Like a molting moth, hip-hop as a genre is constantly shedding its skin, reforming and reimagining itself. Straying from the pack is not only rewarded, it’s often necessary to stand out in the internet age of Soundcloud rappers and bedroom producers. Like all deviations, risk is a major factor, and artists can expect backlash from lifelong fans and new adopters alike when they switch up their style. Even the most successful evolutions such as Tyler The Creator’s Flowerboy and Kanye West’s 808’s and Heartbreak were first met with skepticism and disdain. Yet they prevailed and marked pivotal moments in the advancement of the artists’ respective careers, a point of no return.
While these sort of changes have become more frequent in hip hop in recent memory, (MGK’s switch to pop punk with Tickets To My Downfall and Childish Gambino’s switch to R&B with Awaken My Love,) the music scene still holds its breath with every new arrival, fearing the worst. (Looking at you Rebirth by Lil Wayne.) So when trap artist and honey hot cheese puff enthusiast Lil Yachty released his psych rock album Let’s Start Here on January 27th of this year, the hip-hop community held its breath.
Exhale. Let’s talk about it. 2022 was an interesting year for Lil Yachty, with his only major release being the rather light hearted trap single Poland which found (whether ironic or not) immense success. Attested mostly to its explosion on TikTok, where creators used the song for comedic purposes on their videos. And with his only previous work before that being the critically panned Lil Boaty 2 and Nuthin’ 2 Prove, Lil Yachty ironically found himself in the position where the world needed him to prove himself more than ever, and that he did.
The album’s first cut “The Black Seminole” is a multi-layered progressive rock ballad featuring orbiting synths and cinematic drums undercut by a spacey bass line. Sounds completely unfamiliar to even the most well-versed fan of Lil Yachty, and that seems to be exactly the point. Despite this altered trajectory, devout fans of Yachty will be relieved to hear that (aside from some post-processing altercations,) the rapper’s distinct tonality and range is kept on the side of the familiar. While potentially jarring at first, Lil Yachty’s laid back and silky, relaxed vocals are stretched to great creative heights on tracks like “The Ride-” and “sAy sOMETHINg.”
Lil Yachty accomplishes what Drake failed to do with Honestly, Nevermind by diverting away from the type of music he is generally known for in the pursuit of an alternate creative vision. The X factor