Lil Yachty releases one of the most polarizing mixtapes of the SoundCloud era. Let’s flashback to 2016 to get a full grasp of where we are seven years later. It is nothing like the purists of hip-hop would have praised for its lyrical composition and depictive storytelling.
Lil Boat encapsulates a free-spirited teenager who was trying to take on the world in a gleeful light. Its playful and jolly production emulated a rapper who wasn’t all about bars and the struggle. Instead, Yachty was appreciating the joy that one could have in music. “Minnesota”, while a track of flexes and beating a lifetime sentence, was understood as a jolly ole tune because of his voice.
The autotuned-filled “Good Day” could’ve been a theme song in a cartoon show for Disney Channel with the upbeat production and Yachty’s innocent vocals. “One Night” was the definition of bubblegum rap for the older generation to groan over. Overnight, the rapper with red-colored braids took the blogs and social media by storm.
The Atlanta rapper built his own lane of fun-loving trap music. And while certainly there is a niche for that, not everyone took to it kindly. The likes of Pete Rock, Ebro, and Joe Budden gave the red-haired rapper hell for not caring about the history of rap. Yachty proclaimed he doesn’t care for Biggie and Tupac, a cardinal sin for any hip-hop historian.
At the age of 18-years-old, Lil Yachty faced a ton of criticism for him thoughts and freestyles; yet, he should not have faced such criticism at that young of an age. That made Lil Boat more defiant, dubbing himself the “The King of Teens”. He excluded the judgemental area of hip-hop fandom with his debut album, Teenage Emotions. To this day it remains the worst work in his catalog. Teenage Emotions was too childish for that stage of his career, the project was bloated with filler tracks. There was a line on the song Priorities- “’Cause she gets wet and she sucks me like an insect/ She my step-sister, so I guess that’s incest.” The project was a mess, and it gave more credibility in the minds of Lord Jamar fans.
Throughout the years, Yachty weaved through the sounds of Atlanta’s hardest trap music and eventually landed on the freshest Michigan rap scene. Michigan Boy Boat was respected enough to prove that he belonged in hip-hop’s best new crop of artists. It felt authentic to the Michigan scene and the collaborations with Flint and Detroit’s flashiest talent helped stamp that. Since that debut album, his demand for respect was well reciprocated in the rap community.
The breakdown of his discography is important given his statement during the release of Let’s Start Here. At an album listening party with all of his peers, he claims, “I think I created this because I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. Not just some SoundCloud rapper or mumble rapper, not someone who just made one hit.” He dives more into loving all walks of music, not just hip-hop and rap.
He made it a colorful experience for his fans, holding his and listening to it at the LSC Jennifer Chalsty Planetarium. It features 360-degree imagery of the solar system and its terrain synced with the sweet sounds of his attempt at a psychedelic rock.
Make no mistake, it’s a great listening experience and a remarkable attempt at the genre of psychedelic rock. Justin Raisen is credited across the album. It’s not a new creation of art, as much as it is a twist into what Yachty is already good at.
His frisky vocals match up to any production nod that is thrown his way. The introduction, “the BLACK Seminole” contains electric guitar riffs while Yachty’s voice is coming from a far distance yet still impactful. “the ride-” hypnotizes listeners with his high-pitched, angelic vocals into a soothing levitation to the moon. Then we get hit with serenity in the Atlanta crooners voice on “running out of time”, along with some groovy production. There are plenty of examples of singing excellence with the sweet sounds of groovy rock. Along with some great features from Diana Gordon on “drive ME crazy!” and Fousheè on “The Alchemist.” All is well with this album and should get the credit it deserves for having the potential to be among the best albums of 2023.
And yet, the statement that was announced on the day of the listening party sits with me more than the album. It makes me ponder the predicament that Yachty is in with the music. Being known as a mogul in the SoundCloud era isn’t a knock on someone’s career.
The term “mumble rapper” was never used seriously outside of casual fans who thought we needed more Eminem akin rappers. There was a necessary lane for those young kids who were here for the fun of hip-hop and to put their names out there for everyone to hear. Yachty’s sound coming into the music industry was unique because of his playful voice and bubblegum trap production.
Alphonse Pierre had a compelling critique in his review of the project on Pitchfork. He says it never felt as genuine as it did with the Michigan-inspired album. He proved to himself that he was good enough in that sub-genre of rap. But that statement mixed with the content itself seeks respect elsewhere.
Now does that mean that Yachty shouldn’t have strived to create in a new genre? No, of course not. Plenty of rappers have dipped their toes in different avenues other than rap. Examples of this were good (Kanye West and Young Thug) and sometimes bad (Kid Cudi and Lil Wayne). But the brush-off of how the 25-year-old made his name doesn’t give the proper credence it deserves. It’s a reminder of Post Malone’s presence, using the gigantic popularity of hip-hop for his benefit and switching the moment he could.
His statement was rampant of ignorance, saying if you want to listen to deeper meaning music go elsewhere than the genre he entered in. It’s the immediate realization that Malone was looking for an easy entrance to fame and then to make the tedious pop-rock songs he’s always wanted to. The other side of the coin is that hip-hop is the favored genre by a favorable margin. That’s not what Yachty is doing here. He has shown beyond doubt that his love for hip-hop and the culture is strong.
Media members and folks in the hip hop community told Lil Yachty he is ruining rap. From Budden screaming at him in interviews, to Jamar calling all of his fans stupid and Charlamagne dubbing him “the face of wack rappers.” Boat himself admitted he heard all of the criticisms and cared way too much. You can hear the exhaustion in his voice in an interview with Hypebeast. His brain was dizzy from trying to understand what people wanted. Lil Yachty removed the confusion and now makes the music he wants. Yachty’s discography exceeded expectations only a few years into his career.
Again, is it unfair to hold Miles McCollum for wanting to be more than a SoundCloud rapper? Perhaps. It’s just unfortunate that these things always come about when it’s time to experiment outside of hip-hop. It’s a double-edged sword of hating how he said it, but understanding where it’s coming from. Yachty still feels like he is in an uphill battle for his place in music. Lil Yachty does not want to be severed from the rap community. The man wants the negative connotation that plagued his mindset when he entered to disappear. Respect Lil Yachty, he’s an artist.