Young Thug’s ascent to hip-hop upper echelons was complete long before his new album. Yet ‘PUNK’ truly sets the tone for his largesse – the 20 strong tracklisting, the week-long Complex global takeover, the pre-release Lyft exclusive, ending with Young Thug and Gunna systematically destroying a car with a pair of sledgehammers.
Curiously, though, it’s a much more subtle beast that the pre-roll would suggest. ‘PUNK’ knows when to be blunt, but the production is often spartan, aiming to suggest more than state. ‘Recognize Real’ is surprisingly low-key, for example, while ‘Contagious’ merges R&B leanings with whispered flow to locate something new.
Yet it’s not all rap introversion. ‘Rich N***a Shit’ finds Young Thug working on top of a stadium-filling digital alignment, its swagger infused with a feature from the late Juice WRLD. ‘Livin It Up’ continues this largesse, with Young Thug backed up by all-star pairing Post Malone and A$AP Rocky.
Gunna returns on ‘Insure My Wrist’, a mid-section highlight – alongside the pensive ‘Faces’ – that allows Young Thug to stretch. Indeed, for all its ambition, glittering roll-call, and 20 track span, ‘PUNK’ feels restrained, carefully contoured. While some moments – like the mis-firing ‘Stupid/Asking’ or the non-descript ‘Fifth Day Dead’ – don’t quite connect, the hit-rate amid the spiralling pressures of fame is admirable.
Closing with ‘Hate The Game’, Young Thug then lays another surprise – final song ‘Day Before’ boasts a feature from Mac Miller, a moment that is both emotionally moving and aesthetically on-point.
To many fans, Young Thug’s sound and approach will remain defined by his ‘Slime Language’ mixtape, and its potent follow up. Yet ‘PUNK’ is perhaps just as strong as those illustrious releases, while affording its maker space for precision. Impactful and often unexpected, ‘PUNK’ breaks new ground within Young Thug’s identity.
Words: Robin Murray
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