Slime Language is a work for the initiated, the converted; by that standard, this Young Thug + Young Stoner Life Records compilation is a rite-of-passage for Thug, who’s remained several steps behind the next Big Moment to catapult him where he should be. While Thug’s spent several years seated at critical darling — an innovator treading every tone and texture deemed treacherous — he’s far past broken out, yet remains a consistent underperformer by the raw numbers of chart data. Be it label issues, singles gone unpushed or bigger projects left to dry, the Young Thug household name still stands tall in testament to his ravenous output and the versatility that keeps him a mainstay across mainstream rap. There’s not much left to prove, save for an album high on the Billboard or an indisputable nationwide hit, but this 15-track set gives us the most focused and refreshing Thug performances we’ve heard in recent memory.

One would be remiss not to consider Slime Language in the canon of Thug’s idol Lil Wayne, the Young Money compilations serving as odd, bloated stopgaps between the bleaker years of his post-Carter III catalog. (And even then, the Young Money camp pulled “BedRock” and “Every Girl” out of the ether.) Thug’s first turn behind the A&R wheel doesn’t ring as a last-ditch effort or a random ploy for relevance: Here, Thug quarterbacks for the majority, leaving plenty of space for his YSL cohorts to shine (slime?) through. From the onset, it’s clear Jeffery, thankfully, hasn’t lost a step: He steamrolls through another colorful palette helmed mostly by Wheezy and Keyyz, contorting his otherworldly vocals to mercilessly beat whatever instrumental into submission.

There’s clearly nothing Thug can’t handle, but what of the YSL clique? For the most part, they’re taking the Thug-helmed opportunity to sound… like Thug, next to Thug. See Gunna: the current YSL frontrunner, appearing on a quarter of the album. He’s bubbled for the past three years, this 2018 netting him standout appearances alongside the likes of Travis Scott and Playboi Carti. While Thug’s only two years his senior, Gunna’s more subdued, melodic combo-breaker flow consistently tows the line between forging his own path and falling into his predecessor’s path. (Oddly enough, it resembles how earlier Young Thug music sounded like the new mutation of Lil Wayne.) This dynamic makes the SinGrinch and Psymun-helmed standout “Chanel (Go Get It)” feel like Gunna’s chaining day, and he takes off with the spark and precision that’s attracted the masses toward him. Yet on the following “Dirty Shoes” and the later “Chains Choking Me,” Gunna nearly blends into Thug’s surroundings, rendering himself vocal camouflage in the wild.

While one’s bound to find plenty of moments to enjoy throughout the 50-minute runtime, Slime Language suffers the all-too-common fate of most compilation albums: being one edit away from its betterment. It’s not all bad: Duke, the oft-forgotten YSL member, shows up every time he’s called on no matter how underappreciated and non-derivative he is. Tracy T — remember “War Ready?” — walks through with his trademark aggression on “Audemar,” flanked by Thug’s ecstatic adlibs egging him on. Even Jerrika Karlae’s appearance on “U Ain’t Slime Enough” is a welcome surprise with more promise than expected. Outside of that, everyone else either tries to match Thug with their own pantomiming or tries drastically to separate themselves until it borders disaster. Strick does it on “STS,” Lil Keed does it on “Goin’ Up,” HiDoraah’s a few steps behind on her appearances and Trap Boy Freddy’s dynamics don’t match “January 1st” well at all. The third-act bloat becomes apparent after “Scoliosis,” when the project falls deeper into a blur, the back end squandering any chances for discovery as the more forward-leaning sonic choices crumble under the most throwaway and leftover-sounding material. It’s easy to shuffle this project, or play it through mindlessly, but with no true sonic or thematic callbacks to anchor all the fluff, Slime Language quickly becomes a forgettable first experiment for Thug’s curatorial identity.

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