Last year saw a strange dichotomy emerge on the pop landscape. While Kendrick Lamar was constructing an album-album, of classical proportions, other artists were starting to embrace the internet as not simply just a platform for exposure, but as a means by which to access and interact with the obsessions and fantasies of their fans. Slime Season 3, the final installment in the mesmerising Slime Season series, is further proof that Young Thug emerges, and thrives, in a rare place between these extremes.
Young Thug has spoiled his listeners. There were periods throughout 2015 when if felt like he was dropping new music everyday, while an endless stream of material was leaking unofficially online. And it wasn’t all about quantity. Ordinarily, the most hyper-productive artists go through a sort of seasonal slump in the quality of their material – which is fine, and totally normal. But Young Thug isn’t normal, and his success rate is nothing short of frightening; there really isn’t much in his vast and sprawling back catalogue that sounds tired or overworked. And while the likes of Drake and Kanye West masterfully manipulate the climate surrounding their product and their material, in a way that borders on performance art, it’s Young Thug’s music alone that generated the anticipation and subsequent impatience surrounding Slime Season 3. His videos aren’t particularly memorable (‘Best Friend’ being the exception) and his social media output is not interesting at all. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need or care for any of it; his content sustains itself in its own unique and mysterious orbit.
When I’m Up dropped out of nowhere in February, critics were quick to label the effort a coherent departure from the sprawl and quixotic energy of the Slime Season 1 and 2 mixtapes, implying they somehow suffered from an excess of ideas – which was, instead, precisely what made them - and 2 in particular - so endlessly fascinating. Truth is, at nine songs, I’m Up was just short. Where this implied coherence was supposed to be emanating from was confusing. SS3 is also short (only 8 tracks in total), and it too will be described in terms of coherence, structure, focus. Which is odd, because it’s not coherent at all really – not in any thematic or conceptual sense - and neither was I’m Up. The call for Young Thug to refine his output, to rein in and concentrate his ideas seems to miss the point of his music entirely; it both defies and transcends conventional formatting – the heavy, old fashioned, clunky work of album-making. Like any great master of mixtapes, his art and process are things inseparable (if The Life of Pablo - as some critics discerned - was “process-as-art”, then for Thug process and discovery is style, as well as everything else), each release marking a small but important stage in the evolution of his craft.
There’s nothing quite as surreal or disjointed as "Special" (I’m Up), or as sparse and distorted as "Quarterback" (SS1) here. Instead, that energy has been redirected at constructing bigger, clearer, more completed sounds. "With Them", might be one of the most expensive-sounding and decadent instrumentals he’s rapped over, and "Drippin’" – an instrumental in properly absurdist Young Thug territory and the coolest thing on the tape – has this frantic stomping quality, similar to "Beast", that builds progressively between bursts of thick cascading tom-tom rolls. Elsewhere, London on da Track furthers his case for being one of the most interesting and versatile producers currently active (Thug has said he has the potential to be one of the best ever), conjuring the absolute divine on "Worth It" (the first twenty seconds alone are sheer bliss) and invoking the stuff of gothic horror romance on "Tattoos": jangling keys, plucked strings, crescendoing, choir-like harmonies.
Thug’s vocal delivery is as inimitable as ever, even If lyrically or conceptually it seems more disparate - lacking the madness and mystique of SS2, or the fragile sadness of Barter 6. "Drippin’", for example, might be one of the most singular, arresting displays of Thug’s multifaceted rapping ability. He commands the shape and movement of the instrumental by throwing himself, with devastating ease, into all sorts of impossible, undiscovered gaps and breaths in the beat, practically deconstructing and rebuilding the tempo and structure from within, his voice stretching and snapping in all sorts of weird and wonderful contortions, as if trying to break free of itself and go in search of a new host. It’s mad, mad genius. You can almost sense a change in the atmosphere after its done. It’s also a perfect example of the sheer resourcefulness and musicality of Thug’s speech. The music critic Ben Ratliff terms this quality, “wasteful authority”. He writes: “it often sounds like imperious indifference, relaxedly stubborn, stubbornly relaxed […] and establishes such an effective system over the situation that the singer can do pretty much anything – laugh, talk, phrase at will, ask questions.” There’s a point in the middle of the track, right before it catches fire and explodes, when Thug pauses and in a questionable Jamaican accent churns out an abrupt non-sequitur: "You don’t know a thing about me okay/ Leave me alone man I just want the money/ I get back with you when I’m done okay?" And, on the intro to "Problem", in another mangled comic accent: "Okay, okay, so, YSL/ We’re YSL aka private flight gang you know/ Yeah, we’re the private flight gang you know/ Join in bitch."
"Worth It", dedicated to his fiancé, is the tape’s centerpiece. Its impact is all in the auto-tune, which lands somewhere in between heartfelt sobbing and drunken rambling. But it’s also further evidence that when he wants to, Thug can come hurtling right back down to earth, to write with extreme clarity and honesty (a word on honesty: sex is always a line away whenever Thug writes about love.) As with all of Thug’s best writing, this happens in short, isolated bursts: "Damn, I broke her heart, now my heart hurt/ I don’t know why but I cut down on that syrup", and on the hook, "Yeah, my mamma say she aint’ perfect/ But if this how I’m feeling, it’s gonna’ work"’ But there’s always a sense of vulnerability to Thug when he’s in this soul-bearing mode, and a line that might – perhaps - momentarily puncture the rosy veneer: "I keep my heart locked up in a safe, hey." Elsewhere – if only briefly - Thug’s writing retains some of that street mysticism that characterised vast quantities of SS2. There might even be an allusion to the existence of eternal human consciousness on "Digits" – who knows? To try and break it down would be a sin: "You can lose your life, but it gon’ keep going/ Why not risk life when it’s gon’ keep going?/ When you die somebody else is born".
This isn’t one of the standout tapes in Thug’s ever-expanding discography. But, as always, it signifies development, progression - most of it accessible on "Drippin’". Thug’s vocals across this tape are fiercer, crisper -- his production choice sharper, bigger and more resolute. But this shit is second nature for Young Thug. He says it himself, on "Digits": "I can do this shit when I get bored". There’s nothing about Slime Season 3 that knowingly foreshadows his long-awaited studio album, Hy!£UN35. It doesn’t slot neatly into any wider marketing narrative – it completes a run of tapes that created their own buzz. In fact, you get the impression that Young Thug finds anything but creating music a massive waste of time. Which is why it sounds this good. And, so while we let this tape consume us in the coming days and weeks, you can be certain that Thugger will be locked away in his studio again, right back down to the only thing that matters: making music.