Toeing the Line

A few weeks ago, Young Thug dropped what has to be one of the strangest mainstream hip hop music videos of the year. Watch it before reading this.

Young Thug has always been somewhat of an anomaly, criticizing the very culture upon which he panders to and thrives. With the “Jeffery” album cover, Thugger seemed to be commenting on society’s biases and stigmas regarding gender and presentation. However, Thugger also openly refers to women as “bitches” when there seems to be no need to. His latest music video is no different. Simultaneously critiquing rockstar prima donnas while also becoming one, he continues to walk the fine line between being cutting edge, and being a hypocrite.

Firstly, let us assume that Young Thug is in on the joke. The video so blatantly paints him in a bad light that he would have to be in on it or else it is one of the worst publicity mess ups ever. The video is posted to his Youtube account, something that the label has control over, so it seems logical that he signed off on the posting of the video. Also, Thugger’s Instagram account plugged the music video. So let’s assume that he signed off on and knew about the release.

With that out of the way, let us theorize what possible commentary the video could be.

-the rockstar mentality of superstars may actually benefit content and culture

-there is something poetic about the relationship between the entertainers and the artists (in this case between Thugger and Ryan Staake, the video’s director)

-Staake could be trying to say that the cloud that the entertainers/artists sit on is much more fragile than they believe

-or maybe it is just the result of a pissed off director and a no show rapper

Now, Young Thug actually didn’t show up for the shoot. Staake claimed that all the stuff that is said in the video is true and that the video that was released is the result of him making the best of a bad situation. So we will have to look at the video as a joint venture between Staake and Thugger. I still refuse to believe that Thugger did not sign off on the release of the video. It is simply too blogworthy for the artist not to sign off on. The label, theoretically acting upon the artist’s behalf, eventually had to sign off on it as they released it. With the premise that all parties included had some knowledge of the contents of the video, let us examine the things that could be being said with it:

(Note: a lot of these theories rely on Ryan Staake not being truthful to the media)


Theory 1: Young Thug (w/ Ryan Staake) is somehow commenting on the relationship that artists and their mentalities have with content and culture in 2017.

If we think about the video from an objective and logical sense, the video could very much serve this theory. Staake made the video without Thugger. Yet it was Thugger’s music and original vision that got the entire video off the ground. Also, the publicity that the video got can somewhat be attributed to the fact that it was a Young Thug music video, Complex isn’t going to put a ___ music video on their front page. The video is not what it is without Young Thug, and yet it is exactly what it is because it doesn’t have him. It is a commentary on how culture both needs its creators and yet at the same time doesn’t need them at all. Culture can move on without creators, and vice versa. Yet both work exceptionally well when there is the strained relationship between the two of them. Similar to what Kanye, another polarizing artist, tried to articulate with TLOP, the relationship that artists have with the content that is created is ever-changing.

Staake was the pawn. This is my favorite theory because it banks on this concept. Staake was played by Thugger into creating this. Thugger knew that Staake would do something with the footage, while I have a hard time believing that he knew that Staake would create the meta-masterpiece that this is, I think that Thugger trusted Staake wouldn’t just give up. And if Staake was played, what an outcome. Staake unknowingly commented on himself and his relationship in the creative spectrum. Staake is the talent behind the video, as all directors are. Yes, the artist provides the song and maybe some ideas on the video, but it is the director who works out all of the details that make the video what it is. This idea doesn’t have to apply solely to music videos either. Actor/director, musician/producer/label, artist/curator, writer/publisher, the list goes on and on, the message is applicable to almost any realm of creativity.

Staake is the captain, while Thugger is the vessel. They both need each other to effectively perform their job, and yet at the same time, both can exist without the other.


Theory 2: Entertainers v. Artists, a Saga

Thugger is the entertainer; Staake, the artist. They are locked in a battle of reality and glamour. It is representing a struggle between the top of the industry and the true artists who grind away beneath them In the push-pull that is represented, no one really wins. Thugger has bad publicity, Staake has content that he maybe didn’t want to make. It is a proposal for a more harmonious working relationship for the two. For the two to churn out their best content, they need each other. It is a symbiotic relationship that is often strained by egos and budget.


Theory 3: Ryan Staake Has Been Wronged and He’s Pissed Off, a Novella

Staake was screwed over, plain and simple. He showed up to do his job, and the other person, whom he relied on, didn’t. This created a massive headache for him and his team and resulted in them putting out content that they otherwise would not have. So in retaliation, Staake decided to make a video. A video that not-so-subtly showed how he really felt.  Staake wanted to stick it to Thugger. Staake wanted Thugger to know that the pedestal that Thugger thinks he sits on is fragile and can be undermined easily. By making the video, Staake is exerting authority over Thugger and the art that is jointly created. Staake is stripping Thugger of his power. Staake is showing that Thugger is no more than the people who work under him. That all artists are only where they are because of the labor and the workers that help their vision to come together. By releasing it and acknowledging the interest of the viewer at the very end, Staake is saying that without the entertainer, artists can still thrive. That without the main talent, the artist still creates. Staake is making the case that the entertainer is expendable. That content and culture will move on without the entertainer.

Theory 4: there is no theory

I don’t believe this is true at all. I think that while it may be sold as having no underlying meaning or motives, everything that has Young Thug’s name on it is artistically driven. One’s album cover is not him in a dress unless one wants to make a statement. On his last album, every song was titled after Thugger’s role models, that is something you don’t see everyday out of a rap artist. This theory holds no water. There is no way that there isn’t some ulterior motive. It would be wildly off brand for it to be so.


Thugger walks a fine line because critiquing a system that he is so deeply enshrined in is a difficult thing to do. Thugger, at this point, is a mainstream Atlanta hip hop artist. Pop culture is now something that he is a part of. He needs to be careful to not become what he critiques. His lyrics aren’t that far removed from the range of ignorant party music and his actions outside of the booth would lend themselves to an ego that needs to be checked. From throwing money at airport workers to this music video, Thugger’s actions resemble that of a teenager who just figured out how to open his checking account. This would not be a problem, he is living a rock star’s lifestyle, if it did not seem like he was constantly critiquing and challenging that very lifestyle with his art and music.

His music has always seemed counterculture while being very mainstream. If Nirvana played Coachella. That was always his appeal too. He was the anti-rapper, in a world of J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, there was Young Thug to lighten and change up the mood. His actions are starting to reflect what his music foreshadowed. Someone who is trying to affect culture while being deeply ingrained in it.

It should be interesting over the next few years to see whether this music video was a one off or whether Thug will spiral into the usual pattern of rappers who make money then don’t know how to carry themselves. Regardless, the music video for “Wyclef Jean” remains as the early frontrunner for video of the year. Let’s hope Staake doesn’t lose too much sleep.

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