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 incredible 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 surprised me if other rappers starting moving in the same direction.