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Young Thug — who has been awaiting trial in an Atlanta jail for over a year — may not belong in an orange jumpsuit, but he’ll probably reinvent the attire at some fashion show when he gets out. Thugger is one of the top rappers in the game, and yet he’s been sidelined by allegations from Georgia’s Fulton County that his Young Stoner Life label is actually a criminal gang. Thug’s response: a surprise album, as he awaits jury selection, that doubles as a kind of opening statement, not for the “peers” to be selected by the court, but for the friends, fans and family rooting for him.
Arriving just a week after “a Gift & a Curse,” the new album from labelmate and former associate Gunna — who was also indicted but pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering and has since been freed — “Business Is Business” is Thug’s first solo release since 2021’s “Punk,” and since his incarceration. Despite its “Godfather”-ish title, the album reflects the divides within the YSL camp: BSlime, Lil Gotit and Yak Gotti are the only featured crew members, Gunna is nowhere to be seen, and Wheezy has three production credits on the album but none on a “Gift & a Curse.” Consequently, it’s missing the camaraderie that has been a hallmark of Thug’s career, from “Best Friend” to the YSL collaborative album, “Slime Language 2” — although it does feature guest verses from Travis Scott, Future, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert and more. Still, “Business Is Business” is Young Thug’s strongest project since “So Much Fun.” Thugger has regained control of his voice, in all of its oscillating, squealing glory. He’s rapping like his life depends on it.
However, it starts off wobbly. “Parade on Cleveland” sounds out of place, opening the album with what should have been a throwaway R&B verse from Drake’s “AM/PM” series, followed by phone ringing — but it’s not one of Drake’s exes, rather the same automated voice that began Drakeo the Ruler & JoogSzn’s jail tape, “Thank You For Using GTL.” Just as Drakeo began his album with laughs and jokes, Young Thug does the same. But humor quickly turns to cringe, as Thug’s verse is mixed poorly and ends up mimicking Drake to a tee.
But lapses are few and rare, as one would expect from an artist with a combined 29 albums, mixtapes, and EPs. Thug’s rockiness returns with “Gucci Grocery Bag,” which creeps into Chance the Rapper’s “Hot Shower” territory, placing digestible, radio-ready rhymes over an unexpectedly jovial beat from Aviator Keyyz; “Money on the Dresser” evokes a Project Pat cover of “Wamp Wamp”; less successful is “Went Thru It,” an out-of-place Dr. Luke production that inadvertently arrived the day after he and Kesha settled their ugly, long-running legal issues.
Apart from Drake, the other guests bring their A-games. Travis Scott revives his auto-tuned yelps and hums, Lil Uzi Vert delivers several different flows at the end of “Hellcat Kenny” to tell the story of a tongue-in-cheek sexual escapade; Thug scoffs on every line of “Cars Bring Me Out” with Future. He even brings in Nate Ruess, formerly of Fun., to prelude the album’s closer, “Global Access,” speaking out against the use of rappers’ lyrics as evidence in court: “They will try to keep your mouth shut, take your words and twist them up, afraid that you’ll change the world, it’s just life here in America.”
Even after a year behind bars, Young Thug isn’t cowering in the face of adversity. He dedicates an entire song to declaring himself “Uncle M,” or Uncle Murda, and his attitude seems summed up by the defiant expression he’s wearing on the album’s cover. On the closing track, “Global Access,” his last words are “I was caught up on somethin’, but now I’m back/ I just almost had threw away like eleven years.” Is that a prediction or wishful thinking? Time will tell…
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