How Young Thug become one of the most influential moguls in modern rap

Gen-Z’s Gucci Mane changed the game with his inimitable – and unprecedented – style, and after a slew of hits has morphed into a brilliant businessman

It’s safe to say that the Atlanta superstar, label founder and overall rap culture influencer Young Thug has a diverse fan base. Whether you became a fan at the start with his first single in 2014 ‘Stoner’ or loved him when he finally went pop in 2018 on Camilla Cabello’s Latin-inspired ‘Havana’, the man has always pushed the boundaries as to what rappers are meant to do today, and he desperately deserves his flowers. And now, shifting his career from rap superstar to businessman, Thug keeps continues to reinvent himself through his Young Stoner Life Records, which launched in 2016. With a roster of fresh-faced musicians ready to rock out with the YSL commander, their recent record ‘Slime Language 2’ proves just how powerful Thug truly is.

Clearly, a Young Thug co-sign carries weight nowadays – he appeared on Quavo’s ‘F. Cancer’ and Lil Yachty’s ‘Minnesota’ way back in 2016 – and with such power comes the responsibility to shape his beloved scene in the best way he could. Being born in the epicentre of trap must have been a huge help to the star who changed the genre from the inside with his own unique quirks. Through years of hard work and dedication to his own idiosyncrasy, Thugger (real name Jeffery Lamar Williams – briefly SEX at one point) is now a true mogul, as his influential powers won’t be letting up any time soon. But how did he do it?

2014’s calling-card hit ‘Lifestyle’

It’s easy to forget how monumental Thug’s breakout collaboration was back in 2014. This collaboration with then-best bud Rich Homie Quan ushered in sounds that have become staples in a rap fan’s repertoire. ‘Lifestyle’ encompassed the ‘10s digital age from the cascading synths in the intro to the introductory use of heavy 808s and autotune. What was innovative at the time is now commonplace, with AutoTune used as a statement, not a fixer.

The game-changing ‘Jeffery’

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Young Thug’s whopping 16th mixtape, released in 2016, created the most controversial moment in his whole rap career: he wore a dress. On the cover of the record, the star wore a blue ruffled dress crafted by Italian designer Alessandro Trincone. It’s no secret that some aspects of hip-hop are sadly deeply rooted in toxic masculinity and homophobia, so this androgynous caused uproar on social media.

Thug helped expose this negativity in the game and showed that what you look like doesn’t stop you from making great music. His whole image shift can be seen as the epicentre of hip-hop’s drastic fashion flip from baggy and ill-fitted attire to tighter-fitting clothes. This helped SoundCloud pioneers Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti become the fashion icons they are. And luckily Thug continued to deliver: in a four-star review, NME called his official debut album, 2019’s ‘So Much Fun’, “a free-spirited record that comes with heavy doses of ridiculousness”. Let’s hope the promised follow-up does him justice too.

He made ‘slaat’ a way of life

So Thugger is a musical genius and a fashion trendsetter, but don’t forget how influential he is when it comes to lingo. Back when he started out in 2012, the gangster rap era was pushed aside by dudes like Drake and Tyga, who focused more on sensuality and struggle than violent talk. But Thug added a new gang-related word to the urban dictionary: ‘slaat’. Originally his signature ad-lib derivative of Blood gang culture, which is now one of rap’s favourite phrases, slaat has now become a way of life. All of the signees at YSL Records have it tattooed on them, and young hypebeasts use the ear-prickling interjection in their vocabulary to this day. It’s hard to make a new viral word that can be known universally by rap fans, and using just the sheer momentum of his own career, Young Thug is now an influential linguist too.

The A&R of the South…

Well, he’s one of them, at least. He’s putting as much into his city as fellow Atlanta legend Gucci Mane, and their A&Ring skills are arguably the best in the game. There are endless stories of how Young Thug has helped some of your favourite stars of today out: he gave Lil Uzi Vert his first huge placement on ‘Big Racks’ from his 2015 mixtape ‘Slime Season 2’ and famously paid Lil Baby and Gunna to stay off the streets (as Baby explained in our Big Read with him earlier this year).

The latter is such an endearing story because he pushed these Billboard-topping individuals to make some of the best music of recent years – like 2018’s ‘Drip Harder’, which spearheaded both of their careers. Where Gucci Mane favours the slow, deeper-toned stars on his 1017 Record labels, Thug has collated a brilliant roster of computerised crooners see the label’s First Lady, Karlae) and Thug-like individuals (see Lil Keed and Yak Gotti) to make up his ever-growing label.

From illegalities to philanthropy 

Like many rappers, Young Thug hasn’t always made money in the cleanest ways: his father was a gangster, so Thug felt as if he could only take that route himself. So whether his rhymes about toting guns and being a gangster are true or not, his hustler lifestyle has always been a heartfelt one. In the end, though, Thugger invested his time and money back into the community. The Sylvan Hills native donated all of his proceeds from a sold-out New York show in 2017 to Planned Parenthood in reflection of his own parenting, stating on Twitter that “planned and unplanned parenthood is beautiful”. More recently, he and a few others from YSL Records put their money together to bail out 30 low-level offenders at Fulton County Jail last month (April 2021).

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Credit: press

This type of heart will never go out of style, and it’s what makes him the Young Thug that we love today. He’s enigmatic, witty, and his interactions with his daughter over Instagram Live are sometimes feel-good comedy gold; combined with the music, this has led Young Thug to acquire a cult following that will live on for years to come. His progression over the years has made Young Thug Gen-Z’s Gucci, and he should be proud of that.

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