Battle Of The Eras is a new series where we compare and contrast two rappers from different eras. For the first edition we look at a comparison that might seem odd but works the more you think about it: Ghostface Killah and Young Thug.
Rap is one of the most notably diverse genres. Different styles and influences are cooked together like a melting pot. And the genre’s dynamic regionalism is a highly debated point of contention amongst fans. During New York City’s glory days, MCs such as Ghostface Killah, Mobb Deep, and Raekwon were defined by their lyrical prowess — the grit and grime that surrounded every bar spit and the dynamic deliveries that sliced through even the hardest of RZA or Havoc beats. By contrast, in Atlanta, the music was filled with bounce, dirty-south rhythm, and the flows were rubber band elastic. Artists like Outkast and the Goodie Mob used elements of funk and soul to highlight the hardships of being a Black man living in the South.
Why? “Scooby snack plastic Jurassic ass booby trap” – Ghostface https://t.co/xLZUN08OC7
— Vince Staples (@vincestaples) July 8, 2020
Last month, on Hip-Hop Twitter, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples, made a bold claim, stating, “Atlanta got the best rappers ever and it’s not even close.” While arguing whether it was New York or Atlanta that originated rap music, Vince was asked to name his top ten rappers. Amongst the names he dropped were Lauryn Hill, Scarface, E-40, Kanye West, and — the name that created the most consternation amongst fans – Young Thug. One of his followers argued that Young Thug isn’t lyrical, and lacks content, with Vince responding wondering why the same argument isn’t made for Ghostface Killah. Another Follower stated it was ridiculous to compare Ghostface Killah to Young Thug due to the belief the latter lacks “lyrical content.” Vince’s reply to his followers was a simple, yet effective one: Why?
And clearly, even though these two artists come from different generations and regions, and on the surface couldn’t be more polar opposite, underneath it all both MCs share a lot of the DNA.
Ghostface is known for his brash delivery, his extravagant use of vocabulary, complex rhyme structures, and his choice of production that ranges from chopped up soul samples to beats layered with grime to soul-jazz fusions that added texture to his extensive discography. Ghostface’s raps on 2000’s Supreme Clientele are a master class at rhyming, bending the English language and defying the laws of word usage. Ghostface offers imaginative meanings of words and phrases.
On “One” he vigorously spits:
“Past tense placed in gold caskets
Dru Hill bitches, specialist lounging at the mosque
Suede kufi wrap, undercover dentist
Rhymes is made of garlic, never in the target when the NARCs hit
Rumor is you might start to spit
You nice Lord, sweet daddy Grace, wind lifted
On the dance floor, makeover’s free followed by gauze”
He paints pictures that resemble blotches on the canvas, but when you take a step back there’s a complete painted vivid depiction of Ghost’s dealings. Ghostface’s flow is loose, constantly rapping with braggadocio, as if his chest is pumped up against the mic in the booth. With tellings of gang violence, drugs, and personal dilemmas – Ghostface’s lyrical content wraps and twists around his spastic flows, like a contortionist. On Ironman’s “Poisonous Darts,” he rhymes:
“With coke and a dollar bill stems and crack capsules
Take a blast fool but we trap up crews its natural
Like soybean, burn like a laser beam
My vaccine I shoot it firm and it connects like sideburns.”
That’s what makes Ghostface so layered, complex, and explosive all in the same time. He’s able to chop through any beat selection like a butcher; he’s rough and brash, but he’s perfect in his craft. On Supreme Clientele’s “Ghost Dini”, his high-strung voice cracks as he maneuvers through verses so seamlessly, you see the magic that supports his nickname: “like Ghostface this, Ghostface that/Ghost sold crack, now his revelations spoken thru rap/Valored down like the sheik of Iran.”
On the other hand, we have Atlanta’s Young Thug — the rapper with more flows than Chris Jericho has wrestling holds. Young Thug is infamous for his striking fashion statements, his off-kilter vocal pitches, and his enigmatic personality. Thugger is like a cartoon character; fully animated, unpredictable, and at times so surreal it makes you double take. His ear for production is as elastic as his flows; with influences ranging from reggae to EDM to R&B to Cloud Rap. Thugger is probably rap’s most versatile artist today. On 2016’s Slime Season 2, Thug raps circles around Southside’s production on “Big Racks:”
“I got bitches that been known the bando
I’ll show niggas that’s with it no blindfold
We the monsters, we slime, we not kind folk
We so cool with the dope, we want molto
I know reds I know blues but no popo
I want ice in my teeth but no Coco”
He’s threatening, ferocious and the wordplay is on another level (the ice/teeth play on Ice-T/Coco). With a beat that’s haunting, reminiscent to a horrorcore track, Thug’s lyrics are a manifestation of the grizzly, grim, dark, and violent dealings of Thug’s drug-induced maneuvers in the streets of Atlanta.
Both Young Thug and Ghostface Killah have a plethora of similarities that span from their wordplay & lyricism, their approaches to experimentation, to their vocal manipulation that molds over a landscape of beats. On “I Can’t Go To Sleep” off of the Wu-Tang Clan’s The W album, Ghostface‘s verse is a highlight due to his deep, and personal lyrics with his voice cracking in hysterics similar to Young Thug and his combination of exaggerated pitch fluctuations slithery flows. For example, Ghostface spits:
“What the fuck is going on, I can’t go to sleep
Feds jumping out their jeeps, I can’t go to sleep
Babies with flies on they cheeks, it’s hard to go to sleep
Ish bowled two 6’s twice, I couldn’t go to sleep.”
As Ghostface has exhibited, Young Thug is no stranger to fluctuating pitches, and kamikaze-like explosiveness when it comes to delivery and lyricism.
On Rich Gang’s “Givenchy,” Young Thug opens the track with one of his most dynamic verses, rapping as if there was no tomorrow:
“Split that money up in eight ways like I’m an octopus
On the campus with lots of pounds kicked outta college
All I bleed is red but nigga, I’m not stoppin’ (red light)
Pull up to the set and I come and pay all my homage
Hoppin out on Bleveland I pour up straight out the pharmacy.”
As mentioned, both artists are no strangers to deep-dive experimentation in their catalogs. In 2009, Ghostface dropped an R&B inspired album with Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City. Ghostface is able to adapt, and shape his raps to any beat that’s provided to him. Like Ghostface, Young Thug has taken many different approaches to his music. On 2017’s Beautiful Thugger Girls, Young Thug plays with the sounds of country and R&B on an album he’s described as his “singing album,” which went on to inspire “Old Town Road” sensation, Lil Nas X, who credited Thug in an interview for Time Magazine for the popularization of Country-Trap. Thugger has also released a collaborative crossover project with Chris Brown as of this year. Fundamentally, both artists also carry many different names, gimmicks, and monikers on their belts. For example, Ghostface Killah is Tony Starks, named after the Marvel Superhero, Ironman. He’s also nicknamed himself Ghostdini, he also dropped the “Killah” out of his name during The Pretty Toney Album run, and his name itself is taken from a character 1979 Kung-Fu film, the Mystery of Chessboxing. Like Ghostdini, Young Thug changes names like he changes outfits. In 2017, Thugger has changed his name to Jeffrey, his real name during the release of the mixtape of the same name. He’s also changed his name to SEX in 2018, which at the time left many fans scratching their heads.
So the question is, why can’t these two artists be compared to one another? When, clearly, they are so similar.