I’m Up doesn’t show us any new sides of Thugger.
Young Thug’s newest mixtape I’m Up is a celebration of kinship. There’s barely an inch of the 38-minute stocking-stuffer that isn’t devoted to his family, his friends, his crew or another artist. There are songs called “My Boys” and “For My People” sandwiched between tributes to, respectively, perennially unlucky rapper Boosie Badazz and Thug’s deceased friend Keith Troup. He turns the mic over to his sisters Dora and Dolly at the end, and they’re preceded by a staggering number of features. Accordingly, I’m Up feels like a party. It’s the most joyous thing Thug’s ever recorded, and it recalls nothing less than Kanye West’s Graduation in how it not only sounds like a self-contained celebration but draws on its guests to create this feeling.
Thug’s guests all put in work, and they blend in seamlessly in spite of mostly working in a more lyrically and technically dexterous milieu than Thug. Chicago drill star Lil Durk appears twice here, as do two members of Migos, and they mellow down their flows to match Thug’s. On “Bread Winners,” the reverse scenario occurs: guest Young Butta delivers the rapid-fire verse of his life, and Thug shrieks his own lines to match him through sheer volume. The most interesting collaboration here is, of course, the one with his sisters on “Family.” But they mostly ignore the weight of family history to turn rap into a friendly brother-sister Scrabble game.
The elated vibe of the album threatens to clash with the graveness of the subject matter here – Boosie’s kidney cancer diagnosis, Troup’s death and his relationship with his bereaved family. It does only once, on “King TROUP,” a confused tribute that finds Thug bragging about his gun mere bars after a plea to “stop the killing.” But mostly, I’m Up is a celebration of life, and Thug’s rarely sounded this lively. “Fuck cancer, shout out to Boosie!” he shrieks at the beginning of “F Cancer” before spending the rest of the song talking about pretty much everything but cancer. But “F Cancer” isn’t a hand-wring but a friendly shout-out, and Thug’s joyful delivery almost sounds like he’s trying to exorcise Boosie’s cancer through the power of song.
Mostly, I’m Up is beautiful, blissful nonsense. Detractors often accuse Thug of just spitting gibberish, but 90 percent of the time this is beside the point. What matters is Thug’s love of how the English language sounds. Listen to how he savors the titular hook of “My Boys,” each “b” rolling off his lips with relish. Or the way he switches up the rhythm of the single word “special” on the song of the same name. Perhaps most thrilling of all is the Metro Boomin-produced “Hercules,” where his voice sinks into a cartoonish low register on the line “high like fuckin’ Martians, whoa.” We get the sense that isn’t a “whoa” of elation but of shock; his voice sounds like it’s skidding out of control, as if he stood up and realized how high he was.
I’m Up doesn’t show us any new sides of Thugger. In nearly every aspect, he’s doing what he’s always done, and the only real difference between I’m Up and anything else he’s made is how it uses its guests. In spite of its Earth-melting cover, it’s not a world-beating release. But Thug has never made anything remotely resembling a world-beating release, and it’s hard to say whether or not he’s working towards one (his official studio “debut” HiTunes is still only a whisper). So I’m Up shouldn’t be looked at in the context of Thug’s evolution but in terms of the role it plays in his discography: namely, being the most fun, party-ready tape he’s ever released.