“Young Thug: An Atlanta Icon”
November 20, 2017
Jeffrey Lamar Williams has changed the dynamic of hip-hop music in Atlanta as a well-known trap music artist, fashion, and lifestyle influencer. Jeffrey Williams is better known as Young Thug. He was born on August 16, 1991, and grew up in the Southside Jonesboro projects. The living conditions of these projects are so bad that they have since been demolished by the city of Atlanta (thefamouspeople.com 1). He is the second youngest of eleven children, and his mother raised him and all of his siblings as a single mother. Submersed in the midst of crime and gang activity Young Thug did not finish school after he was sent to a juvenile facility for four years after breaking his teacher’s arm in a dispute when he was in the sixth grade. While in this juvenile facility he had his first child at seventeen and also realized his potential as a rapper.
In 2011, Young Thug released his first mixtape titled “I Came from Nothing.” In the same year, he also released two more mixtapes titled “I Came from Nothing 2” and “I Came from Nothing 3.” The “I Came from Nothing” title is a tribute to where he grew up (because where he grew up no longer exists), and to show how he has made himself a household name in such a short span of time. His popularity soared in Atlanta due to his different sound and also the fact that there was no one in Atlanta (or anywhere else for that matter) dressing or acting the way that he did. Shortly after the release and success of these three mixtapes, he caught the attention of Atlanta trap music legend, Gucci Mane. Gucci mane is the founder of 1017 Records and also a pioneer in the making of the sub-genre of rap that Atlanta is known for, trap music. Gucci Mane
signed Young Thug to his label in 2013, and the byproduct of that signing was the creation of “1017 Thug.” This fourth mixtape received much praise. Complex magazine (a reliable outlet for all things pop culture) placed it in the 50 Best Albums of 2013 and Rolling Stone Magazine placed it at #5 on the 10 Best Mixtapes of 2013 (michaelmcrudden.com 1).
Young Thug’s success is what has lead him to be such an influencer in the rising culture of trap music. His sound is not the same as what people have been used to, and that is what draws everyone to what he releases. Will Stephenson from The Fader magazine describes his sound as “vivid, brassy, and joyful, more melodic than lyrical” (thefader.com 1). His beats and his adlibs are what attracts his following and the many other artists that he has influenced. The many voices that he uses through his adlibs and changing his tones throughout his songs are what the listeners and fans remember. Some may not be able to understand what Young Thug is saying, but when asked about it he said “I love when people ask me what I’m saying, even though I ain’t gonna tell them. I’ll let them listen for ten more years before I tell them.” (thefader.com 1). When people initially listen to Young Thug, if one is not familiar with the Atlanta slang or accent, it is true, you will have no idea what he is saying. Once you listen to more of his music, you begin to understand his artistry and the masterpieces of the music that he is creating. Young Thug is also described as one of the most successful lyricists in the world by GQ magazine, yet people can barely understand him. This is what makes him so iconic, and this is how he has put Atlanta on the map for trap music.
Not only has Young Thug been a game changer for the music industry but he has also been a game changer for how young black men think and how they express themselves. Writer Devin Friedman from GQ magazine sums up the Atlanta icon like this, “There’s nothing about Young Thug that’s not a paradox. He wears women’s UGGs but travels with AR-15s everywhere
he goes. He calls his friends, the same one’s carrying the AR-15s, “babe” and “lover” yet is from one of the toughest parts of Atlanta…” (gq.com 1). Young Thug is known for not seeing gender and often cross-dresses. This is something completely abnormal for a rapper from South Atlanta. The hip-hop community is widely known to be homophobic and is all for showing how “hard” they are and where they came from. Many artists are known to have been shunned or they just simply do not become successful if they do not portray this stereotypical image of themselves. Young Thug has changed this stereotype and has expanded the boundaries for what is accepted in the hip-hop community. People appreciate his rawness, and that is what makes him so appealing. He has been able to be a huge success and has been accepted by one of the hardest rappers in the game (Gucci Mane). Young Thug can show how hard he is yet he is also able to express himself freely and simply not care what others think. One of his recent album covers, “JEFFERY,” he is pictured in a couture dress. This album was placed in Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of 2016 and was a huge success as well as all of his other projects that have been released. Everything that Young Thug does is praised by everyone that understands his work and artistry. The main reason for his success is because he does whatever he pleases and this is what appeals to the youth of Atlanta and everywhere else. His music has been played on just YouTube itself over 300 million times (gq.com 1). His influence in the Atlanta area is blatant and is still arising. He influences many new and coming up artists such as Sahbabii and Young Nudy. You can find these influences in their lyrics, beats and also in the way that they dress and how they express themselves and where they come from. In every one of Young Thug’s songs, there is a reference to something relating to Atlanta or where he is from. He is prideful of where he comes from, and it has been a great thing for Atlanta because he has made Atlanta so much more relevant in the music industry.
