Though it wasn’t actually that long ago, the pop music landscape into which Lil Yachty first emerged doesn’t really look the same as the one that exists today. Releasing his debut mixtape, Lil Boat, in 2016 right as trap’s cultural dominance was peaking, Lil Yachty’s music managed to stir up the genre’s last round of significant discourse; the jingly, simplistic nature of songs like “Minnesota” and “Good Day” reignited debates over the merit of so-called mumble rap years after fellow Atlanta compatriots Young Thug and Future had decisively put them to rest. But Yachty’s music was so proudly goofy and frivolous that Lil Boat was met with a fair amount of skepticism from critics who mostly saw the rapper/model/actor’s attempt at a lofty concept album (in which he embodies both the Yachty persona and his more aggressive cousin Lil Boat) as a juvenile take on trap music, undercooked even by the genre’s minimalist standards. Ultimately, the question of whether or not Yachty was an industry troll never really disrupted his career, the broader music culture already mostly committed to their poptimist slant; and besides all that, the act appeared mostly earnest, the persona carrying convincingly (if not always impressively) across two more Lil Boat mixtapes and an aptly titled studio album, King of Teens.
The days of Yachty’s divisiveness are far behind us, his schtick long since absorbed into the contemporary pop canon, so it makes perfect sense that he’d be looking for a new angle from which to work: On Let’s Start Here, he redirects into the world of psychedelic rock music. Remarkably, this career reset has managed to command the Internet’s attention, provoking social media back-and-forths over the project’s authenticity reminiscent of the commotion around Lil Boat. However, unlike Yachty’s keenly timed debut, his latest doesn’t feel especially vital nor likely to prove trendsetting — the rapper’s pivot to consciousness-expanding rock n’ roll music comes some years late to the trend and offers little in the way of its expansion.
Pulling from a similar collection of sound and inspirations as Kid Cudi and A$AP Rocky, Let’s Start Here recasts Yachty as a blissed out psychonaut crusading against the cruelties of the modern, material world. As per usual, it’s hard to doubt the warbly MC’s sincerity as embodied in his new, enlightened outlook (although 2021’s Michigan Boy Boat suggested a harder-edged direction that showed more promise), and his positioning within the industry has earned him access to a lineup of excellent, relevant collaborators (Chairlift’s Patrick Wimberly’s production in particular, with standout contributions from Alex G, Mac DeMarco, and MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser), so that Let’s Start Here is at least never a true drag. But it’s never a very satisfying album either, its aesthetic largely borrowed and performed competently but without much verve or originality.
Which isn’t to say that there aren’t satisfying grooves (“running out of time” is admittedly catchy, if still skewing a little too theatrical) or the occasional spark of inspiration (the ebullient power pop switch-up of “The Alchemist.” suggests a much more thrilling album somewhere in between this and Michigan Boat Boy). But this project feels effortful in the worst ways, its songs all overly refined and commercial-ready. And while Yachty remains a mostly harmless artist, the wisdoms he espouses on Let’s Start Here leave much to be desired, the album hitting a low point almost immediately on “the BLACK seminole” when he muses, “Love is not a lie / It just feels like a Tarantino movie scene.” At worst a somewhat cringey attempt at a rebrand, Let’s Start Here at least manages to coast off of Lil Yachty’s charming presence and unaffected approach to the material, but much cultural resonance beyond these already established virtues can’t be expected.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 7.