Slim Thug Is Officially an Elder Statesman

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In 2009, Slim Thug clearly outlined his policies on fame, major labels and how aligning himself one way felt like he was putting himself in a different position than before. Had things gone his way, “I’m Back” from Boss of All Bosses would have had plenty of different lines. There would be no diss towards Interscope; he would probably still be cajoled into taking pictures with people but still be adverse to being “famous." He would still run his life the same way he did on those old Swishahouse tapes, by cutting out the middleman and making all the profit. In short, 2009 Slim Thug — right after the housing crisis shredded him a bit financially — was actually being prophetic about 2016 Slim Thug.

Boss of All Bosses, if you ask any Slim Thug fan, is his best work. If you ask any Slim Thug fan who merely knows of him via 2004’s “Still Tippin'," they’ll align with Already Platinum. The difference between both albums only comes in terms of where Slim Thug was happy. Already Platinum dared him to test his creative power with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, aka the Neptunes. It took him to Japan, gave him a Jay Z verse merely off negotiations and let his thundering baritone ring off across the world. To him, it was happy. Boss of All Bosses, the album he wanted to be his debut album before Already Platinum, was a far more rugged and to-the-point Slim effort. It was indie yet contained some of his biggest show hits in “I Run,” “I’m Back” and “Thug." The universe sometimes doesn’t work the way you originally intend for it to. Slim Thug, some 17 years after he first crushed local radio with a slew of guest appearances on records from Mista Madd, Lil O, and ESG, is still here and more motivational speaker than outsourced rapper for hire.

The fire for Slim that packs the fourth Hogg Life album rests in all that baritone. It’s far more direct than ever, and essentially hits every beat with the same force of Earl Campbell in his prime. “Making sure as I get older I get colder/ And if you tryna’ hate that then I don’t know ya,” is a heavy line from “King,” where Slim continues running down healthy lifestyle choices over vices. All of the variables he loathed and bemoaned on “I’m Back” still remain. Only this time, he’s far more comfortable dishing out these proverbs in a controlled pace.

Hogg Life Vol. 4 gets attributed as American King because it’s Slim at his most honest. He vexes about friends that are dead or in jail doing numbers, determines that the best policy for he and his boys is living righteously, and lives up to most of it. He packs the album as one would have done in the ‘90s, placing his own views and thoughts next to the men whose voices he’s admired. Pimp C is the first voice you hear on American King with the title track; Louis Farrakhan shows up; as does Joel Osteen on “Chuuch,” the best single Slim has released that didn’t involve Z-Ro in some way. It’s odd to find “Chuuch” placed at the very end of the album, yet it feels more like a summation of all things inside Slim’s head at the moment. He’s morphed his body to cut almost Gucci Mane levels of svelteness. He’s layered a whole album with records like “Peaceful” and “Real” with passages about life, loyalty and assertions that belief in self will ultimately yield blessings. If you wanted to be completely picky, American King is the closest Slim Thug approaches the idea of gospel without directly labeling it.

A body of work is always weighed by its good and its bad. Luckily, there’s little to nothing about American King that could be considered bad. It’s consistent, a rolling sweep of heady drum work from the likes of Donnie Houston, G Luck & B Don, and more. The Hogg Life series has rolled with multiple concepts, and its finale feels more like its protagonist surveying the world he’s created. Boosie Badazz, a soldier of fortune who has quietly maintained an aura about him despite underappreciated post-prison sales, appears on two tracks. Nikki Lactson’s rich vocals fill in around the organs and slow-moving bombast that is “Chuuch."

Ultimately, American King finds the midpoint of its universe with Slim Thug, wiser, older and contrite giving thanks to God (“He Will”) and penning a letter to his young sons a la Ta-Nehishi Coates. “IDKY” lets him play devil’s advocate around police shooting unarmed black men and the current political climate; the tone of the album  is nowhere near quiet. Hustler of the Year was about celebration, Still Standing a move to reach back into the past for more Boss of All Bosses type of flair. Last February’s The Beginning gave Slim a direction. In the end, he’s right where he wants to be: Blowing on a big cigar and an independent rap success, devoid of label trappings and the irksome sycophants of fame.

DJ CHOSE, Pray They Ready
The story of patience is one that’s hung around DJ Chose for quite some time. He’s pushed minor singles that exploded like a supernova (“Pop That”) and had huge singles that eventually felt moderate (“Want Some” with Akon). “You” and the majority of his recently released Pray They Ready EP aren’t even close to gambles on his part. Each song, from “Home Safe” to “Raw,” teeter towards easy-to-accept radio records. “You” is obviously the strongest of the bunch, with a rubbery bass line that descends into plinking notes around a wave of Autotune. Chose’s work has always been built around creating a scene. He’s not as especially clever and humorous as BeatKing or is he a verbose stop-and-start rapper like, say, Doughbeezy or even Dante Higgins. But Chose’s mastery of where to be at the right time has made him a radio staple. Sometimes, the best artists are those who maximize their gifts and caring nothing about their deficiencies. It’s how people have come to love Kodak Black and even Lil Yachty.

There is a timeline of Doughbeezy and Q.Guyton’s Cold Summer that is kind of similar to the plot of a startup. There’s an initial idea, resources are dedicated towards it, people start believing and so on. To pace themselves before going belly-up, Guyton and Dough released a movie in which they portray two quasi-hitmen out to settle old beef. In between that and their headlining concert at Warehouse Live was the EP. Dallas-based producer Ben Wade handles the production of Cold Summer, tacking menacing, Michael Myers style synths onto records like “Block Jumpin” and murky, trap-ready drums on “Just to Wave” and “Duckhead." Guyton’s visual twists for records has always been his strongest suit. Here, he’s stepped his double-time and wordplay up a notch. No one’s certain if Dough is completely ready to give making music up but here he’s a technical blur, stacking couplets and high-level raps on top of one another while Guyton stretches stanzas with a country drawl. Duo tapes with Dough were supposed to happen a couple years back with Killa Kyleon. Cold Summer proves that all the Southeast Beast needs is chemistry and a game plan.

Let’s speak something into existence. BeatKing needs a TV show. Doesn’t matter if it’s a game show or even a talk show for him to unleash his inner polymath. The strip-club-ready synths and drums of “WDH” powers BeatKing & DJ Chose to ask a simple question: “can you do it in the bedroom just like you do on the pole?”

DOEMAN, “American Me”
The Southeast has Doeman. Doeman has the Southeast. Through quivering flutes and trunk-made drums, the O.B.E rapper puts it all together on “American Me” and thanks to Jorgey Films, there’s an equally punishing video attached.

Houston’s infatuation with the ‘90s runs similar to that of certain wrestling fans and The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and others of that era. Yellowstones Undergravity has managed to create a bubble so buried in ‘90s aesthetic that they’re absolutely perfect. Crystalized to a certain era, “I Don’t Need Ya” brings it all back: FUBU jerseys, candy paint, the Playstation 1. All just for a track about dismissing a woman not down for you. Cold game.

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