Thug keeps things exciting and enjoyable on the brief "I'm Up," but it's not as satisfying as his other projects.
In a hip hop climate that's almost unhealthily focused on trending topics and followers, no one has committed to and excelled in catering to short attention spans like Future and Young Thug. Both record with a fervor that's unmatched by anyone this side of post-prison Boosie, and have rumored multitudes of unreleased projects in the vaults, yes, but also seem hellbent on releasing projects as frequently as they can. What was astounding about Future's Monster-to-DS2 run, and to a lesser extent, Thugger's streak from Rich Gang's Tha Tour Pt. 1 to last Halloween's Slime Season 2, was how little filler there was in so much material (50 new tracks from Future, 73 from Thug). The narrative seemed to be changing this year after Future's Purple Reign failed to ignite as much hype as its predecessors (regardless of its quality), and in that sense, Thug's new I'm Up is similar. Both feel like stopgap releases before bigger projects, with Thugger's Slime Season 3 and Hitunes still on the way, and Future's EVOL arriving just a few weeks after Purple Reign (more on that tape on Wednesday). But convenient narratives aside, the actual contrast between the music on the two tapes is a better sign than ever that comparisons between the two ATLiens pretty much ends at their release strategies.
Whereas Future's nailed down and continued to hone a specific sound, Young Thug's still experimenting as vibrantly as he ever was. Despite being shorter than all three of Thug's 2015 projects, I'm Up might be the most eclectic, containing the Cash Money bounce of "Fuck Cancer," the eerie and cavernous "My Boys," "King TROUP," and "Ridin," the majestic "Hercules," and most startlingly of all, the metallic ping-ponging of "For My People." It's also the most crowded, with no less than ten other rappers featured on its nine tracks. In this sense, it's basically the polar opposite of the hypnotic, slow-burning Barter 6-- I'm Up jars you with its multitude of voices, sounds, and messages.
It's really quite paradoxical that Thugger's most variety pack-esque release contains his most political and heartfelt themes-- an anti-cancer tribute to Boosie, odes to his "Boys" and literal "Family," a dedication to gunned-down College Park businessman Keith Troup-- but the concept of Thug releasing "tribute" tracks is even more of a puzzler. The undeniable thrills of hearing Thugger rap lie in the speed at which he devours concepts, deliveries, melodies, wordplay— everything moves so fast, all poetic devices flash by, and there's no room left for an extended metaphor or song-length symbolism. He does sneak in some on-topic sentiments on these more meaningful tracks, delivering messages like "stop the killing" and "I take care of my kids with a passion," but they're always sandwiched between (admittedly creative) bars about looking fly, stacking racks and pouring up. "Fuck Cancer" exemplifies this, with its first line being the only one that's remotely related to the song's title. This isn't to say that we shouldn't still gape in awe at Thug's bizarro rapping (there's literally no one else who'd describe cash-stuffed pockets as looking "like a book with the worm in it"), but if anyone tries to tell you that he's maturing or focusing on more meaningful subject matter, tell them to look deeper than the song titles. We may never get a Thug song that stays on-topic 100% of the time, but that seems a fair price to pay to witness his weirdness at work.
I'm Up's guests are yet another mixed bag, with big-time stars like Lil Durk and 2/3rds of Migos sharing time with ATL up-and-comers like Ralo and Young Butta, as well as Thugger's sisters, Dora and Dolly. Of them, the melodically-inclined Durk seems to share the most chemistry with Thug, while Quavo and Offset are the only ones capable of keeping up with his free-associative bars. No one else adds that much, although Ralo somehow steals the "weirdest voice" award here, and it is rather awesome to see Thug put on for his sisters. Even after the marathon-length, largely solo Slime Season tapes, I still craved more of Thug's elastic, inventive vocal performances, and this tape didn't exactly quench that.
The two standouts here are the two previously-released tracks, "Fuck Cancer" and "Hercules," both much more propulsive, longer-lasting, and tighter than the other flashes of brilliance on this tape. With multiple catchy melodies apiece, brilliant beats that seem to run alongside Thug rather than sit there as foundations for his vocal acrobatics, and little distraction from outside forces (Quavo can hang), they're among the finest showcases of Thug's considerable abilities we've gotten thus far. Thugger records like a savant, never relying on notebooks, and usually only needing a few takes to iron out his delivery, and his strongest cuts are the ones that bear no evidence of this. Most of I'm Up seems like sketches-- prodigious, wildly impressive ones, no doubt-- but it really only has two fully-fledged songs. There's no doubt in my mind that Thugger will continue to astound listeners for years to come, but if he's looking to up his game, he'll need to work harder on composition while making it look easier than ever.