If traditional "bangers" are what you're looking for, 2015 Young Thug is not your go-to guy. You'd be better off trying some of his other locations, like 1017 Thug or I Came From Nothing 3. Maybe even take a trip on up to Black Portland if you feel so inclined. What this year's version of Thugger will give you is music that's more understated, thoughtfully composed and spacious, giving his ravenous imagination more room to run wild. It may not provide the immediate endorphin jolt of "Two Cups Stuffed," but sit with it for a while, and it's ultimately more satisfying. This spring's Barter 6 and the opening solstice of fall Slime Season hinted at this confident shift; SS2 cements it.

Potentially years-old loosies like "No Joke" aside, Young Thug's year has been a disappointment to those who love his singles but can't come to terms with his outlandish personality and boundary-obliterating ways, but a huge, thrilling success to those who've viewed those as his best attributes from day one. (The rest of you, the ones who maintain that he is and always has been garbage, remain ever in stasis.) Barter 6 was a cohesive, wholly intoxicating project that never brought the lights up above a muted medium glow, and showed Thugger's ability to get by on more than sheer adrenaline and weirdness. Slime Season was a jumbled mess, but intriguingly so, with Thug giving us a million different options of where he'd go next. With the almost immediate follow-up tape, he shows that it's not the aggro-trap of "Rarri," the unhinged experimentalism of "Calling Your Name," the pop-minded "That's All," or Migos-by-way-of-West-Coast "Udiggwhatimsayin." "No Way," with its elegant piano line and vocal harmonies, is the true stepping stone to SS2.

In short, this thing sounds beautiful. Thug's voice still shrieks and squawks and contorts itself into inhuman timbres-- that's not what I'm talking about here. For Slime Season 2, he assembled the prettiest set of trap beats you'll hear outside of Future and Zaytoven's Beast Mode in 2015, all plinking pianos, delicate synths and warm bass tones. It's four tracks longer than its predecessor, but thanks to heightened attention to detail and track sequencing, it sustains a vibe and contains far less filler. As London On Da Track suggestedSS1 seemed thrown together by Thug's label, 300 Entertainment, who couldn't seem to pass up a months-old Lil Wayne collab. This time around, Alex Tumay, an engineer who's been working with Thug since 2013, had more of a say in the final cut, and his care and precision are evident from the start. 

That being said, there are still plenty of the unpredictable moments that have come to define Thug releases. Opener "Big Racks" features promising up-and-comer Lil Uzi Vert for an inexplicable fifteen seconds, "Don't Know" has a hook that involves Thug singing "I want that pussy 'cause it's tight as a kid," and the late one-two punch of aggressive tracks "Oh Lord" and "Beast" feels completely separated from the rest of the project. The usual scattered feel of Thug tapes is concealed well here for the most part, but there's still plenty of evidence that these tracks have been culled from multiple years of studio sessions, what with Birdman, Rich Homie Quan and some previously-leaked tracks all appearing here and there. With all of the label drama, not to mention Lyor Cohen's meddling, Thug's career has had its growing pains-- the botched releases, the tape delays, the contractual obligations and boundaries-- but it seems like he had at least a little more control over SS2's fate. Here's hoping that he's just about exhausted his reserve of material recorded more than a year ago, and that Hy!£UN35 is a wholly fresh batch of music. 

For now, though, Slime Season 2 has more than enough to hold his fans over. After "Big Racks" blusters through, setting the scene but not holding much in the way of substance, "Thief In The Night" creeps into the mix with the first of the tape's many stately piano lines, this one in particular giving Thug and Trouble an icy surface to skate over with their nimble flows. Another early highlight is a new version of prior leak "Hey I," re-tooled here with gorgeous, frilly additional instrumentation that adds depth to what was already one of the most melodic songs in Thug's catalog. It's also the first of many straight-up love songs on the tape. Rich Gang's Tha Tour Pt. 1 is the first time we realized that Thug and Rich Homie Quan could be first-rate romantic crooners if they wanted to, and while Thug still clearly has a few other interests that might get in the way of that, lots of SS2 seems to be directed at his fiancé. Maybe this, more than any artistic concerns, is what led his frequent collaborators London On Da Track, Wheezy and Goose to craft so many trap tracks that put beauty and elegance before aggression and hyperactivity, ones more suited for a night in with bae and a blunt than an uninhibited turn-up. Don't think for a minute that this means you'll be sacrificing any drugs or freakiness though.  

Before we get three bonus cuts ranging from unnecessary (the Rich Gang leftover "No No No") to intriguing (Tumay's chopped-n-screwed version of leak "Love Me Forever"), the tape closes on its two strongest tracks. With its minimal Quan feature, "Never Made Love" could also feasibly be a remnant from Rich Gang sessions, but the fact that it features some of the best and most linear rapping in Thug's career overshadows all else. He comes closer to "storytelling" than ever before, reigning in his usual non-sequiturs so that they present vivid details of a scene ("She walkin' off, I look at her like cable") rather than distract from the song's main focuses. "Raw (Might Just)" is perhaps even more stunning, thanks to a shimmering beat by Treasure Fingers and a priceless opening line that winks back at "Picacho": "These niggas' knock off diamonds is shinin', but they not blindin'." The song doesn't retread any ground covered in the last year of Thug's career, and offers the best look at where his music could go next. In a few short years, he's gone from unhinged weirdo with a penchant for ear-worming hooks to a restlessly inventive songwriter, master melodian and never-ending lyrical puzzle. He's gradually formulated his own style and sound, and though he still has a lion's share of haters in hip hop, he's well on his way from transitioning from Simba to a full-fledged "Mufasa genius."