This past weekend, 21-year old Atlanta rapper Young Thug Instagrammed a photo of himself wearing a peplum, leopard-print dress. The post lit up with comments debating how “gay” he is, or whether or not the said item was even a dress—maybe it was just a long T-shirt. Wearing women’s clothing does not make Thug gay, though it has caused his sexuality to be debated on hip-hop message boards. But it’s easy to imagine Thug welcoming debate about his clothes and gender—he’s a provocateur, in a long line of rock and rap stars before him who have pushed gender lines. Those who’ve been paying attention to his career may have already noticed Thug’s berets and oversized rose-colored sunglasses, Uggs, lip rings and a whole face of squiggly tattoos. Looking like some suburban sprawl 21st-century David Bowie, or at least a populist version of Kanye, Thug accessorized his dress with skinny jeans and a styrofoam cup. He also wore the look to Waffle House.
In imagining Thug’s lineage, it’s hard to not think of Cam’ron, another rule-flouncer who, in his time, famously made rap comfortable with pink. But Cam was always careful to insert a “pause” after any potential innuendo in the conversation, lest he give anyone the wrong idea. Thug, meanwhile, seems flagrantly disinterested in the too-strict rules of men’s wardrobes and potentially traditional masculinity at large. As “Stoner” climbs on the radio charts, the more he dares us to keep up with his sartorial weirdness. Thug flies the flag for the new-new Atlanta, calling it “Black Portland.” In an interview with The FADER, Thug collaborator Bloody J says the name derives from the place where “ambition, freedom and being young all roll into one.” Young is not just a term of endearment tacked on to the front-end of Thug’s name, young is the side he’s on—even the New York Times has been noticing the increasing adventurousness and blurred gender lines of the 21st century man’s wardrobe. There’s a long history of rock stars being provocative by wearing things that the older generation doesn’t understand, eventually making the new looks that once appeared scandalous eventually seem approachable and normal, only to be pushed by the next generation’s big stars. And Thug might have the star power we need to make the weirdness of a dude wearing women’s clothing at a Waffle House in Atlanta seem totally normal and, hopefully soon, old hat.