In 2018, much of the United States is on the same page when it comes to sexuality. As a live-and-let-live attitude towards sexuality has become increasingly accepted in American culture, certain happenings in the entertainment industry, particularly in hip-hop, that may have been considered scandalous in the past are now garnering only a shadow of controversy. Take, for example, the cover art on Young Thug’s 2016 mixtape, titled Jeffery.
On the cover, Young Thug is wearing a blue and white dress designed by Italian designer Alessandro Trincone. While Thugger’s choice of cover art had a lot of people talking, it didn’t exactly surprise anyone that had been following him closely over the years. Young Thug never attempted to hide the fact that he wore women’s clothes on a frequent basis. Before any photos surfaced of Young Thug wearing the Trincone dress, there had been two other photos floating around the internet that had created a considerable noise around Thug’s name. In one, he’s wearing a miniskirt and a matching skin-tight crop top. In the other, he’s wearing what he described in a Complex interview as a toddler’s dress. You can see a picture of both of those outfits here. In a 2015 interview with GQ, Thug was asked about why he wears clothing, to which he responded by saying:
Women’s clothes are [slimmer] than men’s clothes. The jeans I got on right now, they’re women’s jeans. But they fit how they’re supposed to fit. Like a rock star. The only thing I probably have in men’s is, like, briefs. T-shirts. Ninety percent of my clothes are women’s.
These are far from the only gender-bending moves Young Thug has made in the name of fashion. For a cover shoot with Dazed in 2015, Thug wore a tutu, a Gucci dress, and a see-through tunic. In the following year, he doubled down on his androgynous persona in his 2016 Calvin Klein campaign. The campaign included a photo of him in what looks to be another dress, captioned “I disobey in #mycalvins”, and a video on which he describes his views on gender. “In my world, of course, it don’t matter,” he says. “You can be a gangster with a dress, or you could be a gangster with baggy pants. I feel like there’s no such thing as gender.”
— Young Thug ひ (@youngthug) July 6, 2016
One could say that Young Thug has been the face of a larger trend taking place in hip-hop today, where the lines are being increasingly blurred between male and female fashion. Rather than wearing a shocking piece of clothing once in a while, his choices of apparel are consistently flamboyant and audacious. On top of the consistency, he’s been able to freely speak on the subject of gender fluidity in the context of fashion in a culture where hypermasculinity and homophobia are considered the norm.
While Young Thug functions as a standing poster-child of gender evolution for hip-hop, fashion, and society as a whole, he’s definitely not the first to have been making these types of moves. In the conversation of Young Thug and his fashion choices, names like Michael Jackson, Prince and André 3000 are often brought up. While the comparisons have offended some of those who don’t believe Thug is worthy of the juxtaposition, certain parallels between the artists undeniably exist.
While Michael Jackson wasn’t quite as overtly feminine in his choice of wardrobe as Young Thug is, he still played a key role in building a foundation for the changes that Thugger is spearheading today. His style was still unrestricted by concepts of heteronormativity, which were arguably stronger during the years he reigned as the King of Pop. In his autobiography, titled Moonwalk, Jackson even stated “My attitude is if fashion says it’s forbidden, I’m going to do it.” It’s not a far cry from the ethos behind Young Thug’s actions. Even Birdman has gone on record to compare Thug to Michael Jackson, as well as Prince. Young Thug has publically embraced the comparison, evidenced by an Instagram post he made in the past. See Birdman’s comparison and Thug’s Instagram post below:
In terms of fashion, the parallels between Young Thug and Prince may hold a little more weight. Throughout his career, Prince’s fashion sense was characterized by daring cuts, fabrics, and color choices. See-through lace shirts, skin-tight crop tops, bikini bottoms and thigh high socks all made their way into Prince’s on-stage wardrobe. Prince even wore make-up with these gender-bending outfits, only adding to the controversy he was stirring. Even though Prince was labeled a homophobe due to some of the remarks he’s made about same-sex couples has provoked some to label him a homophobe, many still regard Prince as a leader for the homosexual and transsexual community. In a piece titled, “Prince: Gay Icon, Whether He Wanted to Be or Not” by The Atlantic, a blog post tribute to Prince by Frank Ocean, an openly gay music artist, is cited:
He was a straight black man who played his first televised set in bikini bottoms and knee high heeled boots, epic. He made me feel more comfortable with how I identify sexually simply by his display of freedom from and irreverence for obviously archaic ideas like gender conformity etc.
