From Sun Ra to SBTRKT, the musical component of Afrofuturism is a gift that keeps giving. It’s a cultural topic that deserves endless examination and an aesthetic that informed some of OutKast’s most revered works. In fact, it is the title of their second album, ATLiens that has become shorthand for Atlanta rap non-traditionalists. It’s a term that has surely been applied to Jeffrey Williams behind closed doors. Perhaps hip-hop’s most polarizing Jeffrey since Ja Rule, the artist currently known as Young Thug is considered out of this world for his attire and motor-mouthed melodicism. But there’s no dense thesis to Young Thug’s music, which is more influenced by blanguage and fashion than post-modernism.
That isn’t a bad thing, nor has it kept Young Thug from assuming the poster child of the so-called Weird Atlanta. The poster in question now features the 22-year-old Williams nude in a red spotlight. But for all of Young Thug’s garish outfits, absurd lines, and nervous energy, his rise is a familiar one: Atlanta rapper taken under the wing of Gucci Mane takes off. The story continues with his major label debut album, Barter 6, which is not what they’re calling it. Still, you can buy it from Atlantic on iTunes, which makes it one. Like a fair share of major label debut albums, there’s enough of what makes Young Thug compelling to redeem it, but those qualities are crammed into a box of crummy features and album cuts that hit as often as the average Young Thug mixtape.
The production is sparse, which is better executed by Wheezy than London on da Track. It fails to balance out Young Thug the way that Rich Homie Quan did on Rich Gang’s excellent Tha Tour Pt. 1 by simply playing centerfield. Instead, Thugger throttles this album with an army of flows; rapped and sung, complementing beats as he pleases. The discernable ad-libs and verses continue the warped sense of humor on either the part of Young Thug or the listener. He describes himself as many things on Barter 6, a crack addict and a bumblebee chief among them. Unfortunately, there’s plenty of the Young Thug from 1017 Thug 2 throughout, as whatever brilliance there is to be found rests strongly in his delivery than his imagination.
Tapped mental resources have also plagued Lil’ Wayne, a figure Young Thug simultaneously pays lip service to and trolls. That’s where the Wayne comparisons begin and end, as Young Thug inhabits territory millions of miles away from Wayne’s world. For one, Young Thug can sing without embarrassing himself. It accounts for Barter 6’s best moments, which are the hooks on “Dream” and “Constantly Hating”, respectively. The latter expresses a sentiment that is as relatable as it is cliché. He does a spot on Future impression on “With That”, but it’s 2015 and nobody’s doing Future better than Future. Save for a timely Young Dolph verse, the rest of Barter 6 isn’t worthy of the spotlight Young Thug earned with better material.
Despite not being force-fed these hits Atlantic is looking for, Barter 6 offers plenty of Young Thug at his most clinical. Think of another Atlantic misfire: Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1.
A better place to look to this month is, predictably, a goddamn critic’s band. Fresh off a Mercury Award, Edinburgh trio Young Fathers are the latest multiracial rap band that spins race into an album title. The last group of note to do this was Death Grips. The title had nothing to do with MC Ride’s nihilistic hemming and hawing. What’s more is that the album, or half album, was possibly the band’s most uninspired. Unlike Death Grips, Young Fathers won a prestigious award for their discography’s rotten egg. They also provide something that works toward an answer to questions raised from the title of their newest album, White Men Are Black Men Too.
A logical response to the title likely involves a “how?” or even a downright no. Pick your own line from the second verse of Murs’ “And This Is For…” to respond to the album title with and it will answer back with a meditation on space (not outer space) as a social construct that runs close to the lines of the L.A. emcee’s philosophy. Their purpose is to provoke social conversations. They aren’t shy about starting them either. While the group claims to come at these discussions from a positive angle, pointed opinions on racial spaces in music, gentrification, and police brutality are approached in a more straightforward manner than the self-examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. To boot, the scatterbrained pop of White Men Are Black Man Too offer a counterpoint to those that could have used a little less Tyler, The Creator on his latest release. The three musicians aching to be transcendent on their own terms would just be bellyaching if they didn’t back it up with transcendent music.
Both albums will certainly be touted as leftfield more than they actually are. Yet, there are too many cutting edge things going on in hip-hop to get too carried away with either. White Men Are Black Men Too is a return to form and Barter 6 desperately begs for one. Any connections made to the mothership are contrived. Young Fathers and Young Thug are definitely from planet Earth, but how far they appear from it is a question of vision and not location.