With the release of So Much Fun, Young Thug is finally seeing the commercial success fans have wanted for him for years. Despite being a household name for many as far back as 2015 with his Barter 6 project, or even 2014 through the single “Lifestyle” as a part of Rich Gang, Thugger’s road to superstardom has been long and fraught to say the least.
To put things into perspective, So Much Fun selling 128,000 units in its first week means it outperformed his last three solo outings combined (yes, this includes Album Of The Decade contender Beautiful Thugger Girls). It’s also his first project to hit number one on the Billboard 200 chart. True, he has a large and dedicated fanbase — and yes, you’ve surely heard a Thug verse if you’ve only listened to a handful of hip-hop albums released in the past five years. I’m not saying a casual listener has never heard of Jeffrey (lest we forget Camila Cabello’s “Havana”), but rather, it’s undeniable that he’s having a moment like none previously in his career, making it the perfect time to celebrate some of his more groundbreaking moments.
On So Much Fun’s opening track, “Just How It Is,” he sings, “Had to wear the dress ‘cause I had a stick,” alluding to the cover art of his 2016 tape JEFFERY. On the cover, Thug stands against a white backdrop in a long purple dress, hat pulled down to cover most of his face.
In the absence of any text, the outfit and the man inside it become the sole focus of the cover — a provocative (and for many, perplexing) image. In the wake of many interviews and years removed from the tape’s release, this seems to have always been the point. In a campaign for Calvin Klein shortly after the release of JEFFERY, Thugger doubled down, saying, “In my world, you can be a gangsta with a dress or you can be a gangsta with baggy pants. I feel like there’s no such thing as gender.”
Looking back on this moment with his current success in mind, it’s clear that fans look up to Thug not just for his musical prowess, but also his unapologetic confidence and dedication to self-expression.
The rise of Young Thug feels both long overdue as well as perfectly timed in the wake of hip-hop and fashion icons like André 3000 as well as the current popularity of fellow trendsetters like Lil Uzi Vert and Gunna. By embracing gender-neutral fashion, some of hip-hop’s biggest stars have not only created a more inclusive world but also a more informed one.
As a student at a Catholic boarding school, I had never been exposed to the idea of a man wearing a dress before JEFFERY. Four years and three purses later, I have Thug to thank for beginning the transformation of my conceptions of how a man is supposed to dress.
In this, Young Thug becomes so fascinating and crucial compared to so many of his contemporaries. While boastfulness will always be a part of popular music, Thug succeeds where some of the largest egos in hip-hop fail in giving the feeling that he stands for something truly larger than himself. From his signature sound (a godfather of “mumble rap”) to his attire and personality, he manages to twist the “Started From The Bottom” narrative in his unrelenting acts of uniqueness.
It’s this uniqueness that allows him to brush off hate in the comments of a photo of him and Lil Uzi in string pearls and purses. It’s what allows him to coherently sing the heartfelt line, “I see the pain in shawty’s light brown eyes” seconds before the crude, “got your broad in the garage eatin’ semen” on “The London” (his highest charting single as a lead artist). Thug is always able to find a way to create coherence from contrast.
In a moment currently oversaturated with swag rap, Thugger is forging a path previously unseen on this scale in hip-hop. On “Just How It Is,” he sings, “I’m the shit / I can no longer disguise it,” leaving us to wonder if the previous years have been an attempt to disguise himself: What can we expect next now that Thugger has more fans than ever?