300 Entertainment / Atlantic · October 15, 2021
Young Thug is a very strange man. This is a fact lost on neither longtime fans nor casual observers. In fact, anyone who has never listened to his music but has seen clips of his interviews or caught a glimpse of his Twitter can attest to this. For this reason, it comes as no surprise that he interrupts the first song on the album with absolute nonsense. “Die Slow” is a heartfelt guitar ballad that touches on themes of division and broken relationships such as the intersection of violence and heartbreak displayed by his parents when he was a child, as well as racism dividing the country. However, Thug stops the song halfway through to tell a story that cannot help but baffle the listener. Thug states “The lady had got in the car and just pulled off doing at, like, sixty miles per hour, ran my mom over. She had a stroke and shit, but she alright. Yeah. I always knew I wasn’t gon’ be gay.” Without skipping a beat, the song reverts back to its serious subject matter and does not touch on the bizarre interlude again.
The following song, “Stressed (With J. Cole & T-Shyne),” begins with another beautiful guitar melody and an emotional verse from Thug. Thug’s heartfelt opening sets high expectations for the rest of the track, which are immediately dashed by J. Cole’s trash verse. Accompanied by jarring hi-hats, Cole jumps in claiming to be “gat toting” and “pistol holding,” a reference to the legendary opening verse on “Knuck if You Buck” by Crime Mob. J. Cole, however, is a wealthy, married, 36-year-old man and comes off as pathetic and out of touch with his constant allusions to a violent lifestyle that he simply does not live. J. Cole also attempts to make some vague point about the importance of money in his life as he has “a wife… a baby to feed… a mama to spoil… a brother… Medical bills, credit to fix.” etc., but I feel more sympathy for Young Thug’s mother being run over by the imaginary car than I do for J. Cole whining about his expenses. New YSL signee T-Shyne follows Cole and provides a solid verse that shows a lot of promise as well.
The following song, “Stupid/Asking,” however, is an incredible return to the vibe presented in “Die Slow” and a definite high point of the album. The first part of the track is a heavenly guitar instrumental produced by Metro Boomin which compliments Thug’s repeated “Is you stupid?” refrain so well. The quiet, muted 808s behind the strings provide rhythm without overwhelming the guitar which allows Thug’s singing to take center stage. He croons from the perspective of a spurned lover questioning his ridiculous decision-making over the course of their relationship. The first half of this song is an introspective inversion of Thug’s typical celebration of excess and lust and transitions beautifully into the second half produced by Taurus, Crater, and Yo Benji.
The following two songs, “Recognize Real (with Gunna)” and “Contagious” continue the high standard set by the opening few tracks. Gunna’s verse and hook on “Recognize Real” just cement his role as the unstoppable feature cheat code and his chemistry with Thug is as palpable as ever. Future’s hook on “Peepin Out The Window (with Future and Bslime)” is also quite catchy. Young Thug’s nephew, Bslime, provided a solid enough verse though it is unclear which specific rib shack he is referencing when he raps “chillin’ at the rib shack.” A quick google search for ‘rib shack Atlanta’ will reveal a variety of options including Fat Matt’s, Shane’s, and JJ’s to name but a few.
After this point the album begins to decline in quality as some songs like “Insure My Wrist (with Gunna)” and “Scoliosis (with Lil Double O)” do not stand out as that interesting or unique. “Livin It Up (with Post Malone & A$AP Rocky),” however, is a very nice change of pace and breaks up the more introspective and melodic tracks with a fresh pop hit. “Bubbly (with Drake & Travis Scott)” is a more fast-paced banger than any of the previous songs, and while it does not totally fit the flow of the album, it is not bad. The song is just slightly boring and the Drake feature in conjunction with Travis Scott’s Squid Game reference manage to make it the corniest track on an album that has a J. Cole feature; a very impressive feat.
“Road Rage,” “Faces,” and “Fifth Day Dead” are all solid tracks on this late-middle portion of the album, and while none stand out particularly well, they are all worth listening to. The album really picks itself up with “Love You More (with Nate Ruess, Gunna, & Jeff Bhasker).” Not only do the rising piano production and the slightly reverbed Nate Ruess chorus compliment each other perfectly, but the ad libs and Gunna’s background vocals just fit so well. It’s a great break from the sameness of the previous five or six tracks and is more in line with the sound that fans may have expected from Punk following Thug’s Tiny Desk concert some weeks back. The next song, “Hate The Game,” was previewed by Thug on Instagram back in April and instantly became my most anticipated track. The full version does not disappoint and like “Love You More” it does an incredible job of rejuvenating the previously staggering album. It’s catchy, funny, upbeat, and an instantly classic Thugger song.
Punk is an album with some genuinely amazing ideas, unique sounds, experimentation, introspection, and fun, but it is held back by a bloated track length and a few poor features. The best songs on this album are incredible, but the worst feel like B-Sides from April’s Slime Language 2 or 2019’s So Much Fun. It’s hard to say there is a bad song here, as Thug is clearly a master of his craft, but some are clearly more developed and interesting than others.