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Trouble - Thug Luv Music Album Reviews

On the followup to his explosive major-label debut Edgewood, the Atlanta rapper tries to show us his heart but trips over his own painfully limited writing.

Tupac Shakur said that even thugs cry, and Atlanta rapper Trouble takes that to heart on Thug Luv. Usually a hardened street presence, on his new album, he wants to display a softer side of himself. In his follow-up to his 2018 major-label debut, Edgewood, he tests his limits—writing more about his search for intimacy, upping his use of Auto-Tune, and switching up his flows. But the album is tonally confusing, aesthetically grating, and lacking the deft touch of Edgewood architect Mike WiLL Made-It.
Unlike his idol, Boosie, Trouble struggles to reveal the layers beneath his hard exterior. On opener “Dreamin Bout My Dawgs,” he reminisces powerfully about friends he lost to long prison bids—“Young, it was just somethin’ ‘bout your spirit/Your smile just gave a nigga extra hope, I need you near me/Be free,” he raps. But that emotional force dissipates as the album goes on. There are songs about self-medicating with drugs and pursuing a soulmate, but he never has anything more to express than the basic idea that thugs are people too. In a mini-doc called “Origins,” he claims that “Special” is about his son, but except for a cursory “Had a son, I had to cut back on the drink” line, Trouble has nothing to say about fatherhood or what makes his son special to him. He does, however, manage to rap about buying a Tesla and offer to “take that big booty to a movie.” Like most of the album, the song simply exposes his limitations as a writer, and it’s hard to see Thug Luv as anything other than a massive stylistic regression.
Edgewood was executive produced by a locked-in Mike WiLL Made-It. Returning to hardcore rap after a few years in pop, Mike offered some of his most inspired beats in years, turning Zone 6 into A Nightmare on Elm Street and the bando into a haunted house. By comparison, Thug Luv isn’t just poorly produced, it sounds cheaper, lighter on resources. The bootleg Timbaland bounce of “Which 1 Of Em” and the lazily recycled “Choppa Style” beat on “She A Winner” are both shoddy. Verses from 2 Chainz and Jeezy are phoned-in, and Trouble can’t even seem to settle on any coherent theory on what thug love means to him. It is impossible to get invested in this rapper as the thug with the heart of gold when he won’t even commit to the bit.

The few occasions where Trouble shines, he’s back to his cutthroat ways. The sinister, Mike WiLL-produced “All My Niggaz” finds him standing his ground: “Fuck all that playin’ and wolfin’ I’m with the shits,” he raps. On “Ain’t My Fault,” he flips Silkk the Shocker’s 1998 hit into an indifferent anthem of his own. “Pride” is the closest he comes to diagramming the ways in which performing emotionlessness gets thugs killed. But in these songs, he’s all but scrapping the album’s theme of showing love and taking care.

One of Edgewood’s final tracks, “Ms. Cathy & Ms. Connie,” laid a clear path for the album that Thug Luv could’ve been. On the song, Trouble remains the same get-it-at-all-costs hustler he’s always been, only the subtext is that everything he does to make a buck—be it thugging or rapping—is for the sake of those around him. He doesn’t have to spell out his love for these people or slather on Auto-Tune for you to feel the weight of his commitment to them. Trouble has built a reputation as “the rapper who stayed,” the guy for whom making it out didn’t mean leaving those in his community behind. The mini-doc shows him chopping it up at the local barbershop, mingling with the kids at a barbeque, and buying his mom her beautiful new house—more or less being the mayor on his block. He would’ve had far greater success leaning into that characterization on Thug Luv. Love doesn’t always have to be demonstrated so bluntly. Often it speaks for itself.
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