On Jan. 27, Lil Yachty opened the listening party for his surprise new album, “Let’s Start Here,” with the words that many eclectic fans of modern music have been forced to hear again and again: “I really wanted to be taken serious as an artist.” He continued with, “Not just some SoundCloud rapper, not some mumble rapper.”
As one of the biggest faces in the SoundCloud era of rap, which peaked from 2015 to 2019, Lil Yachty bought his mom a house while still in high school. Through all of his first seven albums, Lil Yachty incorporated his achievements as a key theme. These projects elevated Lil Yachty to a youthful stardom, and defined his playful role in the landscape of popular music. Until now.
Many Yachty fans were not excited to hear his words at the listening party. Mainstream rappers’ departures from their genre are usually unsatisfying, given that they already have a specific public image that is often rooted in rap culture. If Lil Pump, for example, were to attempt a singer-songwriter or folk album, it would most likely not do well commercially, regardless of its musical quality. He would have a difficult time coming off as the Lil Pump many know and love within the constraints of a genre so far from his musical origins.
Yet, contrary to the arguments many Lil Yachty fans make, the quality of Lil Yachty’s newly released 14 tracks is beyond acceptable. In fact, it’s packed with A-list pop orchestrators. Patrick Wimberly, Jacob Portrait, and Justin and Jeremiah Raisen are all names well known in producing and songwriting circles for their abilities to make catchy music with an air of sophistication when subjected to closer listening. The problem with the album came with the concept. When Yachty told us that he wanted respect as a musician, it became clear that wanted respect from a specific audience. His words indicated his abandonment of the indifferent and often confrontational attitude towards criticism that is integral to mainstream rap culture. Whether that criticism is coming from fellow contributors to the genre or from people culturally distanced, who are often white and of another generation, rappers tend to put an emphasis on their immunity to disapproval.
The Tame-Impala-meets-Silk-Sonic sound featured on “Let’s Start Here” is what taints the validity of the album. With its heavily reverb-ed synths and singing hidden behind layers of high-end production devices, the bubblegum hooks are able to escape the stigma which accompanies most modern pop, allowing fans the ego boost that can come with listening to “psychedelic rock” or “alternative dance,” without the chordal experimentation of those genres.
The album was sold as an experiment, pushing boundaries while testing Lil Yachty’s creative prowess, but the sound employed is instantly listenable. Yachty is already respected enough in the rap community, and he seems willing to trade his status in the culture to which he owes a large part of his success for a notion of a Tyler-the-Creator-style transition to pop stardom.