Young Thug is an Atlanta rapper who’s been floating around concerts with with varying capacities in the South and incoherent blog posts for a couple years now. He signed to Brick Squad last year on the recommendation of Waka Flocka and PeeWee Longway, with label head Gucci Mane calling him, “One of the most talented rappers I’ve ever met.” But since then, Thug has surfaced from Brick Squad’s sinking ship with the minor street hit “Stoner” and his more recent song “Danny Glover” completely paralyzing the likes of Kanye West, Drake and now Nicki Minaj. The reason for his uneven success, more than the dismembered rap-hype landscape, is that he doesn’t sound like any other rapper since the beginning of time.
Bloody Jay is another Atlanta product who’s been even more on the periphery, despite two solid Blatlanta mixtapes, a Get It in Blood tape and some legit great songs. He’s got a pretty demanding presence, either rapping so loud his vocals distort or singing with a heartfelt – if off-key – soul. But it’s very difficult to focus on Bloody Jay when he’s on a track with Young Thug. Thugga’s been compared to every weirdo or different rapper this side of Stankonia, and has said his favorite is Lil Wayne. But he’s so much more than Wayne’s pill-popping free association, more than Yung LA’s off-the-deep-end swag rap, more than Lil B’s Myspace-era vocal textures, more than Future’s exploration of flows and autotune. And sure, Thug is all of those things too, but it’s so much more raw and carnal than a simple conflux of influences. I fucking hate to use Latin phrases, but Young Thug truly is sui generis.
Thug and Bloody Jay dropped their collaborative mixtape, Black Portland. On the first track “Suck Me Up,” Thug begins his verse by plopping phrases into the oscillating synth beat. Then when the beat falls away, he raps, “I am up at Disneyland looking like Mickey Mouse/Doors off red G gold car seats/Red bottom Santa compliment my toe ring” and then trails off into, “Making Thompson ties moster ain’t submarine,” or something. It’s not that the actual words just don’t matter, it’s that the sentiment breaking out of the destruction is greater than the sum of how the parts are structured. Even when the words seem like they’re made by a drunk texter with fat thumbs and autocorrect, the listener is feeling what Thug intended. All this happens before Jay comes in on the second verse with, “She just wanna keep fuckin’ fuckin’ fuckin’ and fuckin’ fuckin’ fuckin’ fuckin’ fuckin’” before shouting through a megaphone, “I slam dunked her/Antawn Jamison.”
The Black Portland tape finds a bunch of different sounds, made by I’m guessing dudes in the 808 Mafia crew, for Thug and Jay to completely wild out on, including the aforementioned “Danny Glover” (with no Jay) and their collaboration from Blatlanta 2, “Let’s Go Play” rounding out the tape. There’s “Signs” with a Three 6 Mafia sample, and “Nothing But Some Pain,” featuring a chopped up Future hook, that bang way harder than their piano backing tracks. “4 Eva Bloody” is so goddamn exuberant, it immediately makes me knock my knees together like a Chicago Bop song. Both “Movin” and “Paranoia” lurch with such unwieldiness it feels like an industrial factory accident is about to happen.
On “Movin” especially, the two rappers’ chemistry is at its most unstable, while never orbiting too far from one another. Halfway through Thug’s verse, his voice devolves to a hushed mumble before just faintly whining and humming at the end. When right then, Bloody Jay karate kicks in, hollering the chorus, “We got dis bih MOVIN!” And on Jay’s verse, he busts out a double-time flow with each ad-lib agitating eardrums that much more. Then at the end, he sounds like he’s imitating a child puffing out their chest to a bully.
The beat for “No Love” sounds like a theremin reverberation from one of those time capsules we sent to space, and Thug and Jay both go in, in the most traditional sense of the phrase. I don’t have speakers loud enough to placate myself for when Thug annoucnes, “Having babies/Cooking babies/Water whipping/Casting call/For this porn I need a leading lady” or when Jay spits, “We bad guys/Convicted felons” on “No Fucks.” There’s also the glistening “Florida Water” in which both diamonds and pussies are compared to Florida water.
When asked to explain the meaning behind the name of the mixtape, Bloody Jay said, “We’re on fire right now in the streets of Atlanta, and we’re stoners, so you know, we’re the Blazers.” But from further inquiry, it’s clear that they see Black Portland as a sort of city upon a hill. And where Portland is a sort of haven for liberal white people looking toward the future, Black Portland would be a black-majority city whose population isn’t made up of people being forced by racist policies and gentrification. As the chorus of the final track insists, “Let’s go play, we can go anywhere.”