In a sense, Young Thug might be doing something similar, but in an arena where much more resistance to gender fluidity is likely to exist. Rock n’ Roll has had time to incubate concepts of androgynous fashion senses, while hip-hop is a significantly younger genre that exists in a vastly different context. Even so, Young Thug isn’t the first artist in the hip-hop industry to challenge the status quo of fashion. OutKast’s André 3000 was a major influence in the rap world’s acceptance of unconventional style and feminine energy.
Atlanta-based rap duo OutKast broke out onto the scene with the release of their debut album, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, in 1994. During their time in the limelight, André 3000 made waves with his bold fashion sense. While André didn’t shy away from traditionally feminine elements in his choice of attire, those elements are often overshadowed by the overall eccentricity of his fashion sense. Not only did he have a disregard for the gender norms of fashion, but a disregard for norms entirely. Still, his outlandish fashion concepts weren’t just thrown together; they had taste, making it harder for critics to accuse him of stirring the pot strictly for the sake of controversy. André 3000 has rocked a pink jumpsuit with a white wig, pink furs, full-length dresses, skirts, and more, but also has the ability to reinvent the classical gentleman’s look with his own personal flavor. Of course, André caught a substantial amount of flak for his choice of clothing, leading the public to openly question his sexuality. However, André nipped the rumors in the bud in a statement he allegedly made in an interview with the New York Observer nearly a decade ago at a launch party for his clothing line, Benjamin Brixby:
“People feel like, just because you like to dress well… that don’t mean you’re gay! I don’t know where that came from! My thing is the 1930s. You had rough guys who played football, but they were impeccably dressed. So now, if a guy wants to wash his face, they call him a metrosexual or whatever. So my thing is, cut all that out. You know? It’s clothes!
If that statement wasn’t enough evidence for the doubters, his relationship with Erykah Badu surely should be. While some details of their relationship remain somewhat murky, the two did have a child together back in 1997 and maintain that they are on good terms. Interestingly enough, Erykah Badu actually once compared Young Thug to André 3 Stacks in response to the cover if his Jeffery mixtape. “Amazing Thugger,” she tweeted. “Reminds me of a certain ATLien I know.”
Reminds me of a certain ATLien I know. pic.twitter.com/fmy9WBVa5v
— ErykahBadoula (@fatbellybella) August 26, 2016
This tangent comes full-circle with Thug’s response, suggesting that the two make a baby via an Instagram post that has since been deleted. Thug didn’t forget to shout out his financée, Jerrika Karlae. While it seems a little aside from the point, all of these little instances work to drive home the fact that one’s fashion sense doesn’t define their sexuality or gender. André and Thugger seem to be acutely aware of this fact.
To be fair though. Young Thug has made other actions that have brought his sexuality into question, such as calling male associates like Birdman and Rich Homie Quan names like “lover”, “bae”, and “hubby”. He’s responded to those who accuse him of being gay in a tweet, but you can decide for yourself what he means:
Opps talking gay but won’t play… lil boy
— Young Thug ひ (@youngthug) May 22, 2018
If you look at Young Thug’s Instagram page, you’ll find the presence of another high-profile rapper making the similar moves in fashion as Young Thug: Lil Uzi Vert. The third photo on the recently cleaned-out Instagram page is a picture of Thugger and Uzi flexing in a way that might have some people’s heads spinning. The picture shows Lil Uzi wearing a cardigan, anklets, considerably-short shorts, and choker chains with a Chanel purse around his neck and a glass of wine at his side.
