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Review: Young Thug Interrupts His MVP Status With a Bunt on ‘Barter 6’

young thug
SPIN Rating: 6 of 10
Release Date: April 17, 2015
Label: self-released

This is the year of the fauxtape. This trend means that once former SPIN Rappers of the Year like Danny Brown (XXX) and Chance the Rapper (Acid Rap) — as well as somebody named Kendrick Lamar (Section.80) — introduced their massive talents to the world on, ahem, “download-only albums” via lush, expensive productions (sometimes even including live musicians), rather than scratchy pirated beats.

Whereas mixtapes graduated from being dry runs to promising albums, they quickly became the main event itself, and now a certain strain of them occupies arguably the wimpiest role of all: the toe-dipper. When Drake dropped If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, he kept the little Views From the 6 emblem on the cover as a hint that the proper LP might still be coming, while people tried to figure out if it was a “mixtape” or an “album.” Then If You’re Reading This went to No. 1 and now we’re seeing a physical release. There’s no reason to believe we won’t still see Views From the 6 later this year, but any parentheses around If You’re Reading This‘ status as a true full-length in Drake’s canon have certainly disappeared.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the once-mighty Carter 6, which was to be the unpinnable Young Thug‘s first true album after a landfill of mixtapes that got better and better, peaking with last year’s nothing-like-it Black Portland, a stoned bull session between Thugger and the incarcerated Bloody Jay. But the fun was ruined by a litigious Lil Wayne, who’s done little to assure us that his long-delayed Tha Carter V will see the light of day either (unless you believe Weezy: “Carter V coming soon; ain’t no motherfuckin’ such thing as Carter 6,” — we’ll wait for the lawyers’ opinion). So what was once an album called Carter 6 is now a mixtape called Barter 6 (as in “Bicken Back Being Bool”), with a “real” album — Hy!£UN35, his publicist says it’s pronounced Hi Tunes — due at the end of August.

Where does that leave the music on Barter 6, which has ostensibly been dismissed as a stopgap almost the second it was made public? It doesn’t sound like a mixtape, on one hand. It’s the first Young Thug release that plays like it was conceived as a carefully pieced album rather than a purged collection of tracks. It’s his mellowest record, and gorgeously so: Opener “Constantly Hating” and the amazing “Knocked Off” follow iLoveMakonnen’s breezy Drink More Water 5 as some of the prettiest hip-hop in years, particularly the latter, with its waterlogged riff and submerged percussion. The fragile piano line beneath the single “Check” deserves to be more audible. The synths and echoing rattles on “Dome” suggest some kind of scuba expedition in a rusty shark cage. “Halftime” walks a captivating tightrope of burbling keyboard and music box, and that’s the most aggressive-sounding thing here.

But for all the aqueous vibes, Barter 6 doesn’t push Thugger forward much as a melodist — too much of the melody is playing the corners and his bizarre combination of slow-rolling and speedy triplet rapping doesn’t wrap itself around anything nearly as obvious as last year’s revelatory “Lifestyle” or “Danny Glover,” much less his excellent weirdo-has-arrived anthem “Picacho.” It’s just too limited, and he even sounds kind of bored with it. “Halftime” has a remarkably melodic coda where you can barely understand that he’s saying the title, but hooks are typically meant to stick, and after the infectious opening tracks, very little of Barter 6 does.

For the first time on a Young Thug release, you get the sense that he’s sitting around waiting to ascend to the next level of his sound, for inspiration to strike, though with such a laid-back, inscrutable flow, he might have to activate that change himself. A talented (and young) guy enjoying all of the bizarre freedom of the near-MVP position he’s in, the rapper born Jeffrey Williams doesn’t seem bothered by everyone watching while he figures out what he needs for an encore. He just needs to do it faux real.