A lot of colorful adjectives have been applied to Atlanta rapper Young Thug during his career ascent: “feral”, “post-verbal”, always “weird,” and sometimes, like many great musicians of the past, “extraterrestrial”. But it’s rare that people take a moment out to figure out all the different ways in which Thug creates these disparate impressions in music; in his best songs, he can embody them all in just 3½ minutes.
Admittedly, with his three-part Slime Season mixtape series of the past year — a reaction to May’s leak of over 100 of songs of his and Rich Homie Quan’s — there has been material that felt less exemplary. At moments, Young Thug started to sound, for the first time, like a watered-down version of himself.
However, the latest installment — the comparatively slight, 8-song Slime Season 3 — included what is not only Thug’s most singular song in a while, but one of the strongest and most distinctive rap songs of the year.
As much as any track he’s released in his career, “Drippin’” provides a good case study for all the ways Young Thug’s music bewilders, rankles, and inspires listeners. The song is triumphant showboating — a series of vignettes demonstrating the things he does so well, sometimes item by item, sometimes dizzyingly, all at once. So let’s figure out what makes it great before rushing to file it away with the others. Here, moment by moment, is “Drippin.’”
Like some villainous blob in some 8-bit arcade game, or a pawn in a bitter, painstaking chess match, producer Allen Ritter’s synth moves deliberately, one square at a time. It’s halfway between the sound of blaster fire and a gamelan. It’s also not particularly interesting — clearly, the production will serve mostly as a simple springboard for Thug’s Globetrotter acrobatics. Across his catalogue, the rule generally is: the less information in the beat, the more he contributes.
You could go to Genius, but you can be sure that whoever knocked that transcription out is guessing just as much as you are with the first three lines. It takes literally five seconds for Thug to fall in love with one word — “geeked” — and its central vowel, then tease it out six or seven different ways to quickly present the song’s themes: weed, lean, guns, sex with multiple partners, duty.
Here, Thug’s stutters suddenly fall completely off of the emphasis of the beat. The rhymes come further from one another, and the sounds are more drawn out. One doesn’t go to a Young Thug song to settle in and melt into a particular idea or flow; we go to be jostled about, expecting to feel a little vertigo. The pitch of his voice ascends, which fits the script: He’s pleading here.
Thug arrives back where the beat would lead you to expect he would be. Everything pulls back into focus, and the rhythms come as fast as he can get them out. He talks recklessly, names names, brags about his security team. A patronizing boast diffuses the tension: “If I was you, I would be mad toooo.”
Thug reins his flow back in again, leaving space between phrases, both for variety (he has to change modes of address, quite literally, every five seconds) and because he wants to force you to grapple with what he’s saying: in this case, to decide whether “a ruler” refers to his dick or an automatic weapon. In any good Thug song, there are the expected graphic one-liners — the parts everyone can quote. Sometimes, they’re a bit garbled, reading like pseudo-sexual quips overheard at the middle school lunch table. Behind Thug, the beat fades and the synth takes a face full of helium; it’s filtered out into an airy whistle, giving the lopsided analogies some space.
A “yaaw” adlib notorizes “Drippin’”; it’s an official Young Thug production.
Here’s the moment where “Drippin’” begins to feel exceptional. “Girl, you know it, I’ll do it”… It’s an atonal, disembodied aside, in someone else’s voice. The thrust of the speech, the sound of the words, and the sensual impression are what matters. As it turns out, it’s about head, and then —
The first repeated cry of the song — “I need it, I need it” — and more “yaw”ing. Is this a chorus, or a setup for one?
Neither. When Young Thug interpolates a one-sided phone conversation here in a half-accent, it’s hard not to recall the phrasing of Pepe the King Prawn. One is now certain that anything goes in “Drippin.’” Even though we feel like we’ve passed through dozens of portals, there’s no hint of a chorus yet.
“I…I done spent…I done spent a few bands…” It takes trying the key a few times for each phrase to start up. This part is catchy — possible to regurgitate. The melody is drawn out, and a bit languorous; we and Thugger are given to opportunity to breath for a minute, and that’s crucial to selling a song like this. The chords start see-sawing behind Thug, providing drama, possibly readying us for a big change. Lyrics hit harder: “I wrote a verse, 3 bars like Adidas Stan Smith, n—-a.”
The final word of the phrase is a primal scream, which serves as a transition into the guttural stratosphere of his range — that spot where it sounds like he’s actively trying to shake his vocal cords loose and swallow them (see also: the climax of Rich Gang’s “Givenchy”). No one in hip-hop commits to moves quite like this — that no one can ever quite find a good way to describe — to the extent of Thug, who was born Jeffrey Williams in southwestern Atlanta to a double-digit-large family full of sisters; who was reared on Gucci Mane but more so Lil Wayne; who now has more designer clothing sent to him than he knows what to do with, and joins Elton John for elevenses. These are realms where even disciples like Lil Yachty fear to tread.
A fantasia of classic Thug riffs — a musical endzone dance.
Hannibal Buress once explained a trick he likes to do while DJing Rich Gang’s “Lifestyle.” He pulls down the faders and raps Thug’s hook like “Ba dab-ba-ba da, dab-bah-bah-da da da daaa-da.” This section of “Drippin’” is either Thug doing Buress’ impression of himself, or his version of the moment language breaks down for Rihanna in “Work.” But it’s not self-parody, just a pure moment of elation.
Here’s the part where people are invited to join in. It’s a “Sound off/ 1, 2”-like call and response, and (finally) the actual “drippin’.”
By the end, the word turns to “ribbit,” signaling that it’s time to close things out. Thug brings the stuttering 1:14 section around one more time, as if it’s a chorus. The lights dim, and we settle back into the rest of the comparatively subdued, just pretty-good mixtape. If you’re human, however, you just play back through “Drippin’” again right away.