While we wouldn’t go as far to say that Lil Uzi has the same percentage of women’s clothing as Thug (if he has any at all), he definitely pushes the boundaries of what is accepted as a male aesthetic in the mainstream. Take, for example, a post he made to his Instagram back in February, in which he’s wearing a tight-fitting Off-White T-shirt with the word “WOMAN” written across the back, and the word “princess” written on the front. A more famous, or perhaps infamous, example of Uzi’s bold fashion sense came from a time he wore a striped long sleeve shirt with a neckhole that more closely resembles a shoulderless top. In addition, Lil Uzi had a Goyard handbag in tote.
— MPB (@mistaplayboy) May 14, 2017
Even though Lil Uzi’s choice of clothing can definitely be considered to be controversial at times, it’s not exactly sensational at this point in the game. Hip-hop is constantly evolving, just as society is, and the concept of gender has been in a state of flux in both arenas for some time now. With that said, the shock value of a rapper wearing, say, a skirt or dress, is not what it may used to have been. In fact, Snoop Dogg, A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, and P. Diddy have all publically worn some kind of skirt or dress at some point in their careers.
Among all the artists in the game that have made what some would call “questionable” fashion decisions, Young Thug is set apart because of how much he owns his style. It’s no longer hot topic if Young Thug pulls up in a dress or has a handbag on his shoulder at one of his performances; it’s part of his identity now. Additionally, hip-hop’s acceptance, or at minimum, indifference towards Young Thug’s dress code has a ripple effect on artists throughout the industry. If another artists rocks a handbag or has a shirt long enough to be a dress, it’s hardly worth raising an eyebrow at when someone like Young Thug flaunts the same types of pieces on a consistent basis. While many progressive thinkers are celebrating the changes taking place in the industry, others, particularly the older generation, have presented some resistance to the change.
One of the most outspoken critics of the change has been Grand Nubian’s Lord Jamar. Lord Jamar argues that the perceivably feminine trends taking place in hip-hop fashion are rooted in arrogance, ego, and lack of knowledge of the self, although his explanation of his reasoning is somewhat scattered. Lord Jamar even considers the style of skinny jeans to be a part of this trend, and uses Wiz Khalifa as a case study of what he believes to be a problem in hip-hop:
Before he came out, I was f**kin’ with him. I was f**kin’ with his style. His music was different; it was all about the tattoos, and just some regular s**t, but now it’s like, you want to be a Jimi Hendrix type, bohemian other s**t… Why? Because these things are more palatable to white people. Let’s keep it real. To the average white person, a strong black man is scary. So what do we do? Let’s feminize him, emasculate him, sissify him, to make us feel more comfortable.
While some may have shared Lord Jamar’s sentiments, he received a hefty amount of criticism for those and other similar comments he’s made in his interviews. Some believe him to be abiding by an antiquated line of thought, while others might see the validity in the points he’s trying to make. While some have labeled him a homophobe, he’s explicitly said he isn’t, although he has called homosexuality “a mental disease”.
Fellow New York rapper Immortal Technique, who is nine years younger than Lord Jamar, has a different take on the situation. Immortal Technique essentially promotes a live-and-let-live attitude towards towards the effeminate trends in hip-hop, as he says it’s not his place to judge others’ actions. Additionally, Tech goes on to emphasize the importance of carrying out what he believes to be the responsibilities of a man, rather than focusing on what an outward appearance may look like.
I don’t give a f**k if you’re wearing a kilt, or whatever. Obviously, it’s gonna be a lot harder for me to take somebody seriously if they come to a business meeting in a f**kin’ tutu, but like I said my G, I’m not here to judge nobody else’s life… I’m not claiming to be someone else’s lord and savior, so I can’t tell them how to dress or how to act. I can only inform the young brothers around me what it means to be a man, and that is to take care of your responsibilities, to take care of your family, to make sure that the necessities in life are fulfilled before your wants. We put a lot of focus into the image of what it takes to be a man, but what about the hard truth and reality of what that actually looks like when you do it?
While anyone can have an opinion on what’s taking place in the hip-hop fashion world, a sole individual’s rhetoric is unlikely to change the path of the culture. Regardless, it is important to have discussions like the one’s Vlad has hosted on his show, because they speak on issues and concepts that exist beyond the scope of hip-hop and have the ability to foster constructive dialogue in those areas. Say what you want about Young Thug, but the rapper is doing big things both in and outside of the booth.