“Tha tour” itself never happened (save for one date). The friendship didn’t last; neither did the rumors of lucrative Cash Money deals. 

Five years from the day it was released, Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Pt. 1 looks like a failed promise on paper. Here were the two most exciting rappers in Atlanta with a clutch of crisp beats and a cunning kingpin’s resources at their disposal, and as a duo under the “Rich Gang” umbrella, they have nothing to show for it but one non-commercially released tape that arrived before the major advent of streaming. If this sounds like an irredeemable bummer, it probably would be— that is, if the tape in question wasn’t the absolute best collaborative full-length released by any rappers this side of 2010. 

Tha Tour Pt. 1 was a fleeting success, but its opportunistic, unrepeatable qualities are what give it the magic vibe that most joint releases lack. At the time, Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug were two ships passing in the night— Quan having expertly located his comfort zone on the previous year’s I Promise I Will Never Stop Going In, and Thug still reaching out in a million directions at once to find his. Quan was just coming back to shore after his all-too-brief, “Type of Way”-driven moment in the spotlight; Thug was just beginning his slow, arduous voyage out into the pop mainstream. But for all of the differences in their trajectories, the pair were locked into the exact same coordinates for 20 songs across 84 minutes. 

The two stars of the second iteration of Birdman’s Rich Gang enterprise (the first being a glorified Birdman solo project) were former middle school classmates that had known each other for years, and it showed. Inside jokes abound on Tha Tour, from Quan quoting Thug’s “Danny Glover” lyric about a pile of money stacked as high as “two midgets” on the tape’s “Milk Marie,” to multiple, oddly specific references shared by the pair. Quan raps, “Did a show in Boston drinking lean out a teacup” on “Beat It Up”; Thug begins “Everything I Got” by spelling out “B-O-S-T-O-N,” and continues, “Sippin’ out the tea cups, udigg?” Quan says he “Love big titties, turned on by them C-cups” on “Beat It Up”; Thug references “Double C-cups” on “Try It.” There’s no rhyme or reason for multiple Boston Tea Party name-drops, and no explanation for both guys seeming to prefer C-cups to D-cups, but it proves beyond a doubt that these two were in the studio together, riffing and building off of each others’ material. It may not matter that Quan and Thug share obscure references, but their undeniable chemistry throughout the tape is an essential part of its appeal. Their connection spans highly coordinated lyrical back-and-forths, on-record gags about stealing the other’s prescription drugs (“I want Quan medication, he got pain pills”), and deep pledges of brotherhood and friendship (“Thugger pulled up, that’s my brother/Same mother, different daddy”). 

As evidenced by the sheer number of subpar offerings from otherwise stellar artists, collab tapes are notoriously hard to nail. The near-inevitable lack of thematic cohesion between two separate parties means that there has to be a certain level of lightheartedness to keep things engaging, but beneath the jokes and energy there has to be a bond of some sort. Tha Tour achieves this by giving both rappers space to work on their own— with Quan and Thug both getting a few solo tracks— while clearly being the spontaneous product of in-studio collaboration. The other most prominent joint efforts of the 2010s— Watch The ThroneColleGrove, What a Time to Be AliveWithout Warning, etc.— all find their creators either too creatively disjointed (WTTWATTBA), or too loose and low-stakes (CGWW). 

Tha Tour Pt. 1 transcends its definition as a collaborative project because it feels organic, balanced, and consistent throughout. The beats, which come from of-the-moment Atlantans like London on da Track, Isaac Flame, Goose, and Dun Deal, were already well within Quan and Thug’s comfort zones at the time. Two of London’s joints even play like slight reduxes of previous tracks that he produced for Thug, “Imma Ride” resembling Rich Gang’s non-album single “Lifestyle” and “Keep it Goin” structured similarly to Young Thug and T.I.’s “About the Money.” Like all of the best rap groups, crews, and friendships, Quan and Thug were infectious on first listen, but even more rewarding after you fully immersed yourself in their worlds and got in on all of the inside jokes and self-referential subtleties. 

Months before the world heard even “Lifestyle,” the first Quan/Thug offering under the Rich Gang name (which arrived almost four months before Tha Tour), Quan caused quite a stir by calling his upcoming work with Thug, “the best collab since OutKast.” Any and all comparisons to the venerated Atlanta duo are met with skepticism, no matter what rapper’s making those claims, but the backlash was especially noisy at a time when both the mainstream and conservative rap listeners hadn’t yet come around on the slurry, sing-rap stylings of the latest generation of Southern rappers. Lest we forget, Young Thug had a claim to being the most hated artist in hip hop. As he so accurately put it on opening opus “Givenchy,” “Pussy n****s” were still “scared to say I got ’em hummin’ shit.” 

There are still those who balk at Tha Tour being compared to ‘Kast or placed above Watch The Throne as the collaborative album of the century. It doesn’t have any single verses as verbose and virtuosic as, say, André 3000’s on “Rosa Parks,” and it doesn’t have any bank-breaking Otis Redding samples or “H.A.M.”-style grandiosity, and in the eyes of some, that may make it feel less skillful or less “important.” But Rich Gang’s seamless synthesis of new and exciting styles with existing (but disparate) rap tactics— finishing each others’ sentences Run DMC-style while updating Future’s mix of hard trap and smooth R&B while operating with the same DGAF attitude as Lil Wayne on his legendary mixtape run— doesn’t have to bold, italicize, or underline itself to make its presence felt.