Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert both built mainstream careers off of impressive mixtape discographies, but who reigned supreme when they dropped their long-awaited debut albums?
You’d be hard-pressed to find two rappers with a more influential mixtape discography then Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert in the 2010s. From Thug’s Barter 6, Jeffery, Beautiful Thugger Girls, and Slime Season series, to Uzi’s Luv Is Rage, Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World, and The Perfect LUV Tape, both rappers dropped hit after hit before releasing a studio album.
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As one of the most influential artists of the last decade, it’s hard to believe it took Young Thug until 2019 to release his debut album. His impact on music is glaring, paving the way for rappers from Gunna and Lil Baby to Playboi Carti and Trippie Redd. Echoes of his iconic sound can be heard throughout the hip hop landscape. He’s flipped fashion in the rap game on its head with his androgynous wardrobe. To say expectations for Thugger’s debut studio album were high would be an understatement. The wait for this moment was so long, artists who cite him as a major inspiration released debut albums of their own before him-- notably, Uzi’s Luv is Rage 2.
Uzi is the epitome of Thug’s influence on the rap game. He’s at forefront of a generation of rappers who are genuinely weird and refuse to get bogged down in the traditional rules. Uzi separates himself from the pack by not only being a gifted musician but oozing unparalleled charisma that extends his popularity beyond music. Revisiting the two rapper’s debut albums leaves a pair of questions: Was So Much Fun everything a fully-fleshed Thug album promised to be? And was Luv is Rage 2 a viable successor to the best mixtape from one of this generation’s most popular rappers?
Thugger, the man who once said “Foreign car outside, that bitch got two digits/Money stand like eight feet just like two midgets,” knows how to construct a bar. Throughout his debut, he attempts to reaffirm that skill but fails to put together anything that compares to his best work. The closest you’ll find to a track as memorable as “Check” or “Best Friend,” would be “Hot” or “The London.”
“Hot’s” orchestral production warns the audience to prepare for a classic Thugger track, but it’s immediately derailed by a tired, completely apathetic showing from Gunna. He either sounds sleep-deprived or anxious about showing any semblance of personality in the booth-- regardless, I don’t want to hear timid, monotone rapping for half of the track length, especially juxtaposed with such upbeat production. Thug flies in with numerous vocal inflections and energy to save the track (foreshadowing a common theme throughout the album), but neither provide anything in the lyrics that warrant a visit to Genius.
One high point comes on "Big Tipper," where a subtler beat places emphasis on Thug’s writing. He steps up to the plate and hits a home run with the refrain: "I can tiptoe in her pussy like a Loub, Chanel/Harriet Tubman $20s, weigh 'em up on the scale/Hand under her ass, caught her like Odell." Yet again, another track is derailed when a lesser talent fails to match Thug’s level. Lil Keed concludes the song with a slight improvement on Gunna’s earlier verse but he still feels out of place. Thug can routinely pull together an interesting idea, an impressive performance, and an irresistibly catchy beat, but his comedic prowess when it’s comes to songwriting is mostly absent throughout the project. Sadly, he has less to say here than ever.
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Lyricism is not the main draw for a Lil Uzi Vert record, but on Luv is Rage 2 Uzi holds his own and delivers a handful of tracks that feature the best writing of his career. At times the album is weighted down with filler, but at it’s best, Uzi proves he’s here for the long haul. “XO Tour Llif3” is an obvious standout and arguably the best song of Uzi’s entire discography. His soul-stirring chorus is a rare combination of emotional candor, infectious performance, and an upbeat addictive vibe. It was a guaranteed hit.
I don't really care if you cry
On the real, you shoulda never lied
Saw the way she looked me in my eyes
She said, "I am not afraid to die
With “The Way Life Goes,” Uzi extends his range, pulling off a melodic emo song that finds the Philly rapper covering Oh Wonder’s “Landslide” on the chorus. Sonically, it should drastically differ from the rest of the album, but because it plays into the overarching themes of longing and heartbreak, it works.
Here is where both these albums truly shine. Where So Much Fun is as the title implies. While Thug rarely leaves his thematic comfort zone, So Much Fun’s production keeps the listener interested by constantly switching things up. His wacky delivery shines over some of the best beats of his career. “Surf” is one of the strangest songs on the tracklist as Thug contrasts “I chop up his ass, I chop up his friends, his mamas, and all his six kids” with production best described as “cute.” It’s something you’d hear on Animal Crossing. The disparity is alarming and saves what would otherwise be another run-of-the-mill filler track.
A few songs later, Thug hits you with “What’s the Move” featuring Lil Uzi Vert. Ayo Chef and BL$$D sample birds chirping while asks the listener the existential “Is you tryna cry in a Rollsâ Royceâ or the bus?” Across “The London,” “Ecstasy,” the aforementioned “Hot,” and more, Thug slithers on crisp, speedy production that makes the listening experience especially worthwhile.
On Luv Is Rage 2, Uzi’s flows and catchy hooks work hand-in-hand with equally engaging beats. The Pharrell-assisted “Neon Guts” comes to mind, with the rhythmically bouncing beat making for the most uplifting portion of the album. The production throughout the rest of Luv is Rage 2 maintains an underlying eerieness but balances the darkness with an uptempo speed. “Dark Queen” is a perfect example of this. While Uzi flips between singing and rapping about his parents, the extraterrestrial beat lurks in the background, transitioning perfectly into the climax “XO Tour Llif3.”
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Over the course of his mixtape catalog, Thug developed a style of rapping that dodges confined definition. He constantly implements new vocal inflections, fuses genres, and drops the type of one-liners that make you hit rewind. On So Much Fun, however, he sacrifices the latter for a stronger former with his most consistent work yet from every angle except for songwriting. Thug’s Rolodex of flows, vocal techniques, and production choice try to keep the listener in tune until the end, but with over an hour of material, it becomes clear what’s pulling the weight. I can’t help but think trimming So Much Fun down to the length of his prior tape, On The Rvn, would make for a move valuable listening experience. Is this album good? Yes. Does it live up to the expectations Young Thug set across his prior work? No.
Conversely, Uzi’s Luv is Rage 2 boasts some of his highest highs. He proves to be a master of a pop-rap fusion that results in the catchiest songs of his career. While it’s not without misses, Uzi maintains a formidable shooting percentage throughout his debut album and caps it off with the best track of his career om “XO Tour Llif3.” There’s a reason why Uzi has remained relevant without dropping an album in three years, and that’s Luv is Rage 2. The album is a brilliant sequel to Luv is Rage, improving on Uzi’s lyrical growth and refining an overarching theme supplemented by the best production of his career.
Let us know who you think had the better debut album below.