Every generation, a handful of artists stand out and represent a shift in music that’s larger than themselves.
Whether you like it or not, Lil Yachty finds himself in that position in 2017. Whenever hate or praise (mainly hate) is given to today’s generation of rappers, Yachty’s name inevitably comes up. For better or worse, he’s become the poster boy for a new approach to rap.
Are you mad about young rappers who don’t know their hip-hop history and don't like freestyling on the radio? Blame Yachty. Excited about a new wave of artists with creative ideas who don’t box themselves inside the boundaries of hip-hop? Yachty’s your guy. Either way, you’re talking about him.
With a position like this comes all kinds of pressure. Similarly controversial artists like Kanye West dedicate themselves to a vision, refusing to be affected by negative attention—no matter how loud the chatter gets. But as a teenager in a social media era where negative comments are never-ending and nearly impossible to avoid, the odds were stacked against Yachty from the jump.
Every radio interview he gave in 2016 was chopped up and re-uploaded to Twitter, ready to be picked apart 140 characters at a time. A morning show freestyle inspired dozens of think pieces and a six-word answer about his lack of Notorious B.I.G. knowledge ignited a conversation about generational responsibility that went on for months. He couldn’t escape the headlines. Here at P&P, we’ve published 78 articles about him over the last year (79 including this one).
IF YACHTY ATTEMPTS TO MAKE OLDER GENERATIONS HAPPY AND MOLDS HIS SOUND INTO SOMETHING THAT CAN BE understood BY PEOPLE WHO GREW UP ON BACKPACK RAP, he'll lose his originality.
For the most part, Yachty has handled the pressure remarkably well. He calmly stood his ground as an enraged Joe Budden turned himself into a meme on Everyday Struggle, and he flipped a hostile interview with Hot 97’s Ebro Darden into a productive conversation without compromising his message or his integrity.
So, when I pressed play on his debut album, Teenage Emotions, I was hoping for more of the same. Honestly, I wished for a project that I didn’t totally understand (because I’m old and haven’t had teenage emotions of my own for almost a decade). More than anything, though, I was waiting for something that proved he had what it took to be a truly transformational artist. I hoped that he had what it took to continue pushing hip-hop in new, interesting ways.
There are moments on the project where Yachty delivers. Building on the innovative bubblegum trap sound that made his debut mixtape so exciting, songs like “All Around Me” and “Harley” feel like successful steps forward, taking advantage of a bigger budget and an added year of experience.
But then there’s “X-Men,” “DN Freestyle,” “Dirty Mouth,” and to an extent, the Migos-assisted lead single “Peek A Boo.” On these songs, you can almost hear the comments of Ebro, Budden, and a thousand Twitter eggs rattling in the back of his head as he stepped into the booth and attempted to prove he can rap his ass off.
On “Dirty Mouth,” he begins his first verse by insisting, “I don't really care about my enemies.” But, as he tries to keep up with the beat, it seems clear that his doubters had something to do with this. Especially if you remember Yachty previously released a song called “Hot 97” that he admitted was written specifically to prove to Ebro that he can rap.
Hearing Yachty’s detractors making an impact on his music is disappointing. So much of his appeal comes from the fact that he doesn't sound like anything we’ve ever heard before. If he attempts to make older generations happy and molds his sound into something that can be understood by people who grew up on backpack rap, he'll lose his originality.
Personally, I don't want to hear rapid-fire, lyrically dense verses from Lil Yachty. I'd rather get lost in his unique, whimsical world and hum along to the buoyant melodies that earned him so many fans in the first place.
At first, I chalked most of this up to first album jitters and possible pressures from his label. But then I read the letter that he wrote to his fans on Monday morning.
He started off strong, explaining, “I didn’t make this project for the old reviews and bloggers. I made it for real Lil Yachty fans who have been dying for new music.”
Then he added, "I understand first week numbers didn't do what most people expected," continuing, “I know what you guys (my fans) liked about the project and didn't like. I'm putting that into consideration.”
Innovative artists like Yachty are at their best when they listen to their intuition before they listen to anyone else. When Kanye West went on a radio show and felt misunderstood, he famously yelled, “You don’t have the answers, Sway!” He didn’t respond to the jokes that came before and after those comments. He stayed focused on his vision—even if no one else understood it yet.
Taking the time out to write a long letter addressing outside expectations and criticism tells me Lil Yachty is reading comments. He’s digesting what Joe Budden yelled at him. He’s absorbing the hate and taking it all “into consideration.”
Of course, it’s important to remember that Lil Yachty is 19 years old. He’s learning. He has one of rap's most distinct voices and remains in a position where he can push the genre in new directions—continuing to make old people mad. As an innovator, that’s his job. But if he backs off, he might lose everything that makes him special.
So, please stop listening to your critics, Lil Yachty.
Keep doing what got you here.