Saturday, February 9, 2019

Song of the Day #347 - Young Thug - Family Don't Matter (ft. Millie go Lightly)

Country Billy made a couple milli...

Well, it's been a long long time (205 days, sheesh) since the last Song of the Day, but we're back, we're finally back, and hopefully we're back at a rate that makes the title more accurate than like Song of the Fortnight or Song of the Whenever I Have Time. This glorious return isn't really brought on by some radical shift in my priorities towards blogging or my lifestyle suddenly offering up new reserves of free time (unfortunately). I am still Mr. Government Job and Mr. Watch Many Anime A Season, a sort of walking paradox. No, what pulled me back into writing about music was two crucial syllables: "yee haw". With this historic proclamation, Young Thug has done the impossible: country music, once exclusively the soundtrack of radios I could not change and bars I regretted visiting, is now the coolest genre on Earth, edging out melodic love-trap (another genre invented by Young Thug). The memetic legacy of that half-second exclamation will place him forever more in the country hall of fame with Johnny Cash, Gillian Welch, and a lot of people I have never heard of.

Okay, breaking with this aggressive hyperbole for a second, let's break down exactly what's going on with this song. When the first reports of Easy Breezy Beautiful Thugger Girls started coming out, there was a lot of rumours that it would be "all singing", "heavy on country", "containing several new genres", etc, and people were eager to believe it: Young Thug Jeffery Young Thug has long defined himself by his undefinability, the underlying chaotic, often confusing, but always brilliant vortex that drives his music, and seeing how this chamelonic entity would understand country music was tantalizingly impossible to imagine. We knew that it couldn't be real country, where real country is defined by "the country we wouldn't listen to", but that there would be something to it that made early listeners say what they did. We probably would have bet on something very much like the "yee haw" moment, right? Something definitively "outsider", that a real country listener would find so corny it couldn't be parsed sincerely, and yet so reductive that it seems to "own" the entire genre.

And for the first few seconds, I remember feeling disappointed, that this much-hyped "yee haw" song seemed to lack the root and toot that I'd been promised... "I'm tryna put this dick inside your panties" is about as typical a Thugger line as you can get, and the swirling, backwards beats - although sounding sick - weren't really atypical for hip hop in 2017. But then Millie go Lightly comes in, the beat settles into the strumming guitar, and you can see the deep red sunset on the horizon. The conversation is still backwoods, lean, and zannies, but the unplanned sleep is of an hayfield nap under a big sky. And it is in this exquisite prairie home soundscape that he perfectly unleashes the "yee haw".

Of course, if that was really the full extent of Thugger's countryishness on this song, it wouldn't be the half the masterpiece it is. The "yee haw" is an ad-lib; it is merely the promise of a future line. When you hear it, you probably imagine that the song itself will contain some country-themed bars, and some ideas for what they could be probably came to mind pretty easily... But anything anyone non-Thug could come up with would pale in comparison to "Country Billy made a couple milli/Tryna park the Rolls Royce inside the Piccadilly"... Let's break this one down a bit, because it really deserves it. First: Country Billy, quite like Young Thug actually, is a name so generic and signifying so little that it actually loops around and becomes quite surreal, seeming to represent some deficit in detail in reality... "a couple milli" seems to reflect a sort of "aw shucks" southern humility, but in the context of this "Country Billy" character only reinforces the absurd warped reflection that Thug sees of rural life. Then things get really crazy. "Tryna park the Rolls Royce inside the Piccadilly", on a surface reading, seems to make sense: a Rolls Royce is a car, and the Piccadilly is a street. Even after one layer of parsing it holds up: a Rolls Royce is an expensive car, and the Piccadilly is an expensive street (home of the famous Ritz Hotel!). But in the context of our Country Billy character, taking this straight is nonsense... The first line suggests a sort of surprising "Beverly Hillbillies" sorta scenario, right? That Country Billy, Thugger's humble guitar-strumming avatar made it huge after all, right? And so we can expect that the second line sets up some sort of humourous contrast? If that makes sense to you, allow me to propose my radical theory: Young Thug does not know what the Piccadilly is, and based on the sound of the word, assumed it was some sorta hick thing. This is AMAZING to me. Like, that's completely understandable! It really does sound like some sort of hick thing! And everything I've read about Young Thug's songwriting methods does not suggest he's the Wikipedia lookup type. He remembered the word from somewhere and knew it'd make an awesome rhyme with "milli" (it does) and just ran with it. This is the key Young Thug essence.

Between that line and the "yee haw", it feels like Thugger has justified the entire rest of the soundscape he's developed, like, this makes him "in the country", and thus we have to have the gently plucking guitar, the ghostly choral oohs... even the drums, although still trappy, are blended with unobtrusive rhythms: everything is being dealt with sincerely. Most impressive is his harmonizing with Millie Go Lightly. This girl has like, hella potential I think, her voice is so pure, so much itself that, in the context of singing alongside our boy Jeffery, it feels almost inherently comedic... like, you feel like she's somehow been tricked into thinking this IS an actual country song, or that, at the very least, Thug is a regular rapper. This element comes out clearer in her second featured track, "She Wanna Party" (also a banger), where accompanies him on all his bizarre dental hygiene lyrics... here it's just a sort of undercurrent of surreality as you hear her very "traditionally" good voice sweetly swinging alongside Young Thug's transcendent falsetto and gorilla-guttural bass. But sheesh, it really really sounds good. The closing bridge, with the tradeoff on "I just thought that you should know" is so clutch that I temporarily forget even about the miraculous genius that is "Country Billy". Like I talked about with Jeffery, Young Thug has been developing from a typical "rap over beat" type dynamic into something truly cinematic, a more complete song experience, something more like Kanye might produce.

It works because, deep down, Young Thug has always been a genius songwriter. And what makes this track truly great isn't the bizarre country overtones or the evolution into new harmonic dimensions, it's the core Thugger appeal that lies underneath. His stunning yet laid-back flow on the lines before the infamous "yee haw" reminds you just how much you care that it's him saying "yee haw". His relentless sequence of intro into bridge into hook into verse, brilliantly wrapping the titular "like family don't matter!" in layers of anticipation, each catchier than the last. And, most importantly, the emotional hit of the line itself: a lifestyle so pleasurable in its dangerous indulgence that for that instant you believe that even family, the most important thing in the world to Jeffery, doesn't matter. It is here that I think we can say he truly does understand the drive of country music.

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