Rapping about the typical shit (i.e. money, haters, women, drugs) in his idiosyncratic sing-song voice—while wearing skin-tight women's pants and painted nails—23-year-old Young Thug is defying gender stereotypes and agitating the way hip-hop defines black masculinity, through his eccentric sense of style.
In September, Young Thug was featured in Dazed magazine wearing a floral lace Gucci top and a Molly Goddard sheer tulle dress. At the end of his music video for "Check," he wears a snug Hooters tank top. In the video for "Best Friend," he wears a light pink pleather hooded jacket with matching trousers. And to clarify, recently the Atlanta native told GQ Magazine:
Why do you wear women’s clothing?
Because women’s clothes are [slimmer] than men’s clothes. The jeans I got on right now, they’re women’s jeans. But they fit how they’re supposed to fit. Like a rock star. The only thing I probably have in men’s is, like, briefs. T-shirts. Ninety percent of my clothes are women’s.
When did you start wearing predominantly women’s clothing?
When I was 12 or some shit, started gambling, getting my own money. My dad wouldn’t buy me tight pants. I had to get my own money to buy them.
Like David Bowie, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz before him, Young Thug is indeed a rockstar. But, due to hip-hop's rampant homophobia (the idea of being gay is still used as a way to emasculate, like most recently with ongoing beef between Young Thug and The Game from both parties) and society's patriarchal stronghold on defining gender roles; there's an ongoing debate about his sexuality.
His former fiancée Jerrika Karlae, his stylist JoJo Zarur, and Young Thug himself have all addressed and rejected the rumors of the rapper being gay. And whether the rumors are actually true or not, the more important questions are: Why do we instantly question his sexual orientation based on the way he chooses to express himself? What does a man wearing a dress, skirt or tight clothes have to do with being gay?
A photo posted by ""JEFFERY"" (@thuggerthugger1) on Sep 18, 2015 at 11:12am PDT
Some hip-hop conservatives, like rapper Lord Jamar and Combat Jack podcast host Reggie Ossé, are not here for progressive ideas when it comes to hip-hop, self-expression and the idea of black masculinity. From a profile published last year of the 47-year-old rapper Lord Jamar in the New Yorker:
“You can’t just arrogantly wear whatever the fuck you want to wear on some ‘self-expression’ bullshit,” Jamar said in a clip posted on VladTV, a popular hip-hop-themed YouTube channel. “Because in order to preserve a culture there are certain guidelines and boundaries that have to be there.”
Ossé spoke to The Fader in May:
"I'm all for self-expression. I lived through the '80s, the whole androgynous thing, but this is where the lines are blurred," he said, referencing Thug's style and penchant for referring to his male friends using terms of endearment like "bae" and "hubbie."
But there are also some rappers who are all about the "self-expression bullshit." We can thank Dipset's Cam'ron for making it cool for rappers to wear pink (you can't think of Cam'ron without the 2001 image of him in a pink fur with a pink flip phone), though, on the other hand, he also popularized the term "no homo," which he used to clarify his heterosexuality.
From 2010 to 2013, Rappers wearing kilts (which are actually Scottish skirts for men) became a short-lived trend. Kanye wore a Givenchy kilt during his Watch the Throne tour (he also wore a women's Céline shirt during his 2011 Coachella performance). Kid Cudi wore a kilt with Jordans to a New Year's Eve party in Miami (later he help start the men in crop tops movement). In his video for "Long. Live. A$AP," A$AP Rocky wears a Rick Owens kilt; he also wore a oversized Ann Demeulemeester shirt, and rumors spread that he was wearing a dress.
Of course, as much they were praised for their DGAF fashion-forward outfit decisions, they were criticized by people and media publications who couldn't see past our conditioned ideology on what men can and can't wear.
Dipset member and rapper Jim Jones told XXL that A$AP Rocky wasn't "street" because he wore kilts and tight sweatpants. In 2013, Lord Jamar released a Kanye West diss track telling him his leather skirt has no place in hip-hop. Complex writer Soo-Young Kim applauded Kid Cudi for his shoe choice, but said "skirts are for people with lady parts."
But Young Thug's flamboyant style seems to stem from his hometown roots. Atlanta is arguably the mecca for black weirdos in hip-hop, both in sound and style; the city introduced the world to rappers like Outkast's Andre 3000 and Goodie Mob's CeeLo (before he was part of Gnarls Barkley), and most recently, Trinidad James, Future, Childish Gambino, Rome Fortune, OG Maco, Rich Homie Quan, Migos and Raury.
Both Andre 3000 and CeeLo have the same boundary-pushing eclectic rockstar style as Young Thug. Andre 3000 is known to wear various wigs to accompany his futuristic-dandy style that includes ponchos, pink jumpsuits and bell bottoms. CeeLo's peacock wardrobe (though technically it escalated after he stopped rapping) includes furs, leathers, wigs, dresses, and lots of sequins.
Jaden Smith also disregards fashion gender norms, and we need more DGAF heros like Young Thug, forcing society to rethink the idea of what's normal, what's hip-hop and how to negate the myth that fashion choices determine sexual preferences. In his interview with GQ, Young Thug also clarified that he's "90% rockstar." His definition of "thug" in his interview with the French media site Clique was very similar to a rockstar:
A cold-hearted motherfucker when it comes to people. I don't give a fuck about them, I love my fans, I love who I'm supposed to love. Critics? These are my decisions, my thoughts, no one else's. No feelings..that's my definition of a "thug."
Keep doing you, Thugger.
Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna's friend's Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.