The Atlanta rapper preps collaborative project with Rich Homie Quan.
Young Thug, 22, is one of rap’s hottest new commodities. His Auto-Tune heavy song, “Stoner,” rises 59-58 in its third week on the Billboard Hot 100, and has sold 116,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. In an interview at Akon’s Music Room Studios in Atlanta in February, the rapper, born Jeffrey Williams, was thinking big. “It’s February, right?” he asked with a laugh. “I’ma definitely have $5 million by next February.”
But “Stoner” has sparked rumors about the rapper’s label situation, and even his sexuality — and he often appears to be purposefully fueling them. He signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad, an Asylum/Atlantic imprint, in early 2013, but has recently suggested he’s unsigned in interviews.
In a January appearance on SiriusXM, Young Thug said he was inking with rapper Future’s Freebandz label, an Epic imprint. But sources say a deal was never finalized, and that Gucci Mane sent cease-and-desist letters to websites reporting the story. Then, Young Thug told a reporter he had signed to Cash Money — but the label’s publicist tells Billboard that is untrue. And when “Stoner” first charted on the Rap Digital Songs tally in February, its label wasn’t listed. Akon’s brother, Abou Thiam, manager to Chris Brown and Def Jam’s vp A&R, has reportedly been shopping Young Thug to labels.
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However, Billboard has learned that Young Thug is still signed to 1017 Brick Squad/Atlantic. (Atlantic, which is working the single to radio, asked Billboard to credit the song to Asylum/Atlantic on the charts.) When asked to clarify the rapper’s status, an Atlantic representative says, “We are extremely excited about Young Thug but we do not comment on artist contracts.”
So why is a signed rapper acting like a free agent? Possibly because of 1017 Brick Squad’s shaky situation. Gucci Mane is incarcerated, facing a 20-year sentence for weapons possession, and has publicly feuded with the label’s premier artist, Waka Flocka Flame. Days before his Sept. 12 arrest, he went on a Twitter rant in which he insulted Atlantic and threatened to sell off 1017’s artist contracts — including Young Thug’s — for $250,000. Shortly afterward, The Fader reported that 1017 had been dropped from Atlantic, but an Atlantic rep tells Billboard that is untrue. Gucci Mane couldn’t be reached for comment.
Young Thug, meanwhile, continues to talk like an unsigned artist. “I want to sign with whoever got the most money,” he said. “I don’t give a damn — could have been you, if you was offering money. I talked to [Cash Money CEO] Birdman yesterday, and he’s talking more than anyone, so that’s probably where I’ll end up. I’d rather go there anyway — it’s a dynasty.” One source confirms that Gucci Mane and Birdman had discussed Young Thug’s contract.
But Young Thug’s future is further complicated by new troubles: On Feb. 25, he was arrested in Atlanta for drug possession and reckless driving. During his Billboard interview before the arrest, he admitted to using drugs. A handgun sat on a table a few feet away, though it’s unclear whose it was, as several associates were in the room.
In addition, there has been much talk about Young Thug’s sexuality. In a genre dominated by tough-guy imagery, his eclectic fashion choices — long tunics in leopard print — and affectionate references to male friends online stand out. The rapper has said that he’s not gay, but he seems to be capitalizing on the attention. Last month, the Internet buzzed about his curious caption of an Instagram photo of he and Birdman: “Me and Stunna man … lookin like a million!!!! #KissinEachOtherLove!”
Young Thug also said he’s working on a project with fellow Atlanta standout Rich Homie Quan. He claimed that he makes a few thousand dollars a show, pulling stacks of cash from his skin-tight jeans. “I made 80 bands in f—ing two weeks,” he said. “Before I was poor, struggling, but I feel good now.”