Before you listen to Lil Yachty, throw out any preconceived notions about what being a “rapper” means or how a rap album should sound. As he has stated in numerous articles and interviews, Yachty is not a rapper. To call him such would be an insult to both the genre itself as well as Lil Boat as an artist. He is one who cannot be boxed in with labels and stereotypes — a genre-busting, iLoveMakonnen/Young Thug super freak who bounces from one sound to the next with ease. On his major label debut, Teenage Emotions, Lil Yachty expands upon the sounds and styles that made his previous mixtapes such divisive earworms. If the listener is on board with the Yachty persona, it’s an extremely fun listen.
One of the biggest knocks on Boat is his technical rapping skill. On Summer Songs 2, Yachty simply could not keep up with the ferocious beats he was given, oftentimes rapping two steps behind where he should have been. On Teenage Emotions, Yachty seems much more in control of his flow and cadence, making the times when he is rapping much more convincing. But don’t get confused; this is still the same artist who once rapped, “Just fucked a hoe out in France/ Paint her face like Picasso.” Yachty’s bars range from the goofy tough-guy to the misogynistic Lothario, with hardly any space in between. On “XMen”, Lil Boat takes aim at the detractors standing in his way, but even the threats sound like a grade-school playground battle (Everywhere I drive leave marks/ All of you n***as is marks/ You stinky and dirty like farts). It’s endearing in its silliness but leaves something to be desired.
Yachty is at his best when he ditches the braggadocios bars for a tenderer, Auto-Tune-dripping croon. Teenage Emotions holds some of his strongest tracks to date because you can feel the sincerity through the robotic wails and shrills. “Say My Name” sees the King of the Teens searching for love and strength through the craziness of fame. His voice dips to a guttural moan when he sings, “My brother used to sleep in a Hyundai/ Now he spends about a hundred J’s on a fun day (wow),” and you can feel the familial admiration and love. Yachty’s love of Coldplay has been widely noted, and it’s an obvious point of influence on the penultimate track, “Made of Glass”. This is Boat at his most vulnerable, and the sincerity with which he lays his heart on the line for the girl he loves makes you forget that he ordered a woman to clean his piss off of his bathroom floor.
Lil Yachty the pop star shines on Teenage Emotions, and the wide range of styles with which he delivers his message of youthful exuberance shows a growing artist. The vocoder intro on “Lady in Yellow”, the orchestral flourishes on “Made of Glass”, and the island vibe of “Better” are new and exciting tools for Yachty to play with. Where the album falls short is in length. It appears Lil Boat has fallen into the new trend of quantity over quality; the more songs on the record, the better chance of Billboard success. Filler tracks such as “Dirty Mouth” and “Moments in Time” derail the parade of energy Teenage Emotions delivers, leaving the record with too many skip-worthy moments.
The first and last tracks on the album focus on Lil Yachty’s relationship with his mother, a source of strength and love for Boat. It is these moments where you remember Yachty is only 19, in many senses a child in a scene filled with grown-ups. As the self-proclaimed king of the youth, Yachty represents a break from the norm, a purveyor of freedom and self-love who doesn’t really care what you have to say about his hair or his clothes or his grills. It is here where the magic of Teenage Emotions lives: Be comfortable with who you are and fuck whoever tells you to do otherwise. Lil Yachty is not a rapper; he is youthful energy incarnate, the boat sailing into uncharted waters.
Essential Tracks: “Say My Name”, “Made of Glass”, and “All Around Me feat. Kamiayah and YG”