Young Thug is the latest in a long line of idiosyncratic mixtape rappers to inspire a level of obsession on the rap Internet that approaches the cultic. Like many objects of hip-hop fascination for hip-hop’s early adopters—Gucci Mane, Lil B, the godfather Lil Wayne—Thug is a weirdo who luxuriates in his weirdness. His latest mixtape, January’s Black Portland (featuring Bloody Jay), is a gloriously twitchy lo-fi jumble of southern trap, Future-style sing-rapping, noisy synth-pop, and the 50 or so different voices that Thug has in his repertoire and frequently switches between with little apparent rhyme or reason. He frequently wears dresses, seemingly for the Cobain-like pleasure of freaking out the squares, and he comes off as compellingly erratic in interviews as he does in his raps.
While Young Thug has easily conquered vast swaths of hip-hop tastemakers, his mainstream commercial appeal has been a matter of debate, and going by the usual process—letting buzzy mixtape rappers build up underground credibility, then introducing them gradually to a broader pop audience while tweaking their idiosyncrasies in a sort of on-the-fly test marketing before giving them a big push—it seemed like a moot point for the time being. That all flipped when Thug’s “Stoner” hit the Hot 100.
The Dun Deal-produced single has spent four weeks there, and is currently sitting at number 57, putting the guy who’s possibly the biggest weirdo on the chart in between the two most boringly normal performers imaginable: milquetoast country cornball Frankie Ballard and white people campfire hand-clap music idol Phillip Phillips. Remarkably “Stoner” doesn’t water down Young Thug’s style in any meaningful way. He approaches the song with the same kaleidoscopic unpredictability, coming at the beat from a dozen different angles over its three and a half minutes with a different flow (and often a different voice) for each. It’s a radically strange song even by the standards of contemporary rap music, but Billboard reported that it had sold 116,000 digital copies as of March 7, and the official video’s racked up more than ten million views on YouTube, which suggests that there are a lot of people outside of rap Twitter tuning in. That bodes well for Young Thug, and suggests that he’s not going to have to submit to a pop-friendly makeover before a label puts out his official debut. That’s good news for everyone who likes seeing legitimate weirdos on the pop charts.