Rap's love affair with collaborative projects is as long as it is fascinating. Some of the best music and debates have come on the heels of two artists combining forces just because, and while there's a slew of rumored and dream collabs that will probably never come into fruition, every now and then, a pair does deliver. Often, these releases become The Octagon for little friendly sparring, but for southern rhymers especially, it's more an entertaining collision of styles than an all out battleground. In the south, these are projects that can effectively capture the sound of a moment through the lens of two artists who do it best; they are short-lived but always right on time.
Take Yung L.A.'s and Young Dro's Blackboy Swag, Whiteboy Tags mixtape from 2009. The former was riding high on his debut single "Ain't I" while the latter, who also featured on the song, was still seeing residual success from his own "Shoulder Lean." It was, no doubt, a fun listen, and aside from solo releases, there may be no better representation of what swag rap sounded like for that brief flash. Out of Tennessee, Don Trip and Starlito's Step Brothers series remains a staggering example of what happens when disparate styles translate to brilliant synergy. Among Atlanta's trap progeny, however, the threads run a little deeper. 2011's Free Bricks featuring Gucci Mane and a post-"Racks," post-"Tony Montana" Future was, in a sense, a passing of the torch and a cosign of trap music's new sound from the trap god himself. 2014's Young Thugga Mane La Flare was meant to have a similar effect, but Thug's collaborative peaks came with Black Portland and again that same year with Tha Tour Pt. 1 alongside Rich Homie Quan. (How, by the way, did a Young Thug and Peewee Longway mixtape never happen?) All were opportunities for parallel orbits to burst into galaxies—at least for the span of a mixtape.
At present, Future and Young Thug are two of Atlanta's biggest and most distinct voices. Future bounces between powerfully candid street raps and woozy, leaned-up singing. Thug bends letters and syllables to his will; his vocal tics and cadences are manic and without match. Just this year, both have a pair of releases to their names—Future's eponymous FUTURE and HNDRXX and Thug's Beautiful Thugger Girls and Young Martha, a collaborative EP with Carnage. All four represent different versions of the artists who made them, the way they both dissect and rebuild rap in their own singular images. For their third project, Super Slimey, they officially teamed up to wax and wane about fallen friends, lady problems, drugs and money. While it may not reach indisputable classic status, it drops a pin at a transitional time in rap.
Super Slimey features both rappers teasing the things they do best. They never commit to a pocket, and they're rarely in sync and 'on' at the same time. Thug is laid back when Future is urgent; Future drifts while Thug is frenetic. They make it work, but every now and then, they strike gold. On "Real Love," Thug raps over Future whose echoed singing sounds like it's built into the beat. The song is dense and the synths are sparkly, but hearing their voices at the same time is majestic. It happens again on "Patek Water" as Thug provides the ad-libs for Future's rhymes, but Offset, the album's only feature, rises above them both. Elsewhere, Future wrestles with his past on solo record "4 Da Gang," his signature hoarseness floating over some sort of jazzy woodwind. For Thug's solo moment, he uses "Killed Before" to dabble in Wyclef-styled island influences. His voice crackles and vibrates as he draws out his "ohhhh" and "eeeee" notes over London On Da Track's sunny guitar melody. It's unexpected as ever and indicative of Thug's infinitely evolving style.
Unexpectedly, the production may be Super Slimey's biggest flaw. "No Cap," courtesy of Southside, rumbles in like a 56 Nights leftover, opening the project in familiar but potent territory. It works well, and Thug sounds right at home with his punctuated flow, but it's obviously Future's song. As things progress, it doesn't stray too far from there. The bass drops seem to come as expected, the pacing remains generally steady, forcing Future and Thug to propel things forward. In some ways, this level of cohesion is remarkable considering the spread of producers but so much so that it begins to lack dynamism—as if flows and hooks could be interchanged between songs. A pairing like this requires left-of-center beats—something that would inspire them to become as unhinged as, say, "Chanel Vintage"—and the absence of anything particularly awe-inspiring or, at least, something more in Thug's willhouse makes things drag, though if Thug secures his first chart-topper, it won't be for naught.
As the sound of trap moves further from its origins and descendants of these two (people like Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and Trippie Redd) embrace an emo-rockstar approach, Super Slimey doesn't feel as progressive as it would've just a few years ago. The off-kilterness that initially thrust Future and Thug into superstardom was dialed back in the spotlight while, for a rising set of artists, it became the new norm. In a perfect world, this affair would've been a low-stakes opportunity to go all out with the qualities that earned them trailblazer status, but it winds up falling towards the middle of both of their catalogs. Perhaps, at this point, there's nothing left to prove; their thrones and the bag are secure.
Future and Thug, collectively, represent trap music's sonic and linguistic expansion. They are among the south's lineage of rappers whose styles and eccentricities form the contemporary blueprint; their company is the likes of Gucci Mane, Boosie, Andre 3000, 2 Chainz, and Lil Wayne (who released their own Collegrove project last year). Super Slimey has inevitably drawn comparisons to Watch The Throne and What A Time To Be Alive due to its high profile contributors, and indeed, it is just as much an event. But its other legacy will be one that adds to a region's ongoing conversation with itself—the preservation of a sound, cemented in time before something new takes its place. This is what the best collaborations do, the reason for their existence. And like rap's very own NBA All-Star game, any attempts at an objective measure of quality or a definitive winner by the end will never be the point.
Briana Younger is on Twitter.