Lil Yachty shows potential on 'Lil Boat'

Monday, March 28, 2016 - 3:20pm

There must be something in the water of Atlanta. For as long as the city has been producing rappers, it’s had a claim to some of the most eclectic personalities to ever grace hip hop. Over the course of twenty years the city has gone from Outkast and Goodie Mob, to Gucci and Flocka, to ILoveMakonnen selling lean out of an ice cream truck. I imagine the kids of Zone 6 have put the guns down and instead picked up laptops and hallucinogens. As of late, the Internet has given the city’s weirdos a platform to broadcast themselves to anyone willing to listen, and my god, they’re making waves.

Lil Yachty is the latest to catch the “Weird Atlanta” wave, and he generally navigates the same Rugrats Trap space that Makonnen established. I was admittedly skeptical that his Internet-buzz was engineered through Ian Connor endorsements and a Yeezy Season 3 appearance, so I approached Lil Boat already convinced that he was an industry plant. But then the intro kicked off with an excerpt from Finding Nemo; kind of gimmicky, but it erased all fear that this dude was faking it. Atlanta’s got another one.

The intro mixes snares and 808s with a soundscape that would otherwise fit right into a children’s cartoon. While I was convinced of his honesty, I was yet to be given a reason to take him seriously. Then about halfway through the intro, Yachty lets the beat trail off before crooning a directionless melody over what might be a xylophone. By the time the bass thumps back in, you know it’s serious. Make all the Makonnen comparisons as you’d like, but there’s absolutely nothing like this in hip-hop right now.

“Minnesota” features a beat comprised of no more than three different notes, each probably played on a keyboard’s default setting. Yachty whispers “You need to stay up out the streets if you can’t take the heat …” and for a moment the song is a hood lullaby of sorts. Then the snares start rolling and he takes his falsetto to unforeseen levels, singing, “Cause it get cold like Minnesota!” on loop for the bulk of the track. More importantly, Thugger and Quavo stop by to give the only cosigns that matter in Atlanta. Quavo compares the temperature of his wrists to that of The Gopher State’s climate (hint: icy), and Thug does what Thug does. This is the song that will likely be make-or-break in “getting” Lil Yachty.

The fuckery doesn’t stop there; “Run/Running” samples Super Mario sound effects (because jumping to acquire coins is a metaphor for upward mobility, right?) and a woodwind melody straight from “The Lion King.” Yachty spits “Young n**** just ran the sac up!” for longer than you can count, before deciding to linger on the last syllable for a drop that’s way better than it’s supposed to be. He snatches a “level up” sound bite for the hardest beat-switch on the entire tape. By the time he starts slurring “I think I just raised the leverage / Purple codeine in my beverage” the vision is made pretty clear.

The production on Lil Boat in general is some of the most immersive and exciting music to be released this year. While the combination of infantile beats and traphouse bars has been rehashed a million times, Yachty elevates the entire proposition of “New Atlanta rapper” to ridiculous levels. It’s like he still sleeps in a Nascar bed but pours lean for his cereal.

My only concern for Lil Yachty is longevity. We’ve had Internet-rap long enough to witness the conception of a potentially great career, only to see a third trimester abortion two mixtapes later. The Internet giveth, and the Internet taketh away. When Yachty gets it right, it often sounds like he’s on the cusp on creating a new sub-genre, akin to what was brewing with Lil B in ‘09. “1Night” went viral on Soundcloud earlier this year, and bedroom-producer imitations have already started making the rounds.

There’s nothing that’s outwardly “bad” on Lil Boat, but it just feels a little disposable. In the same way that New Atlanta mainstays like Young Thug and Future have consistently tweaked their cadence over countless projects, Yachty just needs time. If he continues to develop and mature his ideas without losing the childish spirit, he could really be onto something. If not, there’s probably another kid with Wi-fi and a cracked version of Fruity Loops, just waiting to replace him.