I didn’t expect to still be listening to Lil Yachty in 2020. In fairness, it has less to do with him than me: too much of my early career as a music writer was consumed defending the crimson-haired Atlanta rapper from traditionalist critics like Joe Budden in the early era of what eventually would be tagged with disrespectful misnomer of “mumble rap.” Still, the return on investment for Yachty’s music had long begun to wane. It began with the critical derision of his 2017 debut album, Teenage Emotions, which, in retrospect, was a fine but ultimately negligible release in the SoundCloud rapper-turned-major-label-star ecosystem. Two forgotten mixtapes full of creative retreads followed in 2018, Lil Boat 2 and Nuthin’ 2 Prove. The former “King of the Teens” had to realize that teens’ (and rap writers’) attention spans are supremely fickle.
But this year, through a mixture of time, distance, and restraint, it’s become hard to deny Lil Yachty’s recalibration. The absence of a full-length project from the Atlanta rapper illuminated the one constant of his short career: 30 seconds of Yachty is always better than 3,000 seconds of Yachty. That was true when Yachty first burst onto the scene with features on Chance The Rapper’s “Mixtape” and DRAM’s “Broccoli,” and it’s even more evident now. Lately, Yachty’s been turning in acrobatic performances on songs like “Tadoe’s “Get It Bussin.” Over a Chief Keef-produced beat, he’ll deliver a thrown off couplet that’s among one of the better verse intros of the year — “Okay, my Hellcat devil-red / And my bitch yellow like deviled eggs.” At one point, Yachty raps, “Five hard knocks at your door like the landlord” as an FX knock fills the next bar and, without missing a beat, he picks up the next line with a “Get low or get wet, boy.”
Then there are more inventive swings, like “Crunk Ain’t Dead Mob” from Quality Control labelmate Duke Duece. There are 16 letters in the phrase “Crunk Ain’t Dead Mob” and Duece ad-libs the acronym across his verse. Yachty takes it one step further, bending the pronunciation of each word.
(C) For my Crips, don’t get dipped, ice all in my lip
(R) Or a nigga can’t be bought, but I stay with chips
(U) Know damn well you ain’t gangster and you ain’t gon’ flip
(N) The discussion, Wockhardt, no ‘Tussin
(Woo, K) ‘Ro, what we sell these niggas when they wanna sip
Duece’s “R” is an “Or” to Yachty. He turns the ad-libbed “U” into a “You,” followed by a “know damn well.” Duke’s “N” is really the word “end” in Yachty’s hands.
Even on something as critically inconsequential (albeit potentially lucrative) as “Speed Me Up,” a Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign, and Sueco the Child song from the Sonic The Hedgehog soundtrack, Yachty delivers a charming and technically adept performance. In a double-time whisper, Yachty raps about his best friend Tails — an anthropomorphized fox that ruined many a Sonic 2 level — so well that I knew it was time to re-evaluate Yachty entirely.
It’s clear now Lil Yachty was never meant to be an album artist. In many ways, his short, saccharine, pop culture-infused bars positioned him as a TikTok artist before TikTok became TikTok. In the vacuum of recent collaborations with Bryson Tiller, Zaytoven, and Lil Keed, or even writing part of City Girls’ “Act Up,” he’s sounded at home existing next to others. In 2020 he’s proving that more rappers should abandon full-length projects for greener (and smaller) pastures.