On Sept. 14, 2015, Young Thug unveiled a new track titled “Best Friend” on YouTube. “That’s my best friend, that’s my best friend,” the lanky 25-year-old performer croons over the platinum-certified single’s trickly piano melody. Based on the title and hook alone, it’s clear Thug is rapping about friendship and loyalty, which is admittedly nothing new in hip-hop. Compton rapper YG took home a BET Hip-Hop award in 2014 for his buzzy, boom-bap hit “My Nigga,” and almost 20 years before that, Coolio made the concept of “rolling with [your] homies” so cool that even the Beverly Hills high schoolers in Clueless knew the lyrics.
But with “Best Friend,” and its accompanying video (which has been viewed more than 150 million times), it’s clear that Thug is trying to shake up the typical buddy-song paradigm. Instead of cameos of his real-life friends or group shots of his entourage, facsimiles of Thug proliferate throughout. We see him walking in on two of his doppelgangers, who are hooking up in a bedroom, and we watch as two versions of himself hang out and try on outfits in a bathroom. A suited-up carbon copy of the MC chauffeurs his white-pleather-outfitted counterpart, and at the end, an ashen Thug prepares to dine on a platter of his own head.
Like most things Thug, “Best Friend” is weird and artsy and confusing. But perhaps more than anything, with its message of being your own best friend, it’s also cocky as fuck. And you know what? That’s OK.
One of 11 children, Thug grew up in Section 8 housing in Atlanta, dropping out of high school and fathering the first of six children at the age of 17. One of his early managers, whom he met in the mid-aughts, recalls that at the time, the burgeoning rapper who now glitters with diamonds and models for Calvin Klein, had next to nothing. All he had was a few shirts, a pair of shoes, and rotted, discolored teeth that he’d cover with his hand when talking.
Fast-forward to today, and Thug is worth a purported $6 million. He’s widely considered to be one of the most famous rappers alive. And he’s achieved all of this without even releasing a debut album. Not that Thug hasn’t been working. In the span of five years, he’s churned out a whopping 16 mixtapes, to say nothing of the dozens of projects he’s collaborated on with other artists, like Usher, Jamie xx, Kanye West, Juicy J, and T.I. (Rumor has it Thug can rake in as much as $50,000 per featured verse.)
Beloved — and no doubt hated by some — for his unintelligible muttering, screeching, yelping, and whinnying, Thug has made a name for himself simply by being weird. And himself. Since the age of 12, he has refused to abide by societal norms by donning female clothing and painting his nails, which he still does today. And, in the masculine world of hip-hop, this is a big fucking deal.
Other than A$AP Rocky who has flirted with cross-dressing by wearing oversize T-shirts that resemble dresses, no other rapper has made a more concerted effort to blur gender boundaries than Thug.
“I feel like there’s no such thing as gender,” Thug said in a promotional video for Calvin Klein’s Fall 2016 campaign.
And while for some rappers doing so might be a death knell for their career, in the case of Thug, it’s yet another reason why fans adore him. After all, who else has the guts to pose in a white, ruffly floor-length gown on the cover of their latest mixtape?