The Lil’ Wayne comparisons are inevitable. Over the course of his rapid ascendancy, Young Thug has done little to avoid them — in taking on Birdman as a mentor, cultivating an extremely public relationship with codeine, and attempting to name his commercial debut Carter 6 (only changing it to Barter 6 when Wayne threatened legal action), he has really only encouraged them. Too often, the similarities between Wayne and Thug result in Thug (legal name Jeffrey Williams) being labeled as an imitator, merely a latter-day Weezy for a new generation of consumers, but this is a ultimately a lazy categorization. No one sounds quite like Young Thug, and the idiosyncratic approach he brings to Barter 6 is what makes the project as strong as it is.
The primary difference between Wayne and Thug lies in their use of words. The attraction (for many) to Wayne is his dexterous wordplay. While his delivery, a raspy, sing-songy New Orleans drawl, is somewhat unconventional, he is a rapper in a traditional sense, drawing listeners in with his bars. You can read his words without hearing a song and understand the appeal. Most of Wayne’s raps hold some amount of meaning, and the emphasis in his music is still on his lyrical content. Thug, on the other hand, sees words more as rhythmic and melodic devices than anything else. He is unconcerned with articulation or clarity (has anyone actually figured out what he’s saying on the “Lifestyle” hook yet?), and the meaning of the words he chooses is clearly secondary to their sound.
This is immediately made clear on Barter’s opening track, “Constantly Hating.” Over a minimal, filtered backing track, Thug delivers his rhymes in a cadence that is somewhat difficult to understand (some of the words he uses aren’t even words. He devotes one bar entirely to bird noises, for example.), but the lack of clarity is completely forgivable. Whatever he’s saying sounds fantastic. Each line packs an infectious and memorable melody, and it is clear that he’s deploying his voice more as an instrument than a means to express specific words. Although this is an approach that many rap traditionalists frown upon, it is nonetheless an effective one, and one that immediately distinguishes him from the pack.
It would be easy for Young Thug to cash in on this technique and deploy it on every track — and make no mistake, he uses it readily — however, he refuses to rely on it, readily displaying his technical capabilities as an MC on tracks like “Just Might Be.” When he wants to, Thug wows with speed, bizarre similes (“I’m bangin’ green like the lizard in Geico!”), and unusual phrasing. Meanwhile, the production, handled primarily by London on da Track and Wheezy, is druggy but focused, chock full of unusual sounds while still maintaining a propulsive energy. It is sublime and gives Thug a solid base to build his sound upon.
Barter 6 is not perfect, having two primary pitfalls: its repetitiveness and Thug’s constant use of standard rap tropes in his lyrics, especially evident on songs like “Knocked Off,” (opening line: “I’m gon’ beat that pussy up just like a champion”) and “Never Had It” (“Hopped out my bed and hopped right in a foreign”). However, the album’s relative brevity (13 tracks, fairly short for a commercial hip-hop release) allows for some amount of repetition, and the novelty of Thug’s approach to rap helps freshen some of these tropes (although the misogyny that is fairly consistent throughout this project is fairly exhausting). Barter 6 is a very exciting debut. I believe it lives up to and expands on the promise of Thug’s earlier mixtapes, and highly recommend it.