Young Thug is an unusual rap star. His off-kilter delivery includes rapid flows, screeching falsettos, barks and growls or mumbles that are downright inaudible at times, and he cultivates an androgynous look, often wearing feminine clothing. Even if his music can be as misogynist as that of his genre peers, his aggressive embrace of self-expression could trigger progress in a stale hip-hop world
But it’s becoming increasingly clear that the 25-year-old Atlanta superstar — whose career launched in 2014 with the songs "Stoner" and "Danny Glover" — lives in his own reality, unconcerned with others. As he has gained more recognition in the music and fashion worlds, his entitlement has inspired more headlines than his art. Whether it’s beefing with Lil Wayne and Birdman, or calling airline employees "bum ass hoes" and "peasants" as he did last week, Thugger has begun to undermine the very things that made him interesting.
His sold-out show at The Bomb Factory last night only seemed to confirm his solipsism, although it got off to a promising start. He took the stage after quick sets from the up-and-coming Divine Council and burgeoning rap star 21 Savage with his Slaughter Gang crew and opened with “Wyclef Jean” from his latest mixtape Jeffery, surprisingly foregoing a backing track during the beginning of his set. The crowd rapped and sang back every word.
This tour marked a quick turnaround, as Young Thug was just in Dallas in May to headline the South Side Music Hall. But whereas his May appearance was lacking in theatricality, last night Young Thug brought out all the stops. There was an elaborate stage setup featuring a replica Rolls Royce and dramatic lighting, and he wore a sharp, Michael Jackson-esque military jacket.
But while he was poised for a successful set last night, his hour-long performance ultimately hit lots of roadblocks. After running through about eight songs he left the stage and a DJ took over. The show finished out with this start-and-stop rhythm, communicating to the audience that Young Thug would be performing at his leisure. After each break in the show, whether it was a random DJ set, a reappearance of 21 Savage to perform “X” and “No Heart” or simply Thugger dancing around to his favorite songs by other artists, he would return to the stage in a new outfit, eventually closing the set in pajamas.
When he was on stage actually performing tracks, he was electric. He delivered plenty of energy to keep the crowd rowdy until the tail-end of the set. At that point, as if it were a chore, he performed snippets of his initial breakout songs “Stoner” and “Danny Glover,” but he let a backing track play instead of rapping and cut the songs off after one verse to the surprise of the crowd.
Young Thug flashes the potential of being a great performer and then fails to meet it. But the two closers, “Lifestyle” and “Best Friend,” seemed to leave the audience satisfied. Without much fanfare, Young Thug said that was his time and walked off stage.
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Young Thug’s performances have a long way to go if he wants to deserve the adoration of his fans. “Young Thug is one of the greatest artists of our generation,” one concertgoer, Ralph Ferow, said after the show. “He speaks to my soul and he doesn’t give a fuck. Just listen to his lyrics. His music bangs."
Another fan, Jayla Adridge, was equally unfazed by his lack of showmanship. “He entertained us the whole time even though I was bummed out waiting for it to start,” Aldridge said. “Rap isn’t his first thing; it’s fashion. That’s what makes him unique.”
In a recent cover story interview with XXL, Young Thug shared that same sentiment. “The overall goal is modeling. I used to gamble and everything just to buy clothes,” he told the magazine. “It’s always been about fashion to me – I just know how to rap. I don’t care about people understanding.” With that mindset, it’s probable we’ll never see that fantastic live performance, even if he has the potential to deliver it.