The night of Slime Language‘s release, Young Thug was relentlessly posting on Instagram Live. We saw him and his crew boarding a private jet en route to the Dave & Buster’s-based listening party in L.A., various scenes of revelry, and one fleeting still of a black screen with text. I didn’t screenshot it at the time, and although I’ve relentlessly Googled with its relevant keywords, I haven’t been able to find evidence of it since. It boiled down to something like, “This feels like the way it used to be,” or “I feel how I used to,” or something along those lines. As fan theories about the notoriously private Thug always abound— especially in the wake of Slime Language, as go-to engineer Alex Tumay recently suggested— I’m almost glad I don’t have the actual screenshot to overanalyze. But suffice it to say that Thug’s in a great mood across his new YSL compilation album, and the energy is infectious. 

Less eclectic, experimental, and monumental than last year’s Beautiful Thugger GirlsSlime Language is more on par with Future collab tape Super Slimey and Jeffery in terms of ambition and structure. Thug’s on every song but one, usually as the focal point, but right from the start it’s clear he’s out to highlight the talents of others, dedicating the hook of opener “Tsunami” to his longtime producer Wheezy. YSL’s Gunna, having something of a breakout year, is a major player throughout. Other YSL artists, previous Thug collaborators, family members, and even his (ex?) girlfriend fill out the tracklist, making the whole project feel like a tight-knit birthday party. 

Thugger’s never released a project with zero features, which isn’t exactly rare (especially Atlanta’s heavily fraternal scene), but his enthusiasm for collaboration has always dwarfed that of his peers. This is someone who clearly values interpersonal relationships— you don’t start calling your bros “lover” unless you mean it, and you don’t add your sisters on your label’s artist roster unless you truly believe in them. Thug’s brotherly zeal is impossible to miss in videos, whether he’s toting guns in an overcrowded house with PeeWee Longway, hanging out by the pool with mentor Gucci Mane the day after he got out of prison, or doing the David Lynch two-step with Lil Uzi Vert in the Black Lodge. It’s out in fuller force than ever on Slime Language, and as a result, Thug sounds like he’s having the most fun he’s had since his Rich Gang days.

Grins are almost audible when Thug slyly delivers lines like, “Finally rich and it’s showing… and I’m letting it” and “I had my dick inside of her mouth and still had the chopper out,” the latter coming on “Gain Clout,” a solo cut that Tumay aptly described as “‘Halftime’ on meth.” He yelps, snarls, and coos his way around more staid guest verses, showing his ever-present vocal versatility while still staying in more of a lane than he did on Thugger Girls. When Thug bookends each line in the “Audemar” hook with energetic exclamations, or turns Wire character Clay Davis’ famed catchphrase (“Sheeeeeeit”) into an ad-lib on “It’s A Slime,” you can’t help but smile along with him.

Slime Language detractors will probably use the phrase “low stakes” to describe it. There’s no country songs, Bright Eyes interpolations, or dancehall beats, and everything’s very in-line with prevailing trends in Atlanta rap. It’s not as game-changing as previous Thug albums. However, I think “carefree” is the better descriptor. Despite the fact that this is not the project that was originally billed as “easy, breezy, beautiful,” Slime Language is as easygoing as trap albums come, and that’s thanks to a near-spotless, well-curated, gorgeous collection of beats. Nothing’s in your face— it’s not until “Scoliosis” that we get anything that could be deemed remotely aggressive— instead, everything’s cushy, pillowy, wooshy. Even the more menacing melodies, such as on “Audemar,” are played with airy tones. Cloud-weight synths, lilting guitar licks, and humid atmospheres form a featherweight bedrock while weird, slightly atonal flourishes are subtly sprinkled in here and there. With a revolving door of guests, it’s the downright lovely music that holds this thing together. Slime Language is the most cohesive-sounding Atlanta rap album this side of Slimeball 3 this year, which is saying something for a compilation.

Not every guest can hang with Thug as a vocalist, but for the most part everyone plays to their strengths. I didn’t even know Karlae rapped, but she forms the backbone of “U Ain’t Slime Enough” with a memorable hook; HiDoraah’s verse on “Oh Yeah” retains the melodic DNA of Thug’s intro while subtly adding to it; Lil Baby sounds effortless as ever on “Chanel (Go Get It),” even managing to slip in a reference to a very underrated Plies/T-Pain single; Gunna is stellar throughout. This isn’t quite a The Dynasty: Roc La Familia-style showcase of a god-tier cadre of talent, but doesn’t have to be. Slime Language is a blast as a familial cookout. 

Earlier this year, Thug snuck an absolute bomb of a line into his verse on Lil Baby’s “Right Now,” appearing so soon after a line about a Lambo that you might’ve missed it: “My last two years were the worst ones in my career, but I’m still rich as you.” Again, you have to resist the urge to read too far into anything he says, but something must’ve been off around the time of Jeffery and BTG— either faltering sales numbers, his relationship with Karlae, or some other unknown plight. Those two albums didn’t seem to suffer at all, but perhaps Thug was while making them. “I’m drainin’ and strainin’ my voice until it get right,” he raps on “STS,” giving perhaps the most self-aware lyric of his career, granting us a window into a creative process that’s often depicted as innate. Thug repeats lines, flows, and even song titles on Slime Language, but it seems intentional and even self-referential— a quest for the way it “used to be.” The compilation makes me, a longtime Thug fan, happy every time I hear it. More importantly though, I think it makes Thug happy, too.