I’m cheating a bit this week. Since the middle of summer, I’ve spent Fridays trying to find the best new release of the week. I’ve highlighted ScHoolboy Q, Clams Casino, Lydia Loveless and others in the past, but this week was arguably the toughest to crown a best new album. That’s because two of rap’s brightest young stars, two artists responsible for two of last year’s best albums, released new material within twelve hours of each other between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
The two rappers – Vince Staples and Young Thug – could not be more different. Staples has a hardened, confrontational presence to him on record; he’s not afraid to speak the truth, and he’s certainly not afraid to bludgeon you with it. Young Thug, on the other hand, is a Willy Wonka-type of wonder, his sound highlighted by colorful vocal ad-libs and a dexterous, hard-to-pin-down flow. Their two new releases, Prima Donna and Jeffery, exacerbates those differences, showing two artists with different aims, yet both reaching their target.
Listen to the first proper songs on each release for confirmation. Staples begins Prima Donna with a bleak recitation of “This Little Light of Mine” before a gunshot sends a jolt and Andre 3000’s chopped up, processed vocals blaze through the speakers. It’s a daring move – including a sample of one of the most beloved, enigmatic voices in rap – but one that Staples pulls off with ease. Thug enters the stage with “Wyclef Jean,” its buoyant, reggae-tilt the perfect soundscape for his equally elastic vocals. The two artists take complete ownership of their EPs, each packing more into their releases than some rappers are able to pack into their full-lengths. Young Thug names each song on Jeffrey after his inspirations – song titles include “Floyd Mayweather,” “Future Swag” and “RiRi” – and the album oozes with Thug’s inspired confidence. On the other end of the spectrum, Staples’ Prima Donna – while clearly being inspired – lacks the joy of Jeffrey, finding catharsis through other emotions. “Smile” is in many ways more of a rock song than rap song, but it’s the haunting, raw final minute that is most affecting. “Sometimes I feel like giving up,” he repeats like a record skipping. He can say the words, but it’s much harder to put into action.
Prima Donna and Jeffrey are two of the more vital, exciting records released this year. And while Vince Staples and Young Thug could not have crafted two albums that sound any more different than these two sound next to each other, they accomplish the same goal. They make good on the promises made on their past work, their voices and personalities, their heads and their wardrobes expanding, adding more color. Despite taking drastically different paths, Staples and Young Thug reach the same destination, both in line for the throne.
Listen to Prima Donna EP via Apple Music.
And here is an official YouTube stream of Young Thug’s Jeffrey: