Monday 6 March 2023

Review of 'Let's Start Here' by Lil Yachty

Lil Yachty has evolved. Enter Mega Yachty.

Back in 2017, Lil Yachty was jumping on generic trap beats and delivering perplexing bars like ‘she blow that dick like a cello’. Fast-forward to the present and the rapper/singer’s now dropping intellectual references to 'Black Seminoles' (I had to Google it, so therefore it's intellectual) over Pink-Floyd-flavoured psych rock instrumentation, complete with a guitar solo and some Great-Gig-In-The-Sky-inspired wailing female vocals.

Am I tripping? Is this a different Lil Yachty? Did I accidentally listen to Roger Waters' re-recorded version of Dark Side of The Moon? If so, when did Roger Waters start using auto-tune and calling himself the ‘African Rambo’??

No, Alasdair, this is indeed a Lil Yachty album. And it slaps. As the musician mentioned at a listening event a month ago, Let’s Start Here is an attempt to be ‘taken seriously as an artist’. You can definitely hear this seriousness in the polished and sprawling production. He’s ditched the simplistic trap beats in favour of a more complex psychedelic backdrop of fuzzy rock guitars, spacey synths and funky basslines. Pink Floyd is the clear influence on opener ‘The BLACK seminole’, but other tracks take us in different directions: ‘the ride’ sounds a lot like Tame Impala, ‘running out of time’ has a Bill Withers ‘Lovely Day’ vibe, ‘drive ME crazy’ could be a Luther Vandross instrumental and ‘paint THE sky’ sounds like it could be on a Weeknd album. And then there are tracks like ‘THE zone’ that are impressive genre-bending mish-mashes.

Production-wise, the album is almost flawless. Vocally however, it’s not quite on the same level. Lil Yachty is clearly not a naturally-gifted singer, and although his voice is drenched in effects for the entire album, you can still hear him struggling to hit notes. Many of the guest singers like Diana Gordon and Daniel Caesar are so talented that it only highlights this, and combined with the magnificent production Yachty can sometimes feel like an imposter trying to compete with the immense musical talent around him.

However, as was the case with Tyler the Creator's Igor, I’ve come to appreciate the vocals, even if they are a bit amateurish. He’s definitely trying to play around with interesting melodies and there’s an emotionally convincing rawness to his delivery. On top of this, the vocal effects are very creative. He’s not just relying on auto-tune here, but all manner of reverb filters and flangers and echoes to add to the psychedelic atmosphere.

My favourite effect is definitely the warbling tremolo ‘aAaAaAaA’ effect, first previewed on last year’s viral single ‘Poland’, and now repeated here on tracks like ‘pRETTy’. It almost sounds like the audial representation of that shiver you get when you first dip your foot in a hot bath. It’s very unique, and doesn’t sound like anything I’ve heard before (it does sound like it could be a Leslie effect, but it also sounds a lot cleaner).

Overall, this is a much more sophisticated album than I was expecting. The instrumentals are something I’d expect Kendrick Lamar to be jumping on, not Lil Yachty (in fact, the rock instrumentals are kinda what I expected Kendrick’s shelved rock album to sound like). As for the vocals, they may not be as polished, but the effects do make them feel incredibly innovative. In fact, these vocals make it hard to know exactly how to categorise this album. It feels wrong to call this a hip hop album, as there’s almost no rapping or discernible hip hop beats on it, but then what is it? A rock album? There are definitely a lot of guitars on it. But aside from the odd Roger-Waters-inspired melody, these vocals are definitely not rock vocals. So what are they?

Has Lil Yachty, of all people, kickstarted a new genre? I’m not sure about that, but he’s definitely exploring uncharted territory, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other rappers starting moving in the same direction.