Young Thug Is Changing the Name of the Game

Young Thug Is Changing the Name of the Game

For its November issue, V honors the leaders shaping popular culture and carrying it into the future. Next up is hip-hop's resident rebel, Young Thug, who opens up about his transformation into Jeffery.

For its November issue, V honors the leaders shaping popular culture and carrying it into the future. Next up is hip-hop's resident rebel, Young Thug, who opens up about his transformation into Jeffery.

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

Styling: Jay Massacret

Text: William Defebaugh

This story appears in V104. Click here to pre-order the issue before it arrives on stands November 10.

This year, Atlanta-born rapper Young Thug shed an identity he spent a career crafting with the release of his mixtape JEFFERY. Cryptic teasers—including a video that found the artist sitting opposite various characters trying to coerce him into admitting he was, in fact, Thug—led to the release of the record on August 26, and the announcement that he would only answer to the name Jeffery moving forward (he was born Jeffery Lamar Williams).

“It was a recent decision. I don’t plan anything,” the Atlanta-born rapper says when we sit down before this photo shoot. It’s a bold statement about an even bolder move; in today’s music climate, an artist must fight tooth-and-nail to prove who they are, to develop their brand, and any variation on that is a risk.

Williams sees his relationship with Young Thug as exactly that: a fruitful affair that bore him many successes (each mixtape in his Slime Season trilogy was met with critical acclaim), but ultimately reached its natural conclusion. “[With Young Thug] I learned that there’s nothing you can’t do, that it’s cool to change.”

SWEATER RAF SIMONS

Williams’ willingness to experiment, and his complete lack of hesitation in doing so, is perhaps his most enlightened quality. This is most evident with JEFFERY’s artwork, which shows the musician wearing a dress created by Italian menswear designer Alessandro Trincone, who recently showed at VFILES’ New York Fashion Week show (at which Williams served as a mentor). He chose the dress because it reminded him of the popular video game Mortal Kombat.

When asked what message he was hoping to send with the visual, he simply replies: “Stop believing in genders.” The idea of abandoning gender binaries is not necessarily a new one in 2016, but when put in the context of Williams as a black male in hip-hop—two groups that have, historically, had strict definitions about what it means to be “masculine”—and the fact that he is currently in a heterosexual relationship, the implications are massive.

Of course, it’s impossible not to relate gender back to the concept of identity, and names, which proves to be the most prominent theme on JEFFERY; each track is titled after a different influential figure in Williams’ world (“Wyclef Jean,” “RiRi” (for Rihanna) and “Kanye West” are all tracks on the album).

“I feel like a lot of artists today aren’t that honest, and I just want to be honest,” says the rapper. “The names of the songs were really who I was thinking about when I was making them, or who encouraged me to make them. So it was really a moment of honesty for me. To the world it may be greatness, but to me it’s just honest.”

He may be fresh off the heels of JEFFERY, but Williams is already hard at work on the next album, due at the end of this year. “It’ll probably be fucking ten times harder than JEFFERY. Like this one was kind of Jeffery, but it was still kind of street. This one is gonna be just fully Jeffery.”

Credits: MAKEUP JEANINE LOBELL (TIM HOWARD MANAGEMENT)  HAIR CHRISTIAAN  MANICURE DEBORAH LIPPMANN (THE MAGNET AGENCY)  EXECUTIVE PRODUCER STEPHANIE BARGAS (VLM PRODUCTIONS)  PRODUCTION COORDINATOR EVA HARTE (VLM PRODUCTIONS)  STUDIO PRODUCER TUCKER BIRBILIS (VLM PRODUCTIONS)  STUDIO MANAGER MARC KROOP (VLM STUDIO)  DIGITAL TECHNICIAN BRIAN ANDERSON (VLM STUDIO)  LIGHTING DIRECTOR JODOKUS DRIESSEN (VLM STUDIO)  PHOTO ASSISTANT JOE HUME  STYLIST ASSISTANTS OLIVIA KOZLOWSKI, SEAN NGUYEN, SOPHIA TORRES-ULRICH, TALLIA BELLA PEPE  MAKEUP ASSISTANT JESSICA ROSS  HAIR ASSISTANT TAKU SUGAWARA  MANICURE ASSISTANTS STEPHANIE ARIA AND RIWAKO KOBAYASHI  RETOUCHING STEREOHORSE  LOCATION PIER 59 STUDIOS  CATERING DISHFUL

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