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Young Thug's new mixtape proves he doesn't need a proper studio release

Does anyone even think about Hy!£UN35 anymore?

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At this point, Young Thug’s discography is getting as unwieldy as his flow. Since 2011, the Atlanta rapper born Jeffrey Williams has released well over 10 mixtapes, and popped up on albums by everyone from Rae Sremmurd to Jamie XX. Through all this, he has yet to release a proper full-length. His promised studio debut, Hy!£UN35, has been delayed several times now, often seeming to take a back burner to his industrious side hustle. This week Thugger released yet another mixtape, the third in his Slime Season trilogy, and it’s structured enough to take the place of a more official release.

Thug's discography is getting as unwieldy as his flow

The tape, Slime Season 3, is available to download for free on DatPiff, and to stream on Spotify and Apple Music — it’s the first time the entirety of a Slime Season tape has been available on a streaming service. Slime Seasons 1 and 2 are each missing several tracks on Spotify, likely due to clearance issues. Could SS3’s full availability mean Young Thug is starting to play the industry game a little bit? Young Thug has always been portrayed as an industry outsider who doesn’t so much actively refuse to work within the bounds of music industry sanctions as ignore them completely, as you might ignore a fly in your ear.

His history with labels has been fraught with broken contracts and bad deals. In 2013, Thug signed a production deal with Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad label, only to sign with Atlantic’s APG imprint a few months later for a scrappy $15,000 advance. Then, in 2014 he told Mass Appeal he was signed to Cash Money Records, which turned out to be untrue, but not before stirring things up. In the past year or so, things have cleared up incrementally. Executives at Atlantic recently shifted Thugger to their 300 Entertainment imprint, which reportedly gives artists more freedom than traditional labels.

Even if it is still just a mixtape, Slime Season 3 feels more like an official release than anything Thugger has put out previously. The tape is only eight tracks long, which could be an indication Young Thug is beginning to take the editing process a little more seriously (Slime Season was 18 tracks long, while SS2 was 22). And even the head of his label is hyping the mixtape, in unconventional ways. The night before SS3’s release, 300 Entertainment CEO Lyor Cohen revealed snippets of the album on Snapchat with the confused aggression of a first-time hype man.

Last September, Jayson Greene at Pitchfork wondered what would happen if Young Thug ever stopped being chaotic and unpredictable, as rappers like Lil Wayne have done before him. But that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be a problem anytime soon. "Digits," with its see-sawing trap beat, is as thrilling as anything Thugger has ever done. "Worth It" is vulnerable and gentle; a wedding song for your coolest friends. The tape as a whole is limber and stretchy, spanning all of Young Thug’s finest concepts. It’s even further proof, after we’ve already gotten dozens of hours of proof, that however much structure or hype the industry throws around Young Thug, his music can still stand on its own.