Young Martha doesn’t really work, but it’s worth keeping for one banger.
There was a brief, worrying moment about three years ago when the word “trap” seemed prepared to go down in music history the same way the word “ska” has: as a reference to the ersatz, popular, mostly white fusion product rather than the older black art form that informed it.
Perhaps inspired by the fact that trap beats were roughly the same tempo as the half-speed heavy metal-dubstep hybrids that soundtracked the first blunt hits of so many millennials, DJs started cranking out a form of EDM called “trap” that didn’t owe much to Memphis or Atlanta. But as the fad phased out and Disclosure-style “deep house” got big, kids must have become interested in the roots of this music, because guys like Fetty Wap started blowing up and Migos went from cult influence to commercial juggernaut. Now, Atlanta trap comprises an enviable chunk of the charts and is the breeding ground for many of the best ideas in contemporary pop.
At the intersection of these two chapters in trap history is Carnage, a Guatemalan-American DJ who came up among the Coachella crowd but has distinguished himself through his respect for trap’s roots. Most of the artists featured on his 2015 debut Papi Gordo were Atlanta rappers, including Migos and Lil Uzi Vert before they became big stars. His new EP Young Martha is the first in a planned series featuring Young Thug—the most artful and arguably the best of the new Atlanta hotshots—and it’s the sound of two different sides of “trap” going head to head.
Those who’ve kept tabs on Thug might be shocked by how aggressive this music is. The EDM form of trap was largely influenced by Lex Luger, the sonic warhorse behind Waka Flocka Flame’s Flockaveli, so it went for maximum volume. Atlanteans like Metro Boomin and Southside are more subtle, preferring to let amorphous sounds slosh behind the drums. That’s Thug’s milieu. He’s a liquid rapper who melts all over whatever he spits over, layering his voice so his weird, funky ad-libs make themselves known in every possible corner of the stereo field.
Here, he has to shout to make himself known over the 10-ton din of Carnage’s production, and as such he leaves a little less room for subtlety; rather than effortlessly, he raps here like his life depends on it. This is his most comprehensible release, and one-liners like “If a pussy nigga play with me Kirk Franklin can’t save him” are delivered like he’s trying to be heard rather than letting his voice dissolve into abstract designs. It’s probably a good release to play for anyone who doubts Thug’s technical talent on the mic, but it’s light on a lot of what makes his art so delightful: his effortlessness, his insouciance, his seeming inability to care what anyone thinks of him.
Carnage likes big, dramatic, crowd-pleasing cues: cut-vocal hooks from the Diplo playbook, creepy church organs that match his horrorcore moniker. It’s no coincidence that “10,000 Slimes,” the only cut that could remotely be described as subtle, was co-produced with Thug’s most reliable wingman Wheezy. The overwhelming impression is of masculine aggression, which is another reason why Thug is a weird choice of collaborator. It’s strange to hear a rapper as well-known for his dresses as his bars brag about his Birkin bag over music that brings to mind nothing so much as sweat rolling down tanned forearms into the armpits of neon tank tops.
Young Martha doesn’t really work, but it’s worth keeping for one banger: “Liger,” the only track here where the two sound like they’re on the same page. It’s a sledgehammer party song, with Thugger pulling out his old “Wyclef Jean” trick of straining and stretching his voice up to the high notes as the music builds in volume. The lyrics are as excessive as the music: “Everybody got tigers so I’m gonna get myself a liger,” he shrieks, adrift in his own world. But it’s hard to say if this is real chemistry or dirt sticking to the wall. One of these per EP would leave us with… an EP’s worth of really good party songs we could edit together in a Spotify playlist after the fact.