Young Thug Is Just the Latest Artist to Challenge Hip-Hop's Obsession With Masculinity
Erykah Badu said, “[Jeffery] reminds me of a certain ATLien I know.”
Last week, Young Thug finally released his much-anticipated mixtape No, My Name Is JEFFERY. And while the songs contained therein are all bangers of the utmost quality, the project’s album cover was as much a topic of discussion as the content: Jeffery, née Thugger, appears in a periwinkle garment, doffing a fan-like hat and striking a pose of defiance, confidence and pride. The outfit, designed by Italian fashion designer Alessandro Trincone, is part of a broader collection called “Annodami,” which features gender-free garments that draw inspiration from the designer’s time spent in Japan. Naturally, when the cover dropped, the Internet exploded — Jeffery’s look was likened to those found in Mortal Kombat, Soulcalibur, anime and manga, as well as car washes.
Many hip-hop fans were confounded when Thug made an appearance in Calvin Klein’s latest #myCalvins ad campaign earlier this year, donning womenswear and shining gold outfits that challenged preconceived notions of both masculinity and gender. Before Jeffery and Calvin, he appeared on the cover of Dazed Magazine in a dress and featured in an editorial focused entirely on womenswear; needless to say, Jeffery’s album artwork pushed many past the point of simple memes and into homophobic territory. Thug, meanwhile, seems unbothered by any of this: in that very same CK campaign, he declared, “In my world, you can be a gangsta with a dress or you can be a gangsta with baggy pants. I feel like there’s no such thing as gender.”
Young Thug is ruining hip hop. no real rapper ever wore those type of outfits. pic.twitter.com/5XNTFYYpIi
— David D. (@DavidDTSS) August 26, 2016
But it’s important to note that as innovative and progressive as Jeffery’s fashion choices may be, he is not the first to challenge hip-hop’s fixation on fragile machismo: unbeknownst to many, queer rappers and artists like Le1f, Mykki Blanco, and Cakes Da Killa have been pushing the boundaries of genre and gender in their music for quite some time; however, as a result of their sexuality, their music has remained marginalized and pushed underground. Just last week, on the other hand, Frank Ocean reemerged from his extended sabbatical with Blonde, an album that delicately yet unabashedly addressed the ache and heartbreak of modern relationships, regardless of sexual identity. Thug’s hometown of Atlanta has long been a hotbed for rappers who fight the status quo when it comes to fashion: OutKast’s André 3000, for example, has long pushed the sartorial envelope with feminine looks. Fellow Dungeon Family member CeeLo Green is also known for his outrageous choice of costume. Green’s side project, Gnarls Barkley, were known for donning increasingly outrageous and elaborate stage ensembles. Green may have dressed up as Darth Vader, sure, but he also dressed up as the bride to Danger Mouse’s groom.
Young Thug is not pioneering anything. A lot of Atlanta musicians have been eccentric through the years. pic.twitter.com/O0AbUsn748
— JonBenét Ramsey (@MarkChang_) August 26, 2016
Many users on Twitter were quick to note the resemblances between Thug and his stylistic precursors: chief among them was Erykah Badu, who likened Jeffery to “a certain ATLien,” directly linking Thug to Three Stacks. Beyond the artistic flattery of being compared to one of the greatest songwriters to grace a microphone, Badu’s comparison puts Thug on a line of hip-hop innovators unfazed by the criticism of a culture obsessed with hyper-masculinity. Fellow Atlanta rapper Yung Joc earned the ire of the internet for getting a perm, for example.
Reminds me of a certain ATLien I know. pic.twitter.com/fmy9WBVa5v
— ErykahBadoula (@fatbellybella) August 26, 2016
The culture needs artists, rappers and creatives like Young Thug, Le1f, Frank Ocean, and Jaden Smith to challenge hegemonic masculinity and to expand the depth of field, so that underrepresented identities can get their respective shine, be it with a zine, a short film, an ad campaign, or just having the courage to dress comfortably.