Of all the high moments on Drake’s More Life; from the multiple song transitions (especially 4422-Gyalchester), the string of melodic beats, great guest appearances, infectious hooks, and instant-classic punchlines after instant-classic punchlines… it’s almost universally agreed on by fans and casual listeners that Young Thug had one of the album’s defining moments when he dropped the last verse on Sacrifices, and proved just how much some people slept on him and overlooked his work.
The verse by itself is a story which contrasts Young Thug’s old life of crimes and ignorance, with his new life of fame and riches. It’s layered with double-entendres and allusions, but it goes further than that too. What Young Thug does from a literature-scope; is deconstruct particular scenes of his old life and new life into vignettes of brief lines, then he juxtaposes those lines together with a recurring series of similes.
Check the introductory bars in his verse for example:
I was stealin’ from a bitch
Back when I was 21
My favorite gun was a SIG
20 in the clip, head one
Growin’ up, I was a runnin’ back
You never made me ran once
I got shot, sweat started runnin’
That shit was red like Hunt
I’m kickin’ pimpin’ like I punt
But don’t you think shit’s sweet
I’m talkin’ sweet like deer meat
This recurring series of similes is a nuanced approach for Young Thug to give us an insight into his perspective and subconscious. The similes which he uses throughout the verse are mixed with subtle shades of:
- comicality (“I’m talkin’ neat like a geek”),
- jadedness (“I’m talkin’ wet like Katrina”),
- childishness (“I’m talkin’ monkey like Jumanji”),
- urban stereotypes (“I’m talkin’ Rose like Derrick”)
- suggestiveness (“I’m talkin’ wet like it’s running”),
- violence (“Like the President, I’d kill him neat”),
by effect, this technique shows Thugga subtly implying the differences and similarities in his mentality as he transitioned from his life in the streets, into his life of newfound affluence today; he’s still got a sense of arrogance, and still acts a little bit childish thanks to the ghetto’s influence on his character, but he’s also grown more jaded and mature from the wealth he’s accumulated for himself and the violence he’s experienced.
By juxtaposing vignettes of his life with strongly nuanced similes, Young Thug is able to tell the listeners a reinterpretation of: the significance of all those vignettes, how they influenced him, what they symbolized for him, and how it translated into his similes and punchlines.
The verse itself is very self-interested too, and this is shown throughout by the heavy repetition of the “I” pronoun. Young Thug’s verse is all about him and the sacrifices he had to make. He doesn’t discuss how other people in his life felt, or what they did which didn’t directly involve him – no, he only discusses how he felt, how he acted, and how he saw things. He’s being honest to listeners and that’s evident in the carefree, lack of hyper-articulation in his speech. Yet he’s also serious and critical about his past and wealth, and that’s evident in his less auto-tuned, more stripped-back tone.
I think that it’s ultimately an artist’s duty to be self-reflective of their environment, rather than to act as a representative or figure for others. I believe that’s why the genre and culture of Hip Hop, a particularly minority-driven and youth-based collective of artists and audiences, is seemingly saturated with songs about drugs, poverty, societal-taboos and such — because it’s very self-reflective of the artists lives, and its audiences may resonate well to it too since they may also be from similar experiences. It’s why artists in the genre often draw inspiration from one another, or important minority figures — because those people are relevant to the artists themselves, their perspectives and their culture. Lastly, I think it’s also why Jazz, blues, funk, soul and RnB; genres of music which were birthed and rose to relevance as a form of protest and anti-oppression for minorities, play important roles as the foundation of hip hop’s infrastructure.
I think how Young Thug is viewed as an artist reflects him to be a victim of vilification in a moral-panic situation, but it’s an instance where the moral-panic occurred within the in-group of Hip Hop’s culture rather than its out-group.
Throughout his whole career and rise to relevance, Young Thug was among the several contemporary artists from his time who were constantly denounced by fans of Hip Hop’s “Golden Ages” as the anti-thesis to its era and conscious-rap. It was fast and effortless for them to make these judgments since Young Thug seemingly went against a lot of Hip Hop’s status-quos and taboos from those times (eg. Dressed femininely, rapped about homosexual themes, heavy use of auto-tune), and was seemingly trying to promote a destruction in the negative stereotypes against cross-dressing and homosexuality — something which opposed the views of older rap audiences and “Hip Hop purists”.
Young Thug’s music, rise to relevance, and the controversy around his image also started reshaping the sonic-landscape and culture of Hip Hop by introducing new types of audiences, and influencing a new wave of similar artists into Hip Hop’s “in-group”. This caused older audiences of rap, and “Hip Hop purists“, to feel even more worried about Young Thug’s impact on the culture and genre, then scapegoat him as one of the main artists who were to blame for “rap going wrong”.
On Sacrifices, Young Thug seems to subtly acknowledge this by asking the listeners “do you get it?” several times throughout his verse. Young Thug’s got a seemingly playful tone in the way he asks the question, but that’s only because the song’s beat and pacing masks the line’s level of humourlessness. Contextually speaking, Young Thug’s really asking if: you — the listener of this rap song, which implies you’re in the in-group of this genre — get what he’s trying to artistically achieve? Or do you just skim through his music, and antagonize him for his public image instead?
In terms of the song’s message, Young Thug’s verse fits too. He’s saying he had to make a lot of sacrifices to be where he is now, but it’s not just done in the simplistic rap-cliche of “I sold drugs, I did crimes, my friends died…”, but rather it’s done in a profound level of literary technique use, and by also exploring the idea that he had to sacrifice his image to Hip Hop’s “in-group” to be where he is now.
Young Thug’s verse on Sacrifices was extremely well-nuanced, and clever, I think it’s level of complexity and thoughtfulness truly went over most peoples’ heads. but I think that also says something somewhat-worrying about how music is personally consumed and interpreted by the different generations and types of Hip Hop audiences in 2017.