Five years ago this week, Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan joined forces for their first and only official full-length project together, under the mentorship of New Orleans rap mogul Birdman. Rich Gang: Tha Tour Part 1, which was released on September 29, 2014, now feels like something of a blip in Thug and Quan’s career; despite the grand ambitions that surrounded this would-be supergroup, it received no retail release, and its download numbers on mixtape sites trail behind those of Thug’s Slime Season series. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t one of the most influential mixtapes of the decade. In addition to introducing and solidifying Thug and Quan as some of hip-hop’s most exciting new players, its irreverent, melodic take on trap music made it the standard-bearer for what rap would sound like for the next five years.
Back in the early 2010s, Thug and Quan were just two of the many Atlantans mentored by Gucci Mane, who had become something of the Berry Gordy of trap music, giving everyone from Waka Flocka Flame and Future, to Nicki Minaj, a leg up early in their careers. By the end of 2013, Gucci had begun a three-year prison stint, but Thug and Quan were still picking up momentum. After they released their first Hot 100 hits—“Stoner” and “Type of Way,” respectively—Birdman swooped in, and the three collaborated on “Lifestyle,” an enormous summer hit that peaked at No. 16 on the pop charts.
Rich Gang existed before Thug and Quan became a part of it. In 2013, with the mixtape Rich Gang: All Stars, Birdman’s powerhouse label Cash Money Records had introduced the name in the context of an amorphous Birdman-led supergroup bringing together the label’s stars. A self-titled Rich Gang retail album featuring a DJ Khaled-style compilation of YMCMB’s entire roster at the time (including Limp Bizkit) soon followed, spinning off a mediocre, forgettable radio hit in “Tapout.” With “Lifestyle,” Cash Money was re-establishing Rich Gang as a vehicle for the Atlanta duo. And though the label seemed to be see Tha Tour as a way to promote its new wave of artists, everything about the circumstances surrounding its release was chaotic and confusing, including the Rich Gang brand itself.
“Lifestyle” was one of the biggest standalone singles of the era, but it didn’t actually appear on Tha Tour or any retail album. And despite DJ Swamp Izzo’s proclamations on the opening track that “the dates are locked in” and “October 31st is the start,” the concert tour the mixtape was named for never materialized. One of the seven videos Cash Money released got a live BET premiere on 106 & Park, although it was the commercially questionable choice of “Milk Marie.” But “Tell Em (Lies)”—the song that most closely resembled “Lifestyle” and featured Thug’s memorable refrain, “I’ma pull up, eat on that pussy, and dip”—was the only song from Tha Tour that charted, peaking at No. 43 on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart in the spring of 2015. The mixtape became an artifact of an incomplete promo cycle, an appetizer for an entrée that never arrived: Ultimately, neither Thug or Quan released any albums on the label, as solo artists or as a group.
However flawed its rollout was, though, Tha Tour is a musical miracle, a 20-song mixtape with virtually no skips. Where event collaboration albums like Watch The Throne simply brought together two established MCs, Tha Tour represented something else: Two newer artists hitting their respective peaks in tandem. Other than perhaps Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y, nobody did more than Thug and Quan to open mixtape heads to the possibility that collaboration projects could be an outlet for the best work from both artists, not simply a fun side project. And the brotherly bond between them is so evident that it almost feels beside the point to view them competitively: They sound as in tune with each other as Jadakiss and Styles P, or André 3000 and Big Boi.
In those more innocent pre-Desiigner times, critics had initially dismissed Quan as a Future soundalike. But he established himself as his own man with his own flow on Tha Tour, giving incredible performances on “Freestyle” and “Milk Marie” and managing not to cede the spotlight to the more eccentric and attention-grabbing Thug, whose elastic vocal style, although clearly heavily indebted to Lil Wayne’s influence at one point, was quickly becoming something unique and widely imitated in its own right. With quips like “She said it’s my time like Flavor,” Thug demonstrated an ear for subtly compressed punchlines; he didn’t need to follow up his sideways reference to the giant clocks worn by Public Enemy star Flavor Flav with an unnecessary explanation, as other MCs might. The mixtape also served as a coming-out party for the two most important producers in Thug’s career, with five amazing beats from “Lifestyle” producer London On Da Track and the first major production credit from Wheezy.
