young thug explains his name change and viral album cover

At last night's 'No, My Name is JEFFERY' listening party, the enigmatic ATLien debuted his latest mixtape in New York to a small room of superfans, and joined 300 Entertainment boss Lyor Cohen in conversation.

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Aug 26 2016, 9:45pm

Earlier this year, "Bernie or Hillary?" memes exploded all over the internet — satirical posters comparing the candidates' takes on issues like skateboarding, chicken, and basketball. Whoever wrote the Young Thug platform presented the most concise yet apt description of the iconoclastic Atlanta rapper I've ever read: "Thugger raps like he is pulling melodies out of thin air, like the room is running out of oxygen. He is able to hop in and out of this world and the world he is currently rapping in on a moment's notice. Truly a revolutionary artist," said Bernie. ("You can't understand what he is saying!" Hillary added).

The parody pinpoints where opinions about the 25-year-old rapper divide; Young Thug is at once contemporary music's most adored and misunderstood figure. His newest mixtape, No, My Name is JEFFERY — with its puzzling name change and viral, anime-esque cover — will only exacerbate this gap. The people that already fail to make sense of Thug's diction and artistry will probably stop trying; the legions of fans that have come to depend on him for the most forward-thinking hits of the century will find much to rejoice in. It was those fans that Thug welcomed at New York's YouTube Space last night, where he hosted a listening party and live streamed it globally.

No, My Name is JEFFERY spans ten tracks, each of them named after one of Thug's heroes (save "Pick Up the Phone," its previously released bonus track). Wyclef Jean, Floyd Mayweather, Rihanna, Gucci Mane, and, yes, Harambe, all get these titular shoutouts. The tape's collaborators include Migos' Quavo and Offset, Duke, and Travis $cott. Gucci and Wyclef Jean also feature, but not on the tracks they're named after. "This mixtape, I wanted to be on some Bob Marley, reggae type shit. But I got so many of those songs, it was frustrating to put together because I have a lot, a lot, a lot of songs that are not from this planet," he explained. "No matter how fast I make it or how long it takes — every song I've made is a hit."

In addition to debuting its tracks, Thug unveiled the album's cover artwork for the very first time (it's since inspired many a Mortal Kombat meme on Twitter). He told 300 Entertainment co-founder Lyor Cohen that shooting this cover was the reason the project got pushed back. "I wanted to put it out on my birthday [August 16] as a gift to my fans. But I also wanted to do it the right way. This cover I did maybe four days ago. The cover that I had the first time, I really didn't want to use it because it was kind of plain and simple. This is crazy, right?" Thug asked, gesturing to a giant screen behind him beaming the bold shot.

The Japanese-inspired dress Thug wears in the cover shot was designed by Alessandro Trincone, who sent it on rush order from Italy (Trincone will present the full collection at VFILES' runway show, for which Thug has served as a mentor). "It took about an hour and a half to even put this on," said Thug.

Cohen wondered if the cover redesign mirrors the rapper's much-buzzed about name change. "What's the difference between Young Thug and Jeffery? I'm trying to figure that out," he asked, "Is Jeffery staying around for a while?" Contrary to initial reports, yes. "Jeffery will stay around to eternity. I'm throwing away Young Thug; I'm renewing Jeffery, who I really am," said Thug. The change came after Thug rethought his relationship to the name. "I didn't want to be in front of Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey — I don't want my kids to grow up and call me Thug, because in real life terms, Thug is like, thug. I don't want everyone to look at me like that. So I'm just going to use my real name." Apparently, he doesn't even like it. "I hate my name, Jeffery. That's the worst name in the world. But it's my real name."

Ultimately, Cohen praised Thug for his unwavering confidence: "You wake up every day without any fear. I deal with so many rappers all through my life who wake up every day fearful. They doubt themselves and try to imitate the most successful rapper of that moment." He asked Thug to share advice for up-and-comers looking to make their own lane: "You've gotta keep working; don't ever stop."

"When I was younger, I was a little bad boy. I was hot headed," Thug shared. "But at all times, I've always rapped. I went to the studio every day from the day I started rapping seriously to today. I go to the studio every day. That's the first thing: you gotta work." Though he says there were moments when he wanted to throw in the the towel, he never doubted his vision and skill: "I've always known I can rap, the little cells in my brain telling me like, 'shit, you could not rap for 20 years, start rapping 20 years from now, and you still gon' be serious.'"

His eccentricities might confound some, but with No, My Name is JEFFERY, Thug pushes his singular vision to infinity and beyond.

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Text Emily Manning