Everyone in Atlanta wants to be like Young Thug. They are drawn to him as a person and also how he dresses. He is a rapper who wears women’s and little girl’s clothing and can influence how people dress in Atlanta because of that. The look of Atlanta hip-hop used to be t-shirts and jeans made for someone triple your size. Young Thug has since drastically changed this dynamic. When you take a trip to the local mall, you see that every young person wants to be dripped in designer, wearing clothes that would be considered “gay” or “fruity” just ten years ago. Young Thug keeps himself well-manicured and is always dressed in jewelry. Young Thug’s disregard for gender norms has gained him respect in the fashion industry all around the world. He is often seen front row at fashion shows looking and also inspiring the runway. He has even styled multiple fashion shows for up and coming brands in Milan Fashion Week as well as New York Fashion Week. He has even stopped a model mid-walking during the VFILES runway show to help and adjust their outfit. He also has a clothing brand that he has made mostly for himself called Y.S.L which stands for Young Stoner Life. Dazed Digital has described Young Thug as the closest music style icon that we have to Bowie as in David Bowie, who was known for his outrageous and beautiful looks. The magazine also describes him as “flamboyant, eccentric, and fearless.” (dazeddigital.com 1). Backtracking to his JEFFERY album cover, the designer of the couture dress says that “the collection was about breaking down ideas of male and female, introducing a new meaning for masculinity… his cover image exactly (captured) the point, my point (dazeddigital.com 1). Not only is he able to break boundaries in the way that he sounds and makes his music but he is able to be flown out to fashion shows and have the designers of what he is wearing praise him for how he is able to portray himself and his looks. In his famous Calvin Klein ad, his image says, “I disobey in #mycalvins and I am not what you think I am” this is exactly what Young Thug does he does not go for what should be seen as
“normal” by the public he does whatever he pleases and the public loves it and accepts it because it is cool and it is what everyone wants to be seen as, as well. Thug wears what he wants to wear and is able to be himself without holding back; he ignores what people say or think. One may think that from all of this flamboyancy and boundary-breaking that he is homosexual, he is not, he is straight and is engaged to Jerrika Karlae. His style has nothing to do with his sexuality, but more to do so about expressing himself in a way that most people are not able to. He is relatable to people of all sexualities. This is what makes him so vital in his influences to Atlanta’s youth culture.
Aside from being an icon in fashion and music, Young Thug is also a charitable person who gives back to his community and does not want younger children to be involved in what he was involved in when he was younger. He wants to be a positive role model and once said he does not want his kids or other kids saying, “My dad was a gangster, so I need to be a gangster, I would rather them say, my dad was a stunna, so I need to be a stunna” (thefader.com 1) So, instead of them (the youth) going back into the endless cycle of gang violence, and enduring what he has had to go through, like seeing death at a young age and having to gamble for money, he wants them to be successful and stunt. Stunt meaning to work hard and also treat yourself and show off what you have been able to achieve for yourself. He is huge on giving back to where he came from and often goes to the local homeless with his fiancé, Jerrika to help feed the homeless and donate money. The jewelry that he wears is not only to “stunt,” but it is somewhat an investment because when he no longer wants an item of jewelry he is able to give it to someone, and they can, in turn, sell it for a much higher price than he paid for it.
Young Thug realized his potential at a young age and ran with it. He has become a major role model, and influencer for the youth of Atlanta and it is apparent in anywhere that you go if
you just take a second to look around and realize. He is an ATLien. He is what runs the trap music industry, and he is what makes Atlanta, Atlanta. He is what everyone wishes they could be and is a perfect example of a game changer for Atlanta.
Editors, thefamouspeople.com. Young Thug Biography. https://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/young-thug-29852.php. 2017.
Friedman, Devin. Young Thug is an ATLien. https://www.gq.com/story/young-thug-best-rapper-alive-interview. 2017.
Stephenson, Will. Young Thug: Came from Nothing. http://www.thefader.com/2014/02/11/young-thug-came-from-nothing. 2017.
Allwood, Emma. Young Thug is the closest music icon we have to Bowie. http://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/32579/1/young-thug-is-the-closest-style-icon-we-have-to-bowie. 2017.
Mccrudden, Michael. Young Thug – Before He was Famous. http://michaelmccrudden.com/before-they-were-famous/young-thug-before-he-was-famous/. 2017