Punk is a jumbled, inconsistent mess, and the latest misstep from a once-great artist to now regularly makes them.
What does one expect from Young Thug in 2021? Since his arrival onto the contemporary hip-hop landscape nearly a decade ago, he’s managed to accomplish nearly everything he’s set out to do — mainstream success continues to elude him, but things are improving in that regard — and then some. He founded his own sorta-popular label, influenced an entire generation of young slimes, garnered respect from the most esteemed of his peers. Still, in many respects, his music output hit something of a ceiling a few years back. He hasn’t become bad or even boring per se, but the edge he once brought with his outré vocal delivery and questionable lyrical content has noticeably dulled. He’s tightened the formula a bit; he’s acting less a wild card and more like an established talent, one who engages in traditional media rollouts and gives routine press interviews. But what’s missing from Thugger’s music these days is the defiant spark that propelled releases like Barter 6 and Jeffery forward, even when they were tonally and qualitatively inconsistent. So Much Fun, by stark contrast, was technically competent, but also utterly nondescript and largely forgettable. The perfect YSL ideal would be a middle-ground between these two modes: irreverent, but also sonically coherent.
His latest, Punk, seems to be this very release — at least at the outset. For an all-too-brief six-track stretch, it operates more or less as a spiritual successor to the acoustic-friendly Beautiful Thugger Girls (albeit decidedly more “punk” in presentation and ethos than in musical tone or instrumentation), and ranks as one of Young Thug’s most aesthetically consistent projects to date. The intimate and introspective “Die Slow” — which kicks off with a single solemn guitar riff and sustains the sole instrumentation throughout — has Thug going on several extended mid-verse tangents regarding his philandering father, and the anguished sentiment bleeds over into “Stressed,” though it also features a rambly J. Cole bridge that has him once again bragging about how rich he is. The first half of “Stupid/Asking” has Thug whelping the titular question (“Is you stupid?”) from the perspective of a scorned lover, while its second part focuses on the dissatisfied sentiment (“I’m tired of askin’”). Up until “Peepin Out the Window,” which features an inspired Future crooning about all these “racist-ass cops tryna catch a n***a slackin’ like Jim Crow,” Punk is pure bliss, including tracks from the mellow “Contagious” to “Recognize Real,” which ranks as one of Gunna’s finest and heroic hours.
Then things go awry with “Rich N***a Shit,” which ends the sonic gambit of the front-loaded album before it’s able to really develop; instead, we now get a boring, derivative Pi’erre Bourne beat (supposedly Kanye West had some hand in producing this one, though it’s difficult to discern his contributions here) with a boring, derivative Young Thug and a below-average Juice Wrld verse. The nose-dive continues on “Livin It Up,” with a dumbass Post Malone chorus and A$AP Rocky singing over a corny country-pop beat; it’s dreadful, but not even the worst threesome song here, as “Bubbly” provides one of Travis Scott’s goofiest guest spots yet (he has a funny line about the “way we bustin’ up faces”) right before a mid-song beat switch-up — all of this ostentatious ornamentation makes way for a tired, painfully uninterested Drake guest spot — which kills any remaining momentum. The rest of Punk’s material feels equally miscalculated — the cartoonish “Icy Hot,” with Doja Cat’s underwhelming, heavily auto-tuned vocals — and uninventive (did Thug forget he already had a track called “Scoliosis,” which was much better than the one here?). The only real saving graces are a wannabe pop-punk anthem (“Hate The Game”) and gaudily sentimental track that miraculously pays off (“Love You More,” with fun.’s Nate Ruess murdering the hook). Not even an alright Mac Miller verse — supposedly recorded a day before his death — thrown in at the last second could ever hope to truly redeem the jumbled, inconsistent mess Punk eventually turns into, amounting to yet another misstep from a once-great artist who now regularly makes them.
Published as part of Album Roundup — October 2021 | Part 1.