Lil Yachty’s ‘Teenage Emotions’ messy, imperfect — but maybe that’s the point
At just 19 years old, Lil Yachty has managed to do something that not many young rappers could accomplish: totally dividing hip-hop. Some love him, and others claim he’s destroying the culture.
On one side, Yachty has been getting attention from some of the biggest contemporary names in hip-hop, like Chance the Rapper, Young Thug and all three of the Migos.
But across the aisle are older figures like Funkmaster Flex and Joe Budden. Flex calls Yachty a mumble rapper, while Budden says that Yachty isn’t even a hip-hop artist.
On “Teenage Emotions,” Lil Yachty’s first album after a series of popular mixtapes, he makes one thing abundantly clear: he really doesn’t care either way.
Like on his previous projects, Yachty performs songs here under two characters: the bright, sunny Lil Yachty and the more sinister Lil Boat.
For the most part, the Lil Boat character takes on a hardened flow inspired by Atlanta trap rappers like Migos and Gucci Mane, firing off fast, aggressive tracks about using drugs and getting with girls.
The Lil Yachty character, by contrast, prefers to sing radio-friendly pop songs that, while they’re still largely only about drugs and girls, are at least a bit more emotional.
And while expecting Boat to rap and Yachty to sing occasionally leaves some songs difficult to classify, it’s a good enough rule of thumb to roughly divide the album into two halves, with Boat’s aggression dominating the first half and Yachty’s sunshine on the second.
This split leads the album to feel more like two competing projects that are fighting for dominance in the same space. And when the album stretches to over an hour in length, it’s easy to begin to wonder why it wasn’t just released as two separate albums.
Yachty doesn’t do much to justify the length of the project, instead dedicating much of his time to crafting some of the most ridiculous lyrics in hip-hop history.
It doesn’t matter whether or not Yachty is trying to sound hard (“I play with that p***y like peek-a-boo,” he barks on “Peek A Boo”) or sensitive (“Let’s lay on the hood and look at the stars/ and name them whatever/ you always call that one Trevor,” he croons on “Better) the end result is always the same: lyrics that fall somewhere between a bit goofy and outright cringe-inducing.
But yet, despite the ridiculousness of Yachty’s lyrics, there’s definitely an element of youthful sincerity to them. It doesn’t feel like too much of a stretch to assume that line about a star named Trevor was really just Yachty’s way of simplifying a humorous moment with a romantic partner into something that fits into the rhyme scheme.
Or, as another example, when Yachty describes his mother as being “pretty enough that if she forgot her wallet at a checkout counter/ she could pay off her tab with her looks” on the track “Momma,” it only feels a little strange. I mean, sure, there where probably better ways of phrasing that, but those better ways wouldn’t be true to Yachty’s way of speaking.
And if Yachty is anything, he’s true to himself. Throughout “Teenage Emotions,” Yachty displays an interest in a variety of genres of music, and toys with them to varying degrees of success.
The early block of trap songs certainly feels a lot more natural than the late album block of pop songs, especially when the latter half leads to tracks like “Bring It Back,” where Yachty lays his autotuned singing over instrumentation that would feel more at home on a Bleachers track than one by any rapper. But still, Yachty can’t really be faulted for giving these new sounds a shot.
What he, and especially his producers, can be faulted for is some shoddy production and mixing throughout the project. On “Peek A Boo,” there are a few moments where, on one vocal take, Yachty spits the chorus, while another recording of Yachty barks ad-libs. These two vocal takes are mixed to the exact same volume, leading Yachty to be totally incomprehensible.
Bad mixing and lyrical quirks combine to make Yachty’s style feel amateurish to the point of carelessness. But it’s almost a punk rock sort of carelessness, as Yachty tells us directly in “Dirty Mouth,” saying “I didn’t ask for respect, no, / all I care about is my check.”
Somehow, with a series of amateurish mixtapes, Lil Yachty has been able to carve out a place for himself in hip-hop. While Budden and Flex might fire off at him for not being as lyrical as hip-hop artists of the past, they’re ignoring the fact that he’s been able to make millions off simplistic songs with lyrics that went from his heart to the recording with little editing in between.
Just like punk rockers of the 1970s, Lil Yachty has simplified things in order to be more true to himself.
Is Lil Yachty bad at rapping? That depends. Was Johnny Ramone a bad guitarist?
But I’m willing to bet that Lil Yachty doesn’t care about the answers to such questions, because, in the end, he still gets his check.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6119 or on Twitter @PatKernan
Album: ‘Teenage Emotions’
Artist: Lil Yachty
Label: Quality Control Music, Capitol Records and Motown
Best Track: ‘Peek A Boo’