‘On the Rvn’ shines in vocal experimentation, collaboration

The cover art for Young Thug's newest album, 'On the Rvn,' is pictured. via 300 Entertainment/ATL Records

Atlanta rapper Young Thug, born Jeffery Lamar Williams, is one of the most intriguing figures in hip-hop, representing a dichotomy of classic hip-hop appeal and the avant-garde. Young Thug’s eccentric vocals and lyrics combined with his unique, often androgynous personal style have made him the subject of both acclaim and rejection in the hip-hop world. The rapper remains unfazed by his critics, however, continuing to evolve in intriguing ways throughout his discography. With his latest project “On the Rvn,” Young Thug maintains the formula of experimentation and raw charisma that made “Jeffery” (2016) and “Beautiful Thugger Girls” (2017) such compelling projects. A six-track EP, “On the Rvn” contains some of Young Thug’s most exciting material yet but ultimately lacks the same intrigue as previous releases.

The EP opens with title track “On the Rvn,” produced by longtime collaborator London On Da Track. Young Thug takes his time with the flow of each verse, gliding across the tropical-flavored beat. His performance is decidedly unmemorable, but the song remains an enjoyable start to the project. Next comes “Icey,” a more engaging song backed by some of Young Thug’s distinctly emotive singing. Most fascinating is the contrast between lighter lyrics like “Whoa, Demon Hellcat and I’m tearin’ up the streets/whoa, I got a gun and a Patek on me” and vocals that can’t help but convey passion.

This same knack for melody carries over on “Climax,” featuring fellow Atlanta musician 6LACK. A clear standout, this cut would have fit perfectly with the country-pop vibe of “Beautiful Thugger Girls.” “Climax” is written about a lost love, one who now transitions “from the front seats to the nosebleeds/that’s for actin’ like you don’t know me.” The song explores how an aspirational lifestyle cannot always sustain a relationship, and that theme is executed beautifully by both artists. Young Thug’s crooning is an excellent counter to the soft melancholy of 6LACK’s verse.

The EP hits a low point with tracks “Sin” and “Real In My Veins,” both of which feel too derivative of previous material to land on a new record. “Sin” boasts a confident chorus from Jaden Smith, but “Real In My Veins” sounds like a B-side from other projects’ recording sessions. One begins to sense that ‘On the Rvn’ is not a cohesive body of work but a scattershot selection of music.

Despite closing out the EP“High” is the undisputed centerpiece. Though Elton John is given a feature credit, “High” is more a hip-hop remix of “Rocket Man” than an actual duet. Those who are shocked by this collaboration are likely unaware of Young Thug’s influence and admiration among musical contemporaries. Elton John has an artist’s ability to recognize sheer talent, a skill that likely catalyzed their decision to work together. What results is an inspired and highly entertaining example of cross-generational chemistry. Who knew those “Rocket Man” piano chords could sound so hypnotic?

It is apparent that “On the Rvn” lacks the overarching ambition of Young Thug’s best work — this is partly on account of its length as an EP. The most dynamic elements of Young Thug’s artistry are missed on several cuts, but the best material still shines through on its own. Ultimately, “On the Rvn” packs just enough punch to keep Young Thug fans satiated until his next full-length release.


Summary

While not his magnum opus, "On the Rvn" delivers a worthy addition to Young Thug's ever-evolving discography.

3.5 stars
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