Young Thug attacks gender stereotypes with album cover

Ethan Elkins

As a stark contrast to his violent Slime Season 3 album cover depicting an eye stab wound, Young Thug’s cover art on his new album, No, My Name is Jeffery, has sparked a new controversy due to his featured attire: a dress. The rapper is seen standing proudly in an Alessandro Trincone evening gown topped with a hat resembling a white toothpick umbrella. Young Thug’s bold cover, which dropped alongside nine new tracks on Aug. 26, is a stab at gendering clothing, and it is a notable and productive contribution to a social justice movement that is only recently becoming mainstream.

Proponents of de-gendering clothing are starting to appear less radical as their movement is accumulating visibility from celebrities like Young Thug, a dominant voice gaining influence in a hip-hop community that often prides itself in being hyper-masculine. At an album viewing party at YouTube’s headquarters, Young Thug asked his audience, “This is crazy, right?”

This is not his first time ignoring gender stereotypes; the rapper has previously appeared in dresses, skirts and crop tops. While it may seem “crazy” to the mainstream media and rap consumers, Young Thug is harnessing shock value and straying from conformity to appeal to a larger audience.

“Young Thug is working within the tradition of [his predecessors],” said William Mosley, an African diaspora studies Ph.D. candidate who focuses on queer and feminist issues within African-American culture, “but he is showing this can be a successful aesthetic on a national level.”

Mosley explained there are two types of opinions concerning “what is acceptable for black, presumably straight men to wear.” Society is starting to become more understanding of queer issues by seeing more than a binary. However, there is a “hangover [of the idea] that masculinity has a set standard.” This causes the public to assume a figure like Young Thug is gay because he appears in a dress, initiating a “disregard [for] the level of artistic and stylistically creative ideas [he] is exploring.” Social progress is being made, but these types of “hangovers” are slowing the process.

Jeffery is his most significant piece of work up to date in terms of listeners,” Mosley said, noting the impact the album art will have on the movement due to its thousands of views.  He explained there has been a tradition of gender bending within Atlanta-based rap culture, particularly “when it comes to black male rappers wearing women’s clothing.” While Young Thug is clearly not the first rapper to break the unofficial hip-hop dress-code — Cee-Lo Green and Andre 3000 have appeared in womenswear — his political statement is relevant in a time when gender issues are in the national spotlight.

In a time of national scrutiny of gender policing, especially regarding alleged threats to bathroom security, it is necessary for pop-culture influencers such as Young Thug to use their reach to expose their audiences to social issues. The rapper’s songs on the album itself are similar in style to his previous one; It is his cover art that differentiates what he is accomplishing as an artist.  

Conservative legislators may continue to push a “two-gender, cis-only” stance on public policy such as North Carolina’s transphobic Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, but the demeanor of pop culture consumers will continue to change as more of their icons rise to advocate issues like gender non-conformity.

Elkins is a journalism sophomore from Tyler.