When Lil Yachty first hit the scene in 2016 with his debut mixtape Lil Boat, he was immediately pegged as the harbinger of a new breed of rap-pop, a cartoonish teenage artist with a rubbery drawl swathed in copious amounts of Autotune. He seemed like the logical, evolutionary conclusion to a modern genre of hip-hop pioneered earlier in the decade by rappers like Gucci Mane and Lil B, and solidified by the likes of Migos and Young Thug: psychedelic, repetitive, and minimal, his rhymes were as brightly colored and candy-hued as his bejeweled braids.
But above all, Yachty was fun, and was willing to scoff in the face of hip-hop purists. He was infamously quoted as saying he couldn’t name five Tupac songs (which, frankly, is not that surprising for someone who was born in 1997), and starred in a Target commercial with the equally critically cherished pop idol Carly Rae Jepsen. It was incredibly refreshing – not only was Yachty finding ways to push his micro-genre of mumble rap past its status as a millenial fad, but he was also cheekily undermining the hip-hop establishment that most of his contemporaries were still trying to seduce, for all their counter-cultural cred.
In essence, Lil Boat 2 should be an obvious sequel to Lil Boat, a bigger, badder takedown of rap’s most enduring tropes, complete with similar tropical beats and hypnotic synths that made is predecessor an underground sensation. Between his two Boat records, Yachty released his first proper album, the uneven but ambitious Teenage Emotions, a record that furthered his self-proclaimed title as the King of Teens by diving even more into a pop sensibility, all while keeping in line with the current hip-hop landscape. In short, Yachty’s star was rising, and his career looked promising.
The thing that’s difficult to grasp about Lil Boat 2 is that it seems to purposefully undo so much of the work that Yachty has done in the past few years to separate himself from the pack. When Teenage Emotions was released to less-than-stellar numbers (it charted at #5 and sold less than 50,000 copies in its first week), he was quick to brush off the haters via his Instagram – but in many ways, Boat 2 feels like a compromise to appease the very people he claims to dismiss. Instead of the genre-hopping, playful vibe we’ve come to expect from Yachty, Boat 2 at times feels like a dirge, an unnecessarily angsty missive to a world that misunderstands what Yachty is all about, without taking the time to remind us why we cared in the first place.
There’s nothing on Lil Boat 2 like “Forever Young”, the Diplo-produced Teenage Emotions track that sounds the way a soda with your crush tastes; there’s nothing as Balearic and suntanned as his breakout single “One Night”, where Yachty mumbles through his sexual exploits as if he’s slowly passing out in a jacuzzi. There’s nothing as grossly hilarious as his 2017 Migos collaboration “Peek a Boo”, with its weirdly childish refrain of “Play with that pussy like peek-a-boo, uh.” Instead, Lil Boat 2’s “GET MONEY BROS.” serves up the line “That pussy pretty but I still gotta sniff it” over a vaguely-uninspired trap beat. Yachty seems to have swapped his carefree humor for hard-guy posturing, which was never his strong suit.
“COUNT ME IN” is catchy, full of scratchy, bouncy basketball beats, but honestly could have been produced by The Neptunes 15 years ago. “Rap n*ggas tryna steal my style,” Yachty spits in the first verse, but – are they? His two most obvious successors would be Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Pump, both of whom he has collaborated with, the latter on this very album (on “BABY DADDY”, one of the more strangely engrossing tracks on Lil Boat 2 due to its mesmerizing, driving beat and borderline creepy synth line). But Pump has majorly eclipsed Yachty in an incredibly short period of time: in four months, his “Gucci Gang” single has clocked almost 600 million YouTube views, more than all of Yachty’s music combined. When those are the stats, is it even worth bringing up your rivals?
We know Yachty is talented – Lil Boat 2 may have a few dodgy lyrics here and there, but his flow is just as engaging as it was in the beginning. And tracks like “she ready”, which uses a melody from what sounds like an electric pan flute, hint back at what made Yachty such a phenomenon in the first place. It’s the most memorable track on the record, with an enticing sing-along chorus that sounds like it’s being pumped from some forgotten fairground by the beach. It’s the biggest indicator that, while he may be temporarily lost at sea, Lil Yachty has what it takes to find his way back to making the kind of cutting-edge hip-hop that has made him such a compelling artist thus far.
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- Words: Cameron Cook