Five years after the release of Young Thug's "Barter 6," we reflect on how the project set up Thug for stardom.
I recently wrote about Mac Miller’s turning point. The point at which he won over his critics and solidified his fanbase in one fell swoop. Young Thug faced a similar crossroads in his career, and interestingly enough, for both artists, the album in question that proved to be the tipping point featured each artist unclothed, with a red backdrop. For Mac Miller, this was Watching Movies with the Sound Off. For Young Thug, it was Barter 6.
Thug’s hurdle was less for the approval of critics and more for the general public’s realization of his star quality. Prior to Barter 6, Young Thug’s name was respected among publications like Pitchfork, yet there always seemed to be a disconnect between him and the average fan-- not some lofty, snobbish “hip-hop fan” (we all know one) but rather, the unassuming, regular ol’ fan. Ultimately, it was Barter 6 that allowed Thug to connect with the masses and created the Cult of Thugger that would eventually birth many of his children-- the Gunnas, Lil Babys, Lil Gotits and Lil Keeds of the new generation are more a direct byproduct of the inspiration and creativity behind Barter 6 than anything else. In a sense, each of Thug’s descendants have had their own Barter 6 moment too-- the moment that they fully realized their creative potential, the moment they refined their sound-- Gotit just happened to have one recently on Superstar Creature.
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There are a couple of reasons why this turning point happened to Thug on Barter 6, not the least of which is the fact that he had dropped 10 mixtapes prior to Barter 6. Those 10 mixtapes served as the foundation for his critics to come calling, and name him as the preeminent artist of the time. Each allowed Thug to delve into messy experiments, whether it be pushing his vocals to weird, unknown edges of his throat, or firing off quirky albeit indistinguishable rhymes. These projects also allowed Thug to build out his collaborators, and find the ones that would ultimately push him and grow with him, and help curate his sound.
Much like London On Da Track did with Gotit on the aforementioned Superstar Creature, so to did Wheezy on Thug’s Barter 6. The only thing was, Wheezy was pretty much an unknown figure at the time. Thug was heavily linked to ATL producers like London and Ricky Racks, but Wheezy, hailing from Vicksburg, Mississippi, was not that. He had popped up here and there before, but on Barter 6, Wheezy has production credits on almost every song. Thug has proved himself to be someone who cares first and foremost about his art, friends and family-- meaning, clout and experience aren’t his top priorities when it comes to music-making. He’ll often feature his sisters and best friends on his music, over any trending name. So, it’s safe to say that he wasn’t concerned about Wheezy’s lack of exposure, and more concerned about the fact that this young, up and coming producer was capable of delivering fire.
Barter 6 is really fire after fire-- Wheezy kicked off the production on the album with the Birdman-featured “Constantly Hating.” The album was unrelenting from the first record to the last, with melodies that would melt in your ear, dripping drums and syrup-y synths. What I am trying to say is that listening to Barter 6 feels like you’re swimming in a big cup of lean, but it’s easy, you’re just gliding along, each wave rocking you up and down, gently. Each track flows into one another, with bubbly trap production linking them together -- right up until Thug closes out the album, with “OD,” “Numbers” and “Just Might Be.” These trio of records close the experience in a slowed-down haze, as though you’re dripping dry from the lean-swim you just had. Slowly, each drip falls off you until you’re completely dry.
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Barter 6 was more than just good music though. It was Thug’s way of attaching himself to Lil Wayne permanently. The mixtape was originally titled Carter 6 before Wayne threatened legal action against Thug. Still, when you hear Barter 6, it’s impossible not to think, at least in the back of your mind, about Weezy F. Which is what Thug would want-- for you to think of him, and his idol and biggest influence, hand-in-hand. Here’s the rub though: Barter 6 is so obviously not a Wayne mixtape. It’s so obviouslyYoung Thug. And it’s so flawless, that somehow, Thug managed to co-opt a Wayne title-- with the Barter 6 Thug proved he’s worthy of the same stardom, that his name holds similar weight in the rap game.