By Rina Weaver
Young Thug’s 2017 mixtape, Beautiful Thugger Girls, is the closest parallel to Punk. On it, the perpetually talented MC created country ballads on which he rapped in a Southern twang. The use of acoustic guitar melodies is prevalent throughout Punk. “Die Slow,” the album’s first track, finds Thug in a reflective mood, with soothing guitars leading a stream-of-conscious, meditative verse. Thug raps, “Yeah, on tour, I done missed my son’s birthday, it’s on July the 15th.”
The same guitar-driven sensibility falls flat elsewhere, such as on the A$AP Rocky and Post Malone–assisted “Livin it Up,” in part due to the guest artists’ mediocre performances. The song has the feel of a sloppy radio success, more comparable to a Post Malone B side than a Young Thug single. Fortunately, it’s the album’s sole misfired guest appearance. J. Cole’s verse on “Stressed,” in which the Dreamville MC perfectly matches Thug’s distinctive vocal range, is arguably one of his greatest. “Peepin Out the Window,” a Future and Bslime collaboration, has the flavor of legendary Atlanta rap classics from before the city’s rap movement swept over the mainstream. Thug’s angelic vocals float lightly over the groove here, while Future harmonizes with him, demonstrating the duo’s unrivaled musical compatibility.
Thug is joined on “Bubbly” by Travis Scott and Drake, establishing somewhat of a Holy Trinity of rap success. Every musician contributes some of his best work in years to the song, which is peak-boast rapping. Travis Scott, on the other hand, is energized, his usual style infused with a pleasingly varied cadence. Drake does his Drake thing, but it sounds like he’s having a good time making music again.
Thug is at his most grounded lyrically on Punk. While the album lacks the obvious bangers for which he is known, it does provide more introspective insights and self-reflection. He’s giving us free game on “Droppin Jewels,” providing the kind of wisdom that comes with being one of the most productive performers of his generation. He flexes about his ability for generosity on “Fifth Day Dead,” rapping, “Half a million to my dad, salad dressing, bought a ranch,” with what seems like new dexterity.
Nonetheless, Punk lacks the kind of Thuggian charm that fans have come to expect after the rapper’s prolific method or process in the past. You get the impression from Thug’s latest album that these are songs he wanted to get off his chest. While it isn’t a particularly impressive record, it does open the door to new possibilities. Who knows what Young Thug’s next move will be.