Recently, Young Thug’s career has existed in an odd limbo of sorts; after 2016’s Jeffery failed to deliver the sales becoming of Thug’s talent, the historically prolific artist became increasingly guarded with his output. On the Rvn, which was supposedly conceptualized earlier this month after a warrant was issued for his arrest in DeKalb County, Georgia, comes on the heels of last month’s compilation tape, Slime Language. Comprised of six tightly-constructed songs, half of which are produced by Thug’s fan-favorite producer, London On Da Track, this EP is being applauded as a return to form.

However, this isn’t merely Thug going back to the basics. Rather, it’s a stark reminder of Thug’s versatility and the chameleon-like way in which he embodies and subsequently sheds his influences. Wherelast year’s Beautiful Thugger Girls sat comfortably ahead of the curve, blending acoustic, trap and R&B leaning production into a futuristic album about love, this EP is a more concerted effort in reminding the public of how far his songwriting has come. On the Rvn is Thug’s first successful attempt at seamlessly bridging old and new vibes.

Over the last half-decade, Thug’s flows and delivery have become more tangible. There are still moments of off-the-wall absurdity (see: Slime Language standout “Audemar”), but admittedly, there has been a certain sense of familiarity to his current work that doesn’t sit well for someone who has otherwise been so dependably left-field; it’s easy to understand why longtime fans and fans just catching on may both be drawn to the infectious, freeform nature of his earlier work. This familiarity has also shrouded his most recent projects with a feeling of redundancy - everyone's waiting for the next big step. Yet, this honing of craft shouldn’t be looked at as a hurdle to his creativity. His most recent work, such as last year’s Super Slimey standout “Killed Before,” showcases a heightened sense of execution, a refinement that has allowed him to better display his masterful vocal range, one that allows him to slip in and out of conventional form with exceeding ease. The same finesse that made his guest spot on Swae Lee’s “Offshore” a sprawling exhibition of talent is present here on tracks such as “Real In My Veins”.

Having recently gone on an Instagram rant about being the “drip god,” it’s clear that Thug feels underappreciated these days. “On the Run”, “Icey” and “Real In My Veins” all deal with Thug’s role in shaping the current landscape of rap. “Tell them pussy n****s take a look at what they done created,” he teases on the latter track, right before seething, “tell the critics that they talkin’ ‘bout the fuckin’ founder.” On that track in particular, Thug goes out of his way to chastise the public - fans and critics alike, noticeably fed up with the narratives surrounding his career. All throughout On the Rvn Thug crams multiple references to both his creative and his legal issues: “I told her she got a Thug wannabe”; How the fuck am I ever gon' go turn myself in?”. Slowly but surely, and always on his own terms, it seems as if Thug is intent on reclaiming a career that was threatening to slip out from under him.

The production on this 23-minute effort is uniformly great. While London typically embodies a comfortable terrain for Thug to navigate, his contributions to On the Rvn are decidedly more experimental. On the intro, he repurposes his trademark siren to great cinematic effect, creating a whimsical backdrop for Thug to lightheartedly thumb his nose at the law. “Climax”, a stirring ode to moving on, sees London melding his acoustic guitars with an inspired sample of Shiloh Dynasty’s “Losing Interest”, with Thug animatedly beatboxing underneath. “Icey” and “Sin”, produced by Wheezy and London respectively, are strip-club ready bangers that sound like two sides of the same coin; one is bright and bubbly, the other dark and sinister. Supah Mario, a longtime secret weapon of the YSL camp, one whose commercial run is imminent, stops by to create a rattling backdrop for Thug’s defiant performance on “Real In My Veins”. But it’s newcomer Stelio Phili who runs away with the best beat of the bunch.  

As the story goes, the Stelio produced closing track came to fruition with Elton John’s full blessings. After coming across Thug’s 2015 crossover collaboration with Jamie xx, “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”, John went out of his way to visit Thug in Atlanta, supposedly encouraging the rapper to continue honing his talents as a vocalist. Upon hearing of their meeting, Stelio took the initiative to construct an instrumental inspired by the iconic singer. Not a proper duet, “High” instead interpolates vocals from John’s 1972 album Honky Château - particularly, from the wildly famous hit single, “Rocket Man”. The resulting beat is equal parts lush and spacious, and the non-traditional composition was evidently a perfect fit for our favorite innovator. Recorded in 2016, this highlight is a surreal instance of Thug firing on all cylinders; the lyrics are colorful and imaginative, the vocals sway from euphoric, ethereal highs to deliberate, impassioned lows, and the cadences flit freely from traditional rap to the specific brand of emotive crooning unique to Young Thug’s music.

Where the three tracks on Hear No Evil, his chart-baiting EP from April featuring Nicki Minaj, Lil Uzi Vert, and 21 Savage, failed to entice longtime fans or attract any curious newcomers, the features on this unexpected follow up feel a lot more natural. 6LACK, the fellow Atlanta rapper-turned crooner featured on “Climax”, recently dedicated an entire interlude to Thugger on his latest album, East Atlanta Love Letter, and feels right at home alongside London’s vibrant strings. His measured delivery is a perfect foil to Thug’s spooling cadence; it’s an understated duet that screams untapped potential. The following cut, “Sin,” features fellow tourmate Jaden Smith, who has sung Thug’s praises for a number of years now. This first collaboration between the two showcases a natural synergy of oddball energy, one that sees Thugger shedding his usual air of irreverence to directly address those who may see him as a mindless womanizer:"'You n****s don't care 'bout women -'/Just shut the fuck up, yeah I'm taking care plenty." Finally, T-Shyne, a YSL artist added to “Real In My Veins” two days after the EP’s release, is a complementary addition to an already impressive cut.

By any and all measures, Young Thug is one of the most consistent rap acts of this decade. So, sure, On the Rvn, a brief, feature-heavy EP is Thug’s best release in over a year, but that should, in no way, be an indictment on his current output. Instead, we should look at this offering, in conjunction with his other recent efforts, as a testament to his perpetually improving craft and a sign that his moment is yet to come.