Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Young Thug ft. Elton John – High

Ground control to Jeffery…


Hannah Jocelyn: It’s 2018, nothing matters, so why not have an Elton John sample on a Young Thug song? Unlike pretty much everything else in any genre, there’s real room to breathe in this production. Elton John’s lightly saturated “hiiiiigghhh” can slide through to the front and actually make an impact, a trick Alex Tumay and co. use over and over again, but it still manages to work. There isn’t much more to the song — Young Thug’s lyrics aren’t particularly interesting — but once again, nothing matters, and if pop music is going to prioritize vibe over any sort of coherent structure from here on out, it might as well be like this. 

Alfred Soto: With a credit as incongruous as “A$AP Rocky ft. Stevie Nicks,” I slipped out of my boat shoes and let this thing play. Not a duet, which, I suppose, is good news considering the condition of Sir Elton’s larynx, but, rather, an interpolation of “Rocket Man” powering a solid Thug track, his best since “Offset,” his contribution to Swae Lee’s album. With Elton’s history of black American fandom, it makes sense that Thug would repay the favor.

Rebecca A. Gowns: Elton John sees himself in Young Thug, and now I see it too: the flamboyance, the confidence, the underlying current of sentimentality. Both guys like having fun, doing things with a wink, but never veering too far into irony or cynicism. Some might see this collaboration as unexpected, but from the moment I hit play, it clicked like a jigsaw puzzle — of course! Of course this is how you use “Rocket Man”! I’m in heaven.

Josh Love: “Rocket Man” finds Elton John’s weightless narrator ruminating over all the fellow humans he’s left behind on Earth. “High” records his close encounter with the alien, Young Thug. “Rocket Man” may be a powerful and poignant AOR classic, but “High” is the one that actually sounds like floating. Time stands still and gravity ceases to exist while Thugger attempts communication in his strange and fascinating language.

John Seroff: A rare case of the Wikipedia paradox applied to pop music: makes no sense in concept but works in practice. Probably the #2 Elton hip-hop crossover after “Solid Wall of Sound” — and it’s surprisingly close!

Vikram Joseph: A cloud-rap interpolation of “Rocket Man” which actually works pretty well — to a point — with a lush soundscape of hazy piano and warm, pillowy beats. Young Thug’s versatility makes him sound right in his comfort zone here, as long as you don’t listen too closely; the lyrics are pure window dressing, a void of actual content that dulls the song’s emotional impact.

Thomas Inskeep: This song has the dullest fucking production. If you’re gonna spend the money to license a sample from “Rocket Man,” at least do something with it. Young Thug, meanwhile, continues to be one of the least interesting big-name rappers, partially due to the fact that on almost every record he makes, he sounds like his tongue is swollen.

Taylor Alatorre: Even putting aside the fact that this song’s existence has been hinted at for the better part of two years, so much of this is so very predictable. Of course Young Thug, the guy whose first radio hit was “Stoner,” would sample that particular line from that particular Elton John song, and nothing else. Of course he would harmonize with it in his own trademark way, and of course he would twist its title into a vaguely related non sequitur (“on a private order, I’m a rocket launcher”). Even the beat, which adds some rhythmic flavor but is otherwise content to let the piano balladry do its job, sounds pretty much as you’d imagine. That doesn’t mean it all doesn’t work on a fundamental level, though.

Julian Axelrod: When I was first getting into rap, the most exciting (and obvious) entry points were the acts repurposing my favorite indie rock hits into something vaguely resembling rap: Chiddy Bang, Childish Gambino, etc. In retrospect, this sound hasn’t aged super well. The “Hey, I know that song!” production strategy lets the sample do most of the emotional heavy lifting, and most artists couldn’t figure out interesting ways to engage with the source material. But Young Thug always knows how to divine the deeper truth from a beat, even one based around something as ubiquitous as “Rocket Man.” Elton’s iconic refrain weaves in and out of the mix as Thug winds, warps, and wraps his wail around the decades-old siren call. The cheeky feature credit starts to develop a pathos of its own as the song slowly evolves into a cosmic duet: two trailblazers singing a ballad of isolation from opposite ends of the universe, finding solace in the arms of another icon.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The trick about Young Thug is that he has always been more of a joke than his serious fans claim he is and far more serious than the internet memelords who love him ironically treat him as. At the peak of his powers (the incredible 2015-2016 run between Barter 6 and Jeffery), Thugger had the ability to conjure bizarre and beautiful pieces of rap music into existence by very virtue of his non-seriousness (consider the 11-second ad lib) — magical realist twists on the standard tropes of trap music. “High” is a pure expression of that ability, revived after a two-year stint in which it felt like Young Thug was trying out a lot of new things without any of them necessarily being good. Sure, its concept does a lot of the heavy lifting here — “Young Thug ft. Elton John” just makes sense as a concept, given that John’s takes on classic rock formalism analogize well with Thugger’s on trap. But, in practice, “High” is even better than I expected, in the way “Rocket Man” informs both the world-weary star thematics and the spacey, contemplative aesthetics of the track. The result is endlessly compelling, from the sound of Thugger harmonizing with Elton John on the intro to his second verse, full of the kind of off-the-wall similes that make him so distinctive as a performer.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Stelios Phili’s stitched-together “Rocket Man”-sampling beat is comfortingly nostalgic and insular, but warm piano chords and a hefty dose of reverb can only do so much to distract from Young Thug’s serviceable performance. Thugger’s constant growth from the I Came From Nothing mixtapes to Barter 6 was among the most satisfying career arcs of the decade, but he’s been on an increasingly noticeable decline for the past couple years. Which makes “High” such a marvel. Not because he’s back to delivering the most creative non-sequiturs in rap, or contorting his voice in spectacular new ways, but because the career stasis he’s facing pairs well with the drudgery of astronaut life found in Ray Bradbury’s “The Rocket Man.” This is a song that humanizes Thugger, that helps you empathize with his ingenuity being reduced to banality after all novelty has worn thin. When Thugger sings along with Elton John, he’s not just riffing on the stoner analogy, he’s embodying the same deflated character who was about to be incinerated by the sun. While Thugger’s career may not be over, a new wave of ATL rappers have rendered him a relic of the past. What is “High,” then, but a private moment of peace and reflection before his eventual demise?

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3 Responses to “Young Thug ft. Elton John – High”

  1. not to be overly score-obsessed but [6.9]-whatever is definitely the saddest score

  2. still a nice score

  3. Jacob: it’s the equivalent of #41 or #11 on the pop chart.