Illustration of Young Thug. (Illustration by Katelyn McManis, Columbia College Chicago)

Young Thug Previews a New Sound on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts

From his generosity toward young hip-hop artists to his passionate performances, this rapper has proven that he deserves the title of hip-hop G.O.A.T.
August 18, 2021
8 mins read

National Public Radio, or NPR, is known for its abundant range of radio shows and podcasts, but perhaps none more so than Tiny Desk Concerts. An iconic facet of YouTube as a musical platform, Tiny Desk Concerts is a video series that features live concerts performed at, as the name suggests, a desk — Bob Boilen’s desk, to be precise.

The series showcases artists from all music genres, but hip-hop artists in particular are extremely popular on the show’s YouTube channel. From T-Pain to Gucci Mane, hip-hop concerts have become a beloved aspect of Tiny Desk Concerts, and on July 27, American rapper Young Thug continued this trend by giving a phenomenal performance of five of his songs. As one of the most influential artists of the last decade, it’s no surprise that Young Thug’s Tiny Desk Concert has already amassed almost 2 million views.

Performing with a live band brings a new side out of many artists, and Young Thug was no exception. As an artist who takes pride in his versatility, Young Thug has had songs and even full albums that use little to no autotune, but this performance took aspects of his artistry to new heights.

First, Young Thug had bars, which, paired with his witty wordplay and beautiful storytelling, define his music. Sadly, he has received the inaccurate label of a “mumble rapper” far too many times throughout his historic career. Therefore, by performing thoughtful and poetic a cappella on a platform as “intellectual” as NPR, the rapper has been brought some long-overdue respect as one of the best lyricists in modern hip-hop.

The concert opens with “Die Slow,” in which Young Thug tells stories of his youth, from tragedies between his family and the police to the dichotomy between his luxurious lifestyle today and the struggles of his past. Young Thug starts the song by telling the audience that he’s recording in a penthouse suite watching boats sail outside his window, setting the stage for his lyrical odyssey.

Ironically, Young Thug recorded his Tiny Desk Concert — or Tiny Desk (Home) Concert, due to the show’s COVID-19 safety precautions — at the extravagant Houdini Hotel in LA, an even larger flex than that of the “Die Slow” introduction. Standing in this beautiful garden, Young Thug reminisces “Comme Des Garçons boxers and I came from penny-pinchin’.” This is one of the more lighthearted lyrics on a song that dives into the death of the rapper’s father, as well as the near-death of his mother. Young Thug explains that both of these incidents were coincidentally connected to deputy sheriffs in his hometown of Atlanta.

A bassist and a guitarist leave the stage as “Die Slow” ends and a drummer enters as Young Thug’s second unreleased song, “Dropping Jewels,” begins. As opposed to the hindsight of “Die Slow,” “Dropping Jewels” features a current Young Thug doing just that. Throughout the song, the rapper talks about life advice he’s given to his kids, as well as personal epiphanies he’s had, culminating in the chorus, “Ain’t no more reminiscing, ain’t no more judging, no intuition.” These lyrics are a clear descriptor of this new era of Young Thug, who tells NPR he wants to create music full of “authenticity, consciousness and overall purity.”

Young Thug’s set then transitions into what seem to be singles off of his upcoming album, “Punk”: the fast-paced guitar of “Hate the Game” and the incredibly catchy “Tick Tock.” These songs prove that Young Thug’s hit-making ability hasn’t vanished despite his transition to a new sound he describes as “pure.”

Finally, as the sun sets behind the Houdini Hotel, Young Thug brings out drummer Travis Barker and performs his viral hit “Ski,” ending his set on NPR with a bang.

While Young Thug has been relevant since the early 2010s, it’s surprising to learn that his album “So Much Fun,” released in late 2019, was only his second solo album to ever reach No. 1 on Billboard. Young Thug raps on “Tick Tock”: “Sometimes you needa get that assist and let your dog get the big shot,” which is indicative of how he moves in the world of music. Not only was Young Thug a mentor to rap superstars like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Baby, but his label YSL Records has also produced some of the newest stars in the game, including Gunna and Lil Keed.

Young Thug’s music speaks for itself and his sounds have consistently been ahead of their time since “Best Friend.” However, his role as a mentor for other artists may be overlooked by the average fan. Hip-hop has been fueled by competition since its inception. From Pac and Biggie to Kanye and Drake, artists have fought ruthlessly for the elusive title of G.O.A.T. — greatest of all time — of their genre.

That’s why Young Thug’s humble generosity to fellow artists has made him one of the most loveable figures in the rap game: Not only has he single-handedly given careers to some of today’s most popular rappers, but he has always made music out of passion as opposed to competition. When you watch him sing his heart out for NPR’s small audience of cameramen and producers, his enthusiasm is entirely evident.

The few songs we’ve heard from “Punk,” which is set to release on Oct. 15, should fill us with great optimism for the album. Young Thug has been humble for long enough, and it seems that with this album he wants to show the world exactly what he is capable of.

The music icon, who wore a dress long before Harry Styles donned a gown for the cover of Vogue, has stayed true to himself. In an industry where the Billboard charts determine a song’s worth, it is heartwarming to see Young Thug get his followers from the mainstream, even if true fans have been appreciating his greatness for nearly a decade. While all fans of music should look forward to Young Thug’s new release, his discography and influence on rap culture are already cemented in the unofficial hip-hop hall of fame. Watching his Tiny Desk Concert, the pink-haired star proves once again that there is only one Young Thug.

Nathan Kolodney, Wesleyan University

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Nathan Kolodney

Wesleyan University

Outside of his work for Study Breaks, Nathan is a staff photographer for the Wesleyan Argus and a writer for the Wesleyan fashion magazine. He loves to write about music, fashion, sports and current events.

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