There is no regional music scene that has flourished the past two years like Michigan rap. And there is no bigger fan of Michigan rap than Lil Yachty. During this period, Yachty has spent a disproportionate amount of time hanging out in the recording studios and gas station parking lots of Detroit and Flint, ingratiating himself amongst the state’s premier street rappers and doing as the locals do — acting playful and dead-serious at the same time, rapping loose on fast beats, forgoing hooks, and stringing together verses out of darkly funny one-liners. Yachty has become a staple of Michigan posse cuts, appearing on tracks like “Flintana” and “Run Down”; on “Royal Rumble,” from February, Flint bruiser RMC Mike proclaimed, “Me, Yachty, [Louie] Ray, [Krispy Life] Kidd, and Rio the Fab Five,” thus consecrating Lil Boat forever in Michigan lore.
Yachty’s love affair with Michigan rap culminates with Michigan Boy Boat, a 14-track mixtape that features a dozen-odd Michigan rappers, including Sada Baby, Tee Grizzley, Rio Da Yung OG, and YN Jay. Aside from the excellent “G.I. Joe,” an upbeat riff on Lil Boat 3 standout “Split,” the mixtape fully embraces the Michigan aesthetic. (And despite dropping five days ago, it’s not even Yachty’s most recent Michigan collab.) Michigan Boy Boat primarily succeeds as a celebration of Yachty’s passion for Michigan rap and the long-distance bromance and musical chemistry that he’s developed with his Midwestern counterparts. He fits naturally in this scene in part because the imperative to incorporate a heavy dose of humor gives him the opportunity to evolve his whimsical origins as the “King of the Teens.”
Yachty is a great ambassador for Michigan rap, but as Michigan Boy Boat illustrates, he’s far from the best practitioner of the style. He is the protagonist of the mixtape, but he isn’t its anchor. Solo joints “Final Form” and “Concrete Goonies” and the Swae Lee collab “Never Did Coke” feel unmoored without the grounding presence of a Michigander. At the same time, other tracks feel like the JV team going up against the varsity in an intrasquad scrimmage. Sada Baby outraps Yachty on “SB 2021,” a battle of libidos, but then again, whomst amongst us matches up well against Sada’s swashbuckling charm and knowledge of global cuisine (“Brazilian bitch gon’ eat the dick like feijoada”). As the song ends, Yachty sounds distracted and hurried, as though the studio manager is urging him to leave the booth and wrap up his session. Similarly, on “Ghetto Boy Shit,” Yachty pales in comparison to RMC Mike’s burly charisma. To flow outside the beat is to superimpose a pocket, and on this track, Yachty fails to develop one.
The most exciting moments on Michigan Boy Boat come when Yachty fades to the middle ground and becomes just another one of the boys circled up in a cypher. On “Plastic,” he begins and ends his verse with a nod to Icewear Vezzo, rapping “the way that Vezzo drive his Wraith, could tell he ain’t rent it” before seamlessly handing Vezzo the mic. Mixtape closer “This That One” feels like an old-school jazz cutting contest — six rappers hurtling forward together at breakneck speed, each one trying to sound more depraved than his counterparts. In this high-speed, communal environment, Yachty sounds at home.