Review: Barter 6

Editor’s note: this article contains explicit language. The first time I heard Young Thug, I could have sworn I was listening to a joke. Cruising ...

Apr 18, 2015

Editor’s note: this article contains explicit language.
The first time I heard Young Thug, I could have sworn I was listening to a joke. Cruising around a few rap blogs about two years ago, it would be impossible not to notice Thugga. The song I settled on listening to was Pichacho from his break-out 1017 Thug mixtape, in which he warbles his way over an upbeat, bouncy instrumental, constantly shifting between crooning, yapping and yelling. I remember laughing in disbelief, convinced this was a satire, but as I continued listening I couldn’t help but beam; Young Thug, one of the most generically-titled rappers, was making some of the most refreshing and innovative music I’d heard in a while by taking Gucci Mane’s oddball trap persona to its illogical extreme.
Young Thug himself courts controversy. As he claims on the song Halftime: “I swear every time I dress myself it go motherfuckin’ viral," and this holds true whether it’s the dresses — this was before Tumblr became obsessed with Jaden Smith — painted nails, intimate expressions of affection between him and male friends or, my personal favorite, the music video in which he dons what appears to be a headscarf in a scene with lingerie-clad women. These mostly Instagram-inspired controversies have launched the blogosphere into wild speculation about his sexual orientation, and given him a lot of exposure.
Leading up to this project was a verbal back and forth between Lil Wayne and Young Thug after the latter named his album Carter 6, a reference to Wayne’s Carter series. The threat of legal action subsequently forced him to change it to the Blood-influenced Barter 6.
On his latest digital album, Thug is more subdued, less of the bucket of cold water being thrown into the listener’s face, an altogether much more pleasant and digestible listening experience. The production is smooth, dark, booming and atmospheric, like listening to 1017 Thug or Lifestyle played at a party four doors down the hall.
There is an overall coherence — both in the beat choice and the rapping that never really seemed to exist on previous Thug projects. On the lead single Check, Thug raps in one of his signature hurried styles, and the excitement built as I waited for the beat to drop, but then the bass came in, and the track continued to slink forward.
This is Thugga at his most accessible. The raw warbling has been replaced with a surprising amount of crooning. Very little traditional rapping gets done, but when it does, like on the track Just Might Be, it’s Young Thug at his sharpest and most salient.
The rest of the track, though, contains the hallmarks of his style; the loose song structure as hooks and verses collide, verses collapsing into bridges; the cacaws, screeches reminiscent of accelerating cars or a tropical, alien jungle at night; and howls that are more strategic than the randomness that Thug usually brings. He may be the only rapper out currently who can cry like a dying animal or mumble and scream like Courage the Cowardly dog and still be convincing, sending shivers through the body in anticipation.
In some way, though, this Thug might be more frantic. When he goes into a trance, it is more convincing and less hit or miss; the rough gun noises have been transformed into the sounds kids make when shooting guns of forefingers and thumbs.
We do get a touch of his more serious side on this album. In one track he teams up with the reincarnation of Lil Boosie and a refreshed T.I. to remind us that the drink in his double cup is indeed medicated.
On the second half of the album, the opiate haze hasn’t necessarily cleared; the long-term effects are maybe just a bit more real. On OD, he mentions the death of Mike Brown and muses on his own impending drug overdose, his female significant other’s attempts to help him and the addiction that keeps him, and his own voice, moving slowly, creeping, not running or jumping manically. He doesn’t seem interested in any sort of recovery plan; the future in this specific case is fatalistically set.
Whether or not it is the influence of lean, a concoction of codeine with promethazine cough syrup and Sprite, the beats are cohesive and laid back, and he is as well. Maybe this is an attempt to make him more marketable, but even if it is, I’m not completely worried. Thugga still inhabits the skeletons of soundscapes and fleshes them out in the most ostentatious and absurd ways possible.
The music doesn’t allow you in; the album doesn’t have a catchy single, or even a song. Like most of his recent music, it grabs you and puts you in a trance, really planting the seeds of zombification. The line created is between being enthralled by the emotional, sonic power the music holds over the listener, and the joy of being under its control.
Many people may find Young Thug unintelligible, but the way he twists his voice like a blues singer — or better, a blues man’s guitar with intentionally weird or incorrect tuning that gives standard chords new life — he gives the tropes of trap and gangsta rap new meaning, or at least makes them interesting again.
To really get what he is saying though, it can require the dedication of multiple listens and learning new slang, but then again, as he’s stated before, Thug loves when people ask what he’s saying and doesn’t really seem to care about being understood.

Favorite tracks

Check, Halftime, Can’t Tell feat. T.I. and Boosie BadAzz, Just Might Be

Least favorite tracks

Constantly Hating, Amazing feat. Jacquees
Stream the album on Spotify here.
Sam Ball is opinion editor. Email him at
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