If Lil Wanye’s Rebirth is the prototype for rappers-turned-rockstars, then Lil Yachty’s endeavor into psychedelic rock with Let’s Start Here is a logical evolution. Leaving his bubblegum trap origins in the rearview, Lil Yachty recounts all that he discovered on an introspective journey into the untapped elements of his artistry.
As the title suggests, the Atlanta rapper’s career divides into two periods – before Let’s Start Here, and after. Aimed to be a new beginning for Yachty – a man who as a child was blamed for “killing” Hip Hop, his most recent LP features a moderate shift in style from impassioned rap to the howling vibrato of a modern psychedelic sound. It would be disingenuous to say this is a massive shift, as the despised Teenage Emotions also featured elements of alternative rock and psychedelia. However, instead of letting his team confuse Squidward’s clarinet for a cello, Yachty has learned from his mistakes and recruited some of indie music’s greatest. Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait, Justin Raisen, Magdalena Bay, and Patrick Wimberly of the disbanded duo Chairlift received various credits for production; while Mac Demarco, Nick Hakim, Alex G, and MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser all scored recognition as lyricists.
Cracked open by a languid breakdown of percussion,“the BLACK seminole” offers an immediate change of pace from his previous work. “No time to joke around, the kid is now a man / And the sadness is filled with remarkable sounds,” he croons throatily.
Featuring Teezo Touchdown, “the ride-” reflects on Yachty’s course in Hip Hop. Where “the BLACK seminole.” likens him to an industry outcast – a chip he tethers to his shoulder, “the ride-” sees Yachty pleading for respect from the same people who quickly ostracized him. Let’s Start Here. is desperate to exalt the rapper from the categorization of Hip Hop as it once confined him; the truth is that as “groundbreaking” as Yachty continues to say this album is, such a sentiment also ignores rap’s present affinity for transformation – for breaking and bending itself to redefine that which it can be. In 2023, Yachty is not the first person to take a stylistic turn into left field.
But, it sounds good, and that’s the most important thing – allowing Yachty to dabble in a fresh palette of songs that he’s hinted at, encouraging him to take the risk that predated this release. “Drive Me Crazy,” “Say Something,” and “Pretty” showcase a softer, more romantic side of Lil Yachty. “I feel so pretty,” he warbles dreamily, expressing himself with a cathartic transparency that is worlds away from the pent-up frustrations of “Go Krazy, Go Stupid Freestyle” or “YAE ENERGY.” Engaging with suicidal thoughts, experiences of anti-blackness, and heartbreak, Let’s Start Here. projects Yachty’s inner monologue out into the world.
With respect to his long-standing career as a rapper, Lil Yachty’s latest release comes across as few and far between; but, when placed in company with the works of other indie artists – like Tame Impala, Magdalena Bay, Yves Tumor and others, Let’s Start Here. falls short of what most listeners have come to expect from psychedelic rock and indie pop. The most obvious downfall of the project is the use of repetitive loops where breakdowns or solos should exist. The rugged guitar riff of “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST VISION!!!!” picks up intensity and then leads to nowhere, fizzling out from the lack of emphatic contrast between the build and the drop. The same disappointment applies to the seemingly promising crescendo of “The Alchemist.” Titled as so, it would be fair to expect this particular track to be the one where Yachty puts it all out there – where he turns his existing discography into gold. And yet, the kick drum that pounds like a racing heartbeat does not lead into something grander, rather it disseminates with the soft vocals of Fousheé.
Let’s Start Here. is exciting at the first listen because the style is new to Lil Yachty himself. Alas, the shiny sheen of new experiences tends to dull over time and with repetition. After a few plays through, there is little left to be discovered; this proves to be a problem for Yachty, particularly when he proudly pins the album as psychedelic rock. Unlike with the ephemerality of Let’s Start Here, Tame Impala’s Currents possesses the sonic and thematic layers to maintain an element of discovery even years after its release. The beauty of the whining reverb in “We Saw the Sun” is undeniable; but when the listener attempts to move beyond the surface, Yachty’s rendition of the classic instrumental inter-play of psychotropic rock unravels as if pulled from a string.
If contextualized by the tried and true characteristics of alternative rock, Let’s Start Here. seems inspired by Yves Tumor or any one of his esteemed indie collaborators, but it cannot stand independently against them or the test of time; Yachty’s rock debut is unique mostly in the sense that it reveals an alternative aspect of his artistry, a departure from Michigan Boy Boat, the Lil Boat series and is his massive warbling smash “Poland.” In regards to what it offers for the future of psychedelic rock, the LP treads above the already-existing footprints of Currents and Tumor’s Heaven To A Tortured Mind.
Still, the record allows for the progression of the perception around Yachty’s career as a musician. Much like Rihanna with ANTI, Let’s Start Here. places Lil Yachty in a position to be considered for his versatility and artistic merit. A career shift into psychedelic rock is more than a stylistic choice; it is a decision to attempt an alternation of the listener’s mind. When understood in terms of creative growth, Yachty earns success, adjusting the preconceived notions that surrounded him. But much like Harry Styles, Yachty’s pastiche is not anything new, and it doesn’t have to be.
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