When Young Thug burst onto the scene in 2014 with “Stoner” and “Danny Glover,” rap fans had no way of knowing what would happen over the next seven years. They had no idea that Thugger, already signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad and a part of Birdman’s Rich Gang, would transform from the rapper with the wild voice and even wilder fashion choices, to one of the genre’s foremost pioneers. 

Between those eccentric fashion choices, and his ability to mold his voice to fit what seems like any sound, Young Thug has proven, time and time again, to be one of the most versatile rappers in the game. From the Slime Season mixtape series, which saw him at the peak of his rapping powers, to the country-inspired Beautiful Thugger Girls, to his beloved first studio album, So Much Fun, it has become crystal clear that there is no musical experiment too extreme for Young Thug. 

So when the Atlanta rapper announced that his new album would be called PUNK, and he and Gunna celebrated the album’s release by completely destroying a Rolls Royce, an album full of angst and skateboard vibes seemed inevitable.

Or so we thought.

From PUNK’s artwork, inspired by Octavio Ocampo’s “Forever Always,” to its acoustic-heavy production, Jeffrey’s second studio album serves largely as a narrative of his life and his place as a bonafide superstar and leader of both his real-life family and YSL Records. 

In a Complex interview released just days before PUNK’s arrival on October 15, the “Digits” rapper said he wanted to simplify things. “PUNK is just real life stories,” he told Complex. “The whole album is just focused on one point.” 

Following “Die Slow,” on which Young Thug tells the story of getting his brother, Unfoonk, out of serving a life sentence in prison, as well as the harrowing tale of his mother having a stroke after getting run over by a speeding car, records like “Stressed,” “Stupid/Asking” and “Contagious” fall right in line. Where he may have previously rapped about which designer piece he was going to buy next or littered every track with mind-bending ad-libs, PUNK finds Thugger speaking on the stresses of taking care of everyone around him, especially knowing that the same type of care may never be reciprocated. 

On “Contagious,” Young Thug proclaims, “I wish that keeping it real really was contagious, ‘cause I be showing love, always met with fake sh*t, but that’s what’s in my heart, I could never change it.” That paranoia is a common thread throughout the entire project. From PUNK’s first five songs, which all feature acoustic production and subdued lyrical deliveries, to the 14th track, “Faces,” where Thugger shifts his skepticism from two-faced family members, to the women in his life, rapping “She got her hair long with the Maisons on, no basic, got me thinking everybody ‘round me cheatin’,” it’s clear that the YSL founder doesn’t know who to trust. But because Young Thug is Young Thug, no amount of paranoia or questioning intentions will slow him down. 

Closing out “Faces” with the simple message, “No back and forth with them opps, or them nothin’-a** h*es,” this is where some legitimate “punk” attitude shines through. While much of PUNK comes across as more reserved than previous projects, the “Hot” rapper exudes as much confidence as ever. In the face of adversity and untrustworthiness, Young Thug puffs out his chest and lets us all know he’s going to get the most out of life, regardless of who or what tries to stop him. And while tracks like “Road Ragin’,” and “Droppin Jewels,” solo efforts on which Thugger raps at length about getting to the money and giving his children advice about how to make it in this cruel world, do take a stance against “the system,” the album’s most “punk” moments come with the help of PUNK’s featured artists. 

On “Rich N***a Sh*t,” Thug and the late Juice WRLD follow up their January 2021-released collab, “Bad Boy,” and over a harsh-but-hype Pi’erre Bourne beat, the pair spits aggressively about doing anything they want, simply because they can afford to do so. On “Livin’ It Up,” highlighted by a lively Post Malone hook, and a rare A$AP Rocky feature verse, Thugger and his counterparts sound like they’re sitting around a campfire singing at the stars, while they take a moment to celebrate everything they have accomplished — still they acknowledge that “it’s just never enough.” And on “Scoliosis,” Thug and Lil Double 0 go crazy over a Kuttabeatz instrumental, spitting with a flow reminiscent of his 2015 Barter 6 mixtape. (While PUNK features more storytelling than other Thug projects, there are a handful of classic one-liners littered throughout the album, including “I lost my virginity into Amanda, all these f*ckin’ yellow diamonds, Tropicana” off “Yea Yea Yea,” and “I called my watch stupid ‘cause the time froze,” off “Fifth Day Dead”)

Gunna makes three appearances on PUNK, with his signature dripping-in-designer-and-VVS-diamonds bars, but also with a handful of more grown-up bars, giving some light stock market advice on “Insure My Wrist” and commenting on the struggles Black people face in America on “Recognize Real.” J. Cole, who delivers the record’s best guest verse on “Stressed,” echoes Thugger’s sentiments about success in the rap game and the real-life tension that comes with it.

While many of PUNK’s guest appearances bolster the record, the necessity of others is up for debate. In the aforementioned Complex interview, Jeffrey said that the album was all about one thing, and detailed the difficulties of staying in just one lane. “The hard part about this sh*t is making 12, 14, 16 songs about one thing, without crossing up and saying the same thing.” 

But PUNK contains 20 songs. And while appearances from Drake, Travis Scott, and Doja Cat are always welcome, tracks like “Bubbly” and “Icy Hot” are almost certainly included for streaming and playlist purposes. “Icy Hot,” which sees Thugger and Doja coming together on a Playboi Carti-esque hook and verses with lines like, “He said I’m wifey type, he throw dick like bouquet,” don’t necessarily fit PUNK’s overarching message. And even though Scott skates all over some bass-heavy, quintessential Wheezy production and Drizzy slides through with an endless barrage of quotables perfect for a slimy IG caption, their appearances stand out in artistic contrast among a record full of straightforward storytelling.

“Hate The Game,” PUNK’s second-to-last track, is the most “punk” sounding record on the entire album, with Thug rapping about having sex on the first night and never calling again over a 2000s pop-punk inspired instrumental. But Future’s hook from “Peepin Out The Window,” best describes the project as a whole. “Peepin’ out the window,” Young Thug’s “Super Slimey” collaborator raps. “All I see is a bunch of opps trying to rise from the dead, wanna smoke me like I’m Indo.”

PUNK, Young Thug’s second studio album, is not a “punk” album. It’s a presentation of his evolution as an artist, and as a person. From blunt smoke wafting over Italian waters on “Die Slow” to the soft-spoken, Mac Miller-assisted “Day Before,” PUNK puts lyrical content in front of sonic creativity.

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