Well, one thing’s for sure – Let’s Start Here. is a pretty appropriate title for this latest project from Lil Yachty. The once-groundbreaking rapper who had scores of imitators when he broke through with his warbly brand of melodic trap has been struggling artistically for years, never quite reaching the heights of projects like the original Lil Boat back in 2016, until a sort of Yachty Renaissance begun late last year. He dropped the viral single “Poland,” appeared behind the scenes on Drake and 21 Savage’s Her Loss album to help one of the planet’s biggest artists return to form, and then apparently decided that the time was right to drop an album inspired by psychedelic rock and soul. Drawing Pink Floyd comparisons, Yachty’s latest is immaculately produced as he links up with collaborators across a wide spectrum, including Magdalena Bay, Mac DeMarco, Nick Hakim and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. While many rapidly dubbed it as an album of the year contender, once the initial shock value wears off, some of Yachty’s ongoing inconsistencies with lyrics, rhythm and musicality still do crop up – but the shock is still pretty incredible, and the production and concepts here nearly override that completely.
The 7-minute-long psych-rock odyssey “the BLACK seminole.” has to be one of the most ambitious openers in recent memory. Certainly the most Floydian track here, it opens with some digitized synth flourishes before coasting on spaced-out guitar riffs, echoing cymbal crashes and a bassline that anchors everything into a chilled-out midtempo groove. Yachty’s lyrics still sound like they came from one of his typical rap songs as he drops a couple pop culture references, but he delivers them with the conviction of a galaxy-brained old rocker who’s been around a couple times. The track concludes with a 4-minute instrumental outro that essentially sounds like an end-of-concert jam session where everyone is wailing away at their instruments, as Diana Gordon – who shows up here quite a bit – reaches some spellbinding heights with her vocals. Of course, Yachty still knows how to have fun as well, as things immediately drop into “the ride-,” a sugary pop tune that finds him up in a blissful falsetto delivering one of the catchiest melodies he’s ever crafted. The twinkling synths are the highlight, adding to the summery feeling as Yachty offers a trip to the moon, but the bassline takes it into a funk-soul territory. Fellow oddball rapper Teezo Touchdown adds a verse that represents the album’s only hip-hop adjacent moment, but it flows just as nicely. “running out of time” recruits Magdalena Bay on production for an even more funky track and a bassline mixed all the way up at the front. It’s the first time where you realize Yachty’s voice is so strange and warbly that it almost doesn’t feel like a natural fit, but it also might be the best instrumental on the project, so it doesn’t matter too much. Plus, angelic backing vocals from Justine Skye certainly mellow his tone out.
Of all the massive swings on the album, “pRETTy” is the only one that’s also a massive miss. Yachty tries to replicate the novelty of his unique vibrato from “Poland,” with a constant stream of it in the background a la Playboi Carti’s “Teen X” that just gets overwhelming after a while – especially when Yachty’s flow in the forefront is off-beat and contains a variety of the album’s most awkward and on-the-nose lyrics. The usually great Foushee leans into Yachty’s stilted delivery to match the track’s energy as well, as quite a few elements here end up clashing. After a spoken interlude about the power of failure, “THE zone~” sees him get back into his zone – although the track actually finds him wanting to escape from one. With some trippy lyrics about the sunshine and moonlight helping him break out of a box and find his home, the chorus finds him pushing his vocals further into a rockier territory. Yachty belting is something to witness, especially as the instrumental swirls behind him. Justine Skye continues to be the best complement for the vibe Yachty is going for, her breathier delivery sinking into the groove. “WE SAW THE SUN!” almost feels like an outro to the last track, the title suggesting they were successful in its quest, even though it’s actually longer at five-and-a-half minutes. Yachty drops in with a gobsmacked “woah!” and talks about acid, which checks out as the track mostly ends up in a series of oohs and aahs. Not in a bad way, either – a Genius annotation simply reads “I am ascending.” The track, of course, ends with Bob Ross.
The track “drive ME crazy!” kicks off the second half with the first of a couple of wild pivots. Diana Gordon absolutely takes over this track from the get-go, the instrumental behind her feeling like it came directly from a 70s soul songbook, and she sells it right down to some Marvin Gaye, Al Green-style vocal inflections. The incredible part is that Yachty kind of pulls them off as well, as the two unite for an upbeat duet about being head over heels for each other. It might be the most believable emotion he’s ever communicated, which sounds crazy to say about the same guy who made “Minnesota.” It continues on “sAy sOMETHINg,” another chilled-out track with a great falsetto melody as Yachty sings about romantic butterflies and “feeling like a teen again.” The Auto-Tune does wonders for him on this one as he runs up and down the scales, some nice synth tones complementing the euphoric feeling before leading into a fantastic beat switch to a poppier zone as Yachty’s melody goes into the stratosphere with a belted “I need your LOOOOOVE.” In between the two is “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSiON!!!!,” which finds Yachty singing about a bad trip, and the song certainly sounds like it. A scream introduces a lurching horror movie of pounding drums and a hard-rock backdrop as Yachty drowns in paranoia – it’s hard for me to want to return to, but I certainly respect the creativity.
As the genre pendulum keeps swinging back and forth, “paint THE sky” returns to a more pop-oriented zone with one of the more memorable choruses on the project and some fizzy percussion hits, before a pretty impressive transition into a heavier zone on the track “sHouLd i B?” that feels a little reminiscent of Tame Impala. That track itself has one of the more seamless transitions into “The Alchemist.,” clearly meant to be a companion track, though I’m glad that it’s separate as Yachty again goes off-beat and starts yelling about how great he is, detracting from the warm and pleasant energy despite some insane vocals from Foushee near the end. “REACH THE SUNSHINE.” recruits Daniel Ceasar for a minimalistic and eerie closer, until Yachty reiterates the album’s mission statement of reaching the sunshine and a synth explosion cuts through like the sun’s rays.
One of the most exciting things about this album is actually it’s title. If this is truly just the start of a new movement for Yachty – who, having started young, is still only 25 years old – then there just might be more boundless creativity on the horizon. I’d love to hear him rap over production like this in the future, but for now, I fully welcome the Lil Yachty Renaissance.
Favourite Tracks: the ride-, drive ME crazy!, the BLACK seminole., running out of time, sAy sOMETHINg
Least Favourite Track: pRETTy