In an article about Lil Yachty's newest album, its cover art is blurred by rays of colored light coming out of a man's head.
Illustration by Deon Agyeman, Montserrat College of Art

The New Era of Lil Yachty

Lil Yachty tries his hand at psychedelic rap with his fifth studio album "Let's Start Here."
March 22, 2023
7 mins read

To call Lil Yachty a rapper feels almost reductive. The Atlanta-born artist first rose to popularity six years ago, at the age of 18, with the release of his viral SoundCloud hit “One Night.” The song is fun; it has an almost childlike, sleepy quality that you can’t help but hum along to, paired with sharp lyrics that draw a laugh upon closer inspection. Yachty himself is the physical embodiment of his sound — he sports a cheery demeanor and vibrant beaded braids. Though you may not be inclined to pay too much attention to his work, an inherent sense of positivity awaits his listeners. Since the single’s release, the now 25-year-old artist boasts an impressive resume; he modeled in Kanye West’s 2017 Yeezy Show, earned a Sprite partnership with Lebron James, a Target collaboration with Canadian pop star Carly Rae Jepsen and a list of features and writing credits long enough to fill a book. Lil Yachty’s versatility, inside and outside music, is his lifeblood. His unique brand of bubblegum trap is discernable by its vibe, allowing Yachty a certain flexibility, which he takes in both hands with his newest album, “Let’s Start Here.”

From the opening chords of “the BLACK seminole.” listeners know they are in for a new treat. Yachty begins his fifth studio album with a song that feels more reminiscent of Pink Floyd than the light-hearted rap his fans have grown accustomed to hearing. Layered vocals croon on but after nearly 7 minutes, the novelty wears off. After the shock of the genre-bending recedes, listeners can find that signature sense of safety that Lil Yachty is so good at creating. At certain points, the album feels more like one from Tame Impala that features Yachty, due to its exploration of psychedelic pop and rap. Yachty at times takes a back seat to the captivating melodies but still proves himself through his lyrics. Songs like “:(failure(:” are honest and vulnerable in a way listeners hadn’t paid much attention to before, but are now given no choice. Though unconventional, and at first glance, jarring, “Let’s Start Here isn’t exactly groundbreaking. The artist’s ability to craft a vibe as opposed to an album by itself shines through, resulting in a cohesive piece of art. Though it’s not the most exciting musical work, it shows growth. After 6 years in the music industry, Yachty is still only in his mid-twenties. Perhaps the release of this album is a demarcation of a new era, a more mature Yachty that produces more than just feel-good background music sampling cartoon and video game sound effects.

Lil Yachty isn’t the first rapper to undergo such a change. Psychedelic rock and funk prove to be a safe haven for artists, particularly rappers, looking to break away from their original sound. Childish Gambino’s third studio album “Awaken, My Love” is essential to mention. Whereas Yachty’s album opener is a slap in the face, Gambino’s “Me and Your Mama” is undeniably a punch. The six-minute song opens with twinkling notes and an ethereal choir that intrigues his listeners while lulling them into a false sense of security. At the two-minute mark comes the slam of a guitar and a dark chuckle, opening to a song rife with dark sensuality and passion. This piece from Gambino is not just different, it’s bold. It promises something new and exciting, effectively severing listeners’ expectations for what’s to come while assuring them that it will be worth it. This level of intensity and experimentation is, however, what Gambino fans expect from him. Each of his albums contains multitudes; wailing opening sirens on “Bonfire” are placed beside more placating songs like “Kids” on his 2011 album “Camp,” and his 2013 album “Because the Internet” dips into the ethereal with the standout song “3005.” The same cannot be said of Lil Yachty. Much of his experimentation is done in work for other artists: his upbeat feature on the 2016 hit “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M. and writing contribution on City Girls’ “Act Up” come to mind. Yachty seems to reserve that signature bubblegum trap for his own discography, and suffers growing pains with his newest album. Blunt as it may sound, the draw of his music in part exists within its ability to appeal to everyone and no one all at once. His viral singles cannot be called hard-hitting as much as feel-good; any change in their sound was bound to feel exponential. “Let’s Start Here” is a wonderful work of production, yet its sound is inseparable from its team of producers and sound engineers who are all heavyweights on their own. Yachty runs the risk of being overpowered on his own album as it aims to make noise, while its creator has found success in doing the opposite.

Where does an artist’s value lie? In their ability to enthrall? In their longevity? “Let’s Start Here” by Lil Yachty makes a strong case for the latter. The album is a cohesive piece of art and another check mark on Yachty’s unending, yet peculiar, resume. It may not be perfect, but it takes a step toward boldness as an exciting new feat for the still-young artist.

Katherine Hollis, New York University

Writer Profile

Katherine Hollis

New York University
Psychology and Creative Writing

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