite highlights, “Dream” boasts soporific production, as does “Halftime,” but to less redemptive ends, cementing the former as the weakest point of the record in its repetitiveness and cynicism. “Never Had It” has a snake charmer beat that I find intoxicating, a top-shelf work broadly indicative that “Barter 6” is one stop along the way of the slow reveal of Young Thug. And he never gives away too much.

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