Birdman is largely a stoic kingpin sidekick on Tha Tour, much as he’d been on Big Tymers albums and Like Father, Like Son with Lil Wayne. But “Flava” features the best verse he’d delivered since “What Happened To That Boy,” whether or not, like many Birdman verses, it was ghostwritten. And though he only raps a handful of times on the tape, his is the only voice that appears on every track, mostly in the form of mixtape drops of him saying the words “rich gang” (triumphantly, his voice rising in pitch) and “rich girl” (his voice lowering in pitch, as if to communicate some combination of tenderness, lust, and solidarity with financially empowered women everywhere.) Typically, he reserves the latter for a particularly romantic line, such as Quan’s “Baby I’m a hot dog / You can be the relish.”
The Birdman drops first surfaced on the 2013 Rich Gang album, but on Tha Tour, they take on a life of their own: There are 114 “rich gang” drops on the mixtape and 57 “rich girl” drops (I counted)—a perfect 2:1 ratio that almost seems intentional. “Milk Marie” is the only song with more “girl” drops than “gang” drops. “730” is the only song with no “girl” drops and the song with the most “gang” drops. Each drop is time-stretched to match the beat, the words usually landing squarely on a snare or kick drum.
In the year after Tha Tour‘s release, everything with Rich Gang got weird and complicated. Young Thug’s star continued to rise, but the confusion around whether he was signed to Atlantic Records, Cash Money, or Gucci Mane’s 1017 Brick Squad delayed the release of a solo album. When the smoke cleared, Birdman made multiple appearances on Thug’s 300 Entertainment/Atlantic debut, Barter 6. (The title was either a tribute or a taunt, or both, to Lil Wayne, whose Carter V had been delayed several times by Cash Money and who had sued the labed earlier in 2015.) A week after Barter 6 was released, Lil Wayne’s tour bus was shot up; the bus driver later filed a lawsuit against Young Thug, Birdman, Cash Money, and Young Money, claiming that the two rappers had been in contact with the alleged shooter.
The Thug and Quan tag-team continued racking up hits for a few months, appearing on singles by Travis Scott and DJ Drama. But soon, Thug and Quan’s relationship seemed to sour, under circumstances only vaguely hinted at in interviews. Quan announced a second Rich Gang mixtape in November 2014 with a December release date. It never came out, but so many unmastered songs were leaked from the sessions that fans compiled and circulated a bootleg Tha Tour Part 2 mixtape.
Over the last five years, most everyone involved in Tha Tour has gone onto greater success, including guests Jacquees, Peewee Longway, and the late Nipsey Hussle, who dropped a masterful verse on “Throw Your Hood Up.” London On Da Track and Wheezy, two producers who had never worked on a Thug mixtape before Tha Tour, are now almost as ubiquitous as he is.
Thug has experienced many victories and setbacks over the course of his career, but this year’s triumphant So Much Fun was his first number 1 solo album on the Billboard 200, cementing his status as one of his generation’s most beloved rappers. Rich Homie Quan has been less prominent than Thug since the Rich Gang breakup, although his double-platinum “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh)” was for a few years the biggest solo track either of them had released. And while his influence is less ubiquitous than Thug’s, you can hear echoes of Quan’s bluesy melodic sensibility in more recent Atlanta hitmakers like YFN Lucci and Derez De’Shon, or even Lil Nas X.
Even though Birdman’s apparent dream of Tha Tour launching Cash Money’s next generation of stars didn’t exactly pan out, the tape established a blueprint for Southern rap in the second half of this decade. The ethereal instrumentals and crooned vocals of opener “Givenchy” point toward the the sing-song flows and quiet-storm production of recent pop rap hits like YK Osiris’s “Worth It.” The chemistry between Thug and Quan marked them as transitional figures in the evolution of Southern rap, splitting the difference between the darker Young Jeezy-dominated trap sound and the impish, playful, and even more feminine variant of trap proffered by SoundCloud stars like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Yachty.
Tha Tour also established a format that has become increasingly common over the past five years. In 2019, two of Thug’s most prominent protegés, Lil Baby and Gunna, released their own duo album, Drip Harder. In 2017, Young Thug even teamed up with Future for the hit collaboration album Super Slimey, though Thugger/Future never quite had the same chemistry as Thugger/Quan.
Last year, Gucci Mane publicly offered Thug and Quan a million dollars to reunite, but Thug declined. Birdman told Rap-Up in April 2018 that he was looking at a summer 2018 release date for a Birdman/Young Thug album that would be billed as Rich Gang 2, but it never materialized. Less than a week ago, though, Birdman uploaded a picture to Instagram of himself, Young Thug, and Jacquees, with hashtags suggesting that a new Rich Gang on the project was on the way from this trio.
Whether or not the 2014 iteration of Rich Gang ever gets back on the same page, Tha Tour will remain their masterpiece, a work that cemented a template of wild-eyed melodic trap that would influence a generation of Soundcloud rappers to come—and, as much Migos’ triplet flows or Waka Flocka Flame’s explosive ad libs ever did, the way they used their voices. At a time when stars like Wiz Khalifa and Drake are bringing their career-launching mixtapes to subscription streaming services for the first time, Tha Tour is the kind of mixtape that isn’t available by any other means than filesharing services or sites like DatPiff. But it’s still worth a listen.
Here’s What JUUL Allegedly Thinks of Its Customers
JUUL’s marketing strategy over the years has essentially positioned the company as the Cool Girl of the tobacco industry; JUUL isn’t like the other girls that want to get people hooked on cigarettes that will eventually kill them, JUUL wants to hold its customers’ hands and lead them gently toward a better, and a claims-to-be…
JUUL’s marketing strategy over the years has essentially positioned the company as the Cool Girl of the tobacco industry; JUUL isn’t like the other girls that want to get people hooked on cigarettes that will eventually kill them, JUUL wants to hold its customers’ hands and lead them gently toward a better, and a claims-to-be healthier (yet unproven), lifestyle. Its branding and advertising has centered around the idea that cigarettes are bad and JUUL is good. “Make the Switch,” the company encouraged (until a month ago, when the company pivoted away from the slogan in a series of internal decisions). “We certainly don’t want youth using the product,” the company said, as it pulled flavors from shelves.
A lawsuit filed this week by Siddharth Breja, a former JUUL executive, makes it seem like the company never actually believed any of its own moral signaling. The lawsuit claims that former JUUL CEO Kevin Burns brushed off concerns that his company was shipping at least a million contaminated pods earlier this year, dismissing his customers as “drunk” people who “vape like mo-fos.” As BuzzFeed News reports, Breja alleges he was wrongfully terminated in March 2019 for raising concerns about the shipment of bad pods.
Are you a current or former JUUL employee? We’d love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Hannah Smothers securely on Signal on (908) 485-7021, or email email@example.com.
This is damning for a company that has held its nose above the fray of third-party and counterfeit pods, which JUUL has openly and consistently blamed for containing unregulated, potentially harmful contents. According to details from the lawsuit obtained by BuzzFeed News, in February 2019, Breja protested selling pods that were nearly a year old by the time they shipped, and asked the company to at least include an expiration or manufacture date on the packaging. Burns allegedly shot this down, saying, “Half our customers are drunk and vaping like mo-fos, who the fuck is going to notice the quality of our pods.”
The answer to that is… a lot of people. The problem with having an extremely devoted customer base is they tend to be a bit obsessed with the product. Stan culture misses nothing. A smattering of posts from the r/juul subreddit complain of declining pod quality; while these complaints aren’t necessarily related to the shipment mentioned in the lawsuit, they show how dedicated and attentive avid JUULers are. Posts from the subreddit routinely compare clarity of pod juice and complain of anything suspect, like leaking pods or pods that are already brown (signifying age, perhaps) when opened. It’s impossible to speak to the mental state of the people posting about pod quality online, but even if they are, in fact, “drunk and vaping like mo-fos,” they’re still very much noticing the quality of JUUL’s products.
Update: On Wednesday evening, a spokesman for Kevin Burns passed along the following statement to VICE: “I never said this, or anything remotely close to this, period. As CEO, I had the company make huge investments in product quality and the facts will show this claim is absolutely false and pure fiction.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.
There Is Such a Thing As Too Much Yoga
From not stress-eating entire tubes of unbaked crescent roll dough, to only smoking like one or two cigarettes, and only when you’re drunk, and only every two or three weeks, the key to living a healthy lifestyle lies in practicing moderation. The same goes for yoga, if this latest news is to be believed: A…
From not stress-eating entire tubes of unbaked crescent roll dough, to only smoking like one or two cigarettes, and only when you’re drunk, and only every two or three weeks, the key to living a healthy lifestyle lies in practicing moderation. The same goes for yoga, if this latest news is to be believed: A British physiotherapist named Benoy Matthews told BBC News that he has seen a rise in serious hip problems among yoga instructors. The problem lies with people pushing themselves too hard in an effort to achieve all the “prescribed” poses, even when your body is screaming “NO PLEASE NOT THE TRIPLE HEADSTAND WITH LOTUS LEGS I HAVE A WIFE AND KIDS” because it literally can’t stretch that far.
Various outlets and sources have been reporting for years that 2 Much 2 Yoga can cause serious injury, with the associated risks often differentiating by gender. Men often let minor injuries build up until they have to hit up the emergency room for something way more serious because they’re too concerned about seeming brave and invulnerable, while women, who tend to be more flexible, can put wear and tear on their hip joints and other parts of the body if they don’t give their increased flexibility the proper support.
“What’s achievable for one might not be achievable for others,” Matthews said to the BBC. “People tend to do the same set positions, rather than what’s achievable for them.”
In the worst case scenarios, Matthews warns of keyhole surgeries and even total hip replacements.
“We all know about the health benefits of yoga—I practice it myself,” he said. “But, like anything, it can cause injury. We can’t put it on a pedestal.”
The Cut seems to think that this rise in yogi hip injuries has something to do with Instagram—that we’re all trying to do impossible poses that push our bodies beyond their limits for the sake of likes and posi comments. That’s-a spicy take-a-ball! But also a somewhat reachy take-a-ball, since not everyone who does yoga is doing yoga on Instagram.
It’s not clear why we lean so hard on new health activities, especially low-impact ones, that we crush all the life out of it. But what we need instead of “more yoga than a body can possibly bear” is to do things in moderation. You like yoga? Do yoga, but not so much yoga that you hurt yourself. If you feel pain, stop, maybe seek help, and/or rest up. If part of your yoga practice is to put yourself more in touch with your body, why not start by listening to her horrible screams of agony?
“You have to know your limits,” Matthews said. “I don’t want to denounce yoga, after all it’s been going for thousands of years. But you have to understand yourself.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Harron Walker on Twitter .
Would You Take Poop Pics for Science?
What can be learned from a humble piece of poop? What we expel is but a reflection of what we consume and what lies inside, hidden from view. In this way, to examine our poop is to examine ourselves… Or at least this is what the creators a new, crowdsourced poop database believe. Scientists with…
What can be learned from a humble piece of poop? What we expel is but a reflection of what we consume and what lies inside, hidden from view. In this way, to examine our poop is to examine ourselves… Or at least this is what the creators a new, crowdsourced poop database believe.
Scientists with Seed Health, a microbial health company, are crowdsourcing a dookie database with the ultimate goal of using pictures of human waste to train an artificial intelligence platform launched out of MIT to recognize the difference between healthy and unhealthy poop. They hope to collect at least 100,000 poop pics, which a team of seven gastroenterologists will take notes on to train the AI platform. Developers hope that the database will ultimately help people with chronic gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, according to the Verge.
Science can often sound kinda boring, but this is one instance where it’s actually very cool. For instance: Before launching the campaign to source real poop pics for the database, scientists started training the app that people will use to submit dump photos to recognize different kinds of poop by molding Play-Doh into poo shapes. Play-Doh kinda looks like poop just straight out of the little plastic tub, but, for accuracy’s sake, the developers molded it along the Bristol stool chart. This means they ostensibly shaped some of the Play-Doh to look like diarrhea, which is… pretty impressive! As the Verge reports, the scientists also 3D printed a whole-ass toilet, to emulate how things would look in real life.
But now the real work begins. Seed just launched its proprietary app for safely collecting the data, along with its campaign to collect the 100,000 poo pics. People who wish to contribute their waste to science can do so by going to seed.com/poop on their phone (not a laptop), and clicking on the button that says #GIVEaSHIT. They’ll then be asked for an email address and whether they’re a morning, afternoon, or evening dumper. From there, one is able to submit poop pics with anonymity—all metadata will be separated from the pics, for privacy and HIPAA compliance, before the photos are annotated by scientists.
It is, apparently, already very much a thing to post pics of poop online: There are multiple subreddits (which I will not link here) developed to poo rating and discussion; posting dookie pics on Instagram is so popular that it has its own community of #Poopstagram-ers (yes, this is allowed by Instagram’s terms of service). This seems extremely intimate and vulnerable, given what poop can reveal about a person’s lifestyle, but I suppose that’s the beauty in posting. Now interested parties can build upon the urge to share their toilet achievements by doing so for science, for the greater good of health and mankind. Onward and upward.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Hannah Smothers on Twitter.