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Young Thug screams, cries, and mimics the muppets in ‘Jeffery’

By Ben Benson

Section: Arts

September 23, 2016

Jeffery, the artist formerly known as Young Thug, has been one of the most prolific musicians in hip-hop over the past several years. In his self-titled mixtape “Jeffery,” the rapper reclaims his birth name and pays homage to his musical influences as well as his favorite meme (on the wild track “Harambe”). As is expected with a Young Thug project, the tape features the vocal experimentation that has set Jeffery apart from his peers in the trap scene and the wider hip-hop world. Interestingly, this tape sees Jeffery riffing off the styles of his musical influences on the tracks named for them, a new development in his ever-evolving sound.

The tape begins with “Wyclef Jean,” a laid back track by Young Thug standards, with the rapper wailing over a Caribbean style beat that evokes the sound of the Haitian rapper the song is named for. This track along with the most of the other songs on the mixtape exemplifies what makes Jeffery one of the most interesting people working in rap right now: his unhinged vocal style. In terms of content, the lyrics of the songs are fairly generic gangster rap fair, dealing with money, sex, weapons, women and the artist’s favorite things, which seem to be luxury goods and his six children.

Jeffery’s vocals shine throughout. On “Harambe,” named for the Cincinnati gorilla that was shot dead and subsequently became a meme, Jeffery’s vocals approach what can only be described as a Muppet-like quality, something never before heard in trap music. Jeffery’s adlib, the classic southern rap “skrrt” is delivered in such a way that the listener can hear the gobs of spit being flung from the rapper’s mouth, his voice hoarse from the extreme effect he puts on his speech.

On the track “Guwop,” Jeffery pays homage to rap legend Gucci Mane, who was recently released after several years behind bars. The song emulates Gucci Mane’s style in its beat, combined with Jeffery’s lyrical flair as he raps about a woman he likes, presumably his fiance Jerrika Karlae. In addition to having a song named after him, Gucci Mane has a guest verse on the track “Floyd Mayweather.” The same is true for Wyclef Jean, who appears in a verse on the track “Kanye West.”

The way Jeffery plays with his voice stands out in this project, even more so than on his previous works as Young Thug. It seems as though he takes a lot of influence from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, the proto-shock-rocker who sang “I Put a Spell on You” in the 50s. Hawkins’s singing is almost operatic in range, interspersed with screaming, crying, grunting and snorting. Jeffery’s vocal range is very Hawkins-esque, and many of the tracks on this album, particularly “Harambe,” feature odd vocal noises. Jeffery’s “skrrts” evoke the snorting and choking noises Hawkins makes at the beginning and end of the original version of “I Put a Spell on You.” The incomprehensibility of Jeffery’s singing and rapping is part of his appeal. His lyrics are not particularly interesting, but his delivery is entirely unique. Nobody else in hip-hop sounds like Jeffery.

There is something to be said about “Jeffery’s” album art as well. The cover features Jeffery posing in a beautiful lavender designer dress, wearing what appears to be a parasol over his head. This choice of outfit makes sense given Jeffery’s previous statements that he “does not believe in gender.” The artist is well known for cross-dressing, a trait highly unusual in someone who describes himself as a gangster rapper. In a field of music often considered to be homophobic and transmisogynist, it is refreshing to have an artist who seems dedicated to breaking down gender stereotypes.
Jeffery is pushing boundaries: In hip-hop, in fashion, in singing, Jeffery is on the forefront of the experimental. Who would have thought that in 2016, one of the most progressive figures in hip-hop would be a trap star that came up under the name “Young Thug?”

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