Young Thug: "What keeps me motivated? Family, friends, million dollar cars"
We caught up with the Atlanta hip-hop star to discuss rap as art and what makes a true punk.
Photography Mario Sorrenti
This story originally appeared in i-D’s Out Of The Blue issue, no. 366, Winter 2021. With thanks to Tiffany & Co. Order your copy here.
Young Thug is a revolutionary. Over the past ten years, Atlanta-born Jeffery Lamar Williams’ progressive approach to rhyming and fashion has completely transformed the notion of the modern-day rap star, leaving fans and critics enthralled and bewildered in his wake. After signing with southern rap pioneer Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records in 2013, Thug quickly shook off any comparison to one of his idols Lil Wayne with his own, truly unique style of rap — winning over a new generation of rap fans with early anthemic hits “Danny Glover” and “Lifestyle” and offering a glimpse of the genius to come.
While it’s still hard to place a finger on what makes a ‘typical’ Young Thug song, his imaginative lyrics drift between autobiographical not-so-humble brags to abstract, absurd punchlines as he contorts his voice from slurry southern drawls to rapid-fire raps sprinkled with his signature yappy adlibs.
Not content with challenging what a rapper sounds like in the 21st century, Thug also seemingly takes objection to any expectation of how one ‘should’ dress, often defying hypermasculine hip-hip world stereotypes with his penchant for pink clothing, painted nails and fabulous dresses. At the ripe old age of 30, Thug is now a senior figurehead within the rap world after a decade of wielding his increasing influence over the industry. He seems to be relishing the role, signing artists to his own label YSL Records, while offering mentorship to the next generation of Atlanta’s superstars in Gunna and Lil Baby.
In the days following the release of his second number one album Punk, we caught up with our cover star to discuss why rap still deserves more recognition as an art form, the importance of family and what makes a true punk.
Could you introduce yourself?Hi, I’m Jeffrey. Young Thug. You know.
What makes a true punk?Not giving a fuck. Speaking the truth. Being your truest self. But then it can also mean whatever you want it to mean.
What were you trying to achieve with your new album, Punk**? Did you want it to sound different to your previous albums?
**I was trying to achieve new listeners.
What’s your favourite song on Punk and why? My favourite song would have to be “Stupid”, because it’s the last song I did and I did it in seconds.
And what’s your favourite lyric that you’ve ever written?That’s a hard question, fuck. Wow. So many, I don’t know. That’s a hard question. That’s a fucking hard question bro. I think “Trying to kill these bastards like family don’t matter.” Maybe because of how important family is to me. You know? That’s probably why it’s like fuck, like, you actually said it. By the way I never wrote a lyric. So maybe you should rephrase that question. I’ve never written a lyric. Ever. I really haven’t. I kind of just freestyle. I just go with it as it comes. I never really wrote anything down. I’m not patient enough to sit and write. It just takes a lot of my day. Only time I’ve had the time to write lyrics down is when I’ve been incarcerated. Even if I just have to go to jail for a day or something. I don’t like writing and that’s the only way I can write; if I just got time on my hands and there’s nothing in the world I could do. And the only time you can be like that is like prison, basically. Other than that, there’s always something to do.
**What’s your favourite piece of jewellery and why?
**Maybe this ring, it was a gift and I didn’t see this gift coming. It’s got my birthstone in it, you know? I don’t wear it much. It’s nice though. It’s green.
**Yeah it’s emerald. I paid one hundred grand for it. I lost one diamond off the back of it. I just like, fucked this ring up. But it’s my favourite.
How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist since your first mixtape?I don’t think I evolved. I’ve been the same from the beginning, it’s the people who have evolved. Maybe they are just finding out who I am, you know?
You’re known as a very prolific artist, what keeps you motivated to keep on creating after 10 years in the game?
New beats, family, friends, million dollar cars, penthouses, other rappers. I listen to everybody’s music.
**What is it about Atlanta that you think keeps producing so many incredible artists?
**We just have that air. We just have the fundamentals to make everything new. We’re on top and I’m glad. I was literally born here and I’m one of the reasons that it’s hot.
How do you measure success?I don’t measure it, it just comes. I don’t look for success, I just look for comfort. I’m just happy and more success comes from me being happy
How did fatherhood change you?I used to be a rockstar. I had painted nails and I fucked up a lot of shit that I had going on, things that I built. I wasn’t thinking about kids. I wasn’t thinking about how important kids feel their fathers are. That’s the biggest thing.
What’s one thing you’d change about the rap game?The way they treat rap. We should have the biggest award shows and not just one show. We need to have crazy shit and it should be way more important. There should be movie stars and all types of people at our shows and involved. It shouldn’t be a subcategory, it should be the category because we’re in the lead and we’re not acting like we’re in the lead. People are acting like we’re not in the lead but we are. Forever.
What’s the one thing every rapper should have on their rider? Backwoods.
What are your goals for your brand Spider?To be bigger than Yeezy.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
What’s your message to the next generation trying to make it in music?Adapt. You’re right. Keep going.
What’s your biggest regret?No regrets.
With thanks to Tiffany & Co.
Photography Mario Sorrenti
Fashion Alastair McKimm
Grooming Morgan Mills using Pulp Riot Hair Color and MM Liquid Gold Oil
Photography assistance Kotaro Kawashima and Brett Ross
Digital technician Johnny Vicari
Fashion assistance Madison Matusich, Milton Dixon III, Jermaine Daley and Casey Conrad
Tailor Martin Keehn
Production Katie Fash, Layla Néméjanki and Steve Sutton
Production assistance William Cipos
Casting director Samuel Ellis Scheinman for DMCASTING
All jewellery worn throughout Tiffany & Co.