He’s a fashion icon as well, appearing on the cover of GQ in 2016, in part for his enthusiasm for gender-bending attire like women’s dresses and elaborate pedicures (“You will never see bigger guns tucked into smaller pants,” the magazine noted.)
Young Thug has said that his music, while rooted in the street culture he grew up in, wasn’t always a documentary of his life.
“I’m big on speaking s— into existence,” he said in one interview. “I had to learn not to say s— like ‘If I go to prison...’ I had to sit back from that stuff, like gangbanging. Sometimes I forget, and it’ll be in my old music and I’m like ‘What the f—?”
Even before his commercial triumphs, for more than a decade Young Thug had upended the sound of hip-hop from Atlanta, a place where extreme poverty, Black wealth and civic power, artistic freedom and gang subcultures intermingle in ways that make for groundbreaking music.
“Atlanta developed a relationship with the hip-hop community and its stars that you don’t see in other cities,” Carmichael said. “The last mayor [Keisha Bottoms] had Killer Mike and T.I. as part of her campaign. But the relationship between the music that’s branded the city across the world has been both contentious and collegial.”
Riffing on the lean-soaked fog and tripped-out violence of fellow southerners Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane (who signed Thug to his 1017 label in 2013), Young Thug dropped OutKast’s fearless musicality into a new wave of dark, rippling trap music. Early singles such as “Stoner” and mixtapes like “Barter 6” and his “Slime Season” anthology announced a new inspired weirdo — “ATLien,” in local parlance — on the scene. He signed to 300 Entertainment and landed a No. 1 hit guest feature on Camila Cabello’s “Havana.”
Thug’s 2019 studio debut “So Much Fun” went to No. 1, and guest appearances on chart-topping Travis Scott and Drake singles “Franchise” and “Way 2 Sexy” made him the go-to artist for livening up a hit rap song with otherworldly energy.
But more than most hip-hop artists, Young Thug prioritized bringing newcomers up with him through the Atlanta scene. Carmichael noted the irony that his YSL crew, which cultivated so much chart-topping talent in the south, is now being framed as a criminal conspiracy.
“Young Thug’s artistic influence on artists over the decade is impossible to count, and it goes way beyond Atlanta,” he said. “He put Gunna on, he put Lil Baby on. He famously paid Lil Baby thousands a day after he got out of jail to come to the studio and stay out of criminal activity, because Baby had a future, and now Baby is one of the biggest acts in hip-hop.”
Prosecutors, however, argue that Young Thug’s lyrics, such as those on 2018’s “Anybody” — “I never killed anybody, but I got something to do with that body ... I told them to shoot a hundred rounds ... ready for war like I’m Russia ... I get all type of cash. I’m a general” — are consonant with physical evidence and witness testimony that Young Thug participated in gang activity and violated Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute.