Comfortably one of the most influential rappers ever, Atlanta’s Young Thug has always been ahead of his time. He’s known for pushing gender boundaries with his fashion choices and delivering immediately distinctive, quickened verses, but Thugger’s A&R skills aren’t talked enough about.
Discovering stars such as Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Baby and right-hand man Gunna before their enormous fame, Thug has a knack for finding the next big things. Now heading his own label YSL (short for Young Stoner Life), Thug hopes to do the same for more promising rap stars. After the success of 2018’s ‘Slime Language’ compilation, which featured the aforementioned artists, the label hopes to recreate the magic with this follow-up, but falls a little short.
‘Ski’, punctuated by Thug’s unmistakable “yeah, yeah!”s and a staccato violin, sets the tone; the frenetic Gunna and Young Thug collaboration is one of the best tracks on the album. Another is ‘Take It To Trial’ — a woozy tune where Thug, Gunna and their mate Yak Gotti utilise a catchy, commercial beat to flex their unique vocal deliveries and fun melodies.
Having Drake on a track is always risky; either the Toronto 6 God adds a mesmerising verse that catapults the song to great highs, or he completely washes out all the other talent. Weirdly, Drake opens ‘Solid’ sounding awkward and out of place – “Slip, slide, tryna provide for me?” — but then the OVO founder pulls it out the bag with his pioneering, melodic flow, before Gunna tags on the end with AutoTuned croons. The chemistry between Young Thug’s second-in-command and Drizzy is so inspired that Young Thug’s addition feels a little superfluous. ‘Solid’ is still going to be blasted on rap playlists and in DJ sets to come, but might have been an even bigger hit with a tighter edit.
A few songs on ‘SL2’ are more polished. There’s the Skepta-assisted ‘WokStar’ from newcomer Strick – who makes a great effort against the grime veteran – and the tantalisingly trappy ‘Came Out’ with the wheezy Lil Keed. Overall, though, ‘I Like’ is the record’s slickest track. The billowing, fluttery synths work perfectly against the higher-pitched computerised vocals of rising star Coi Leray and Young Stoner Life’s First Lady Karlae.
YSL will have put smiles on many faces here. But ‘Slime Language’ was such a seminal release for the new hip-hop label, and ‘SL2’ doesn’t reach new highs, despite big rappers helping out (Kid Cudi, NAV and Travis Scott all appear). The album peaks quite early – perhaps with a few tweaks to the tracklist, the new stars of YSL could have had a little more time to shine.
Release date: April 16
Record label: Young Stoner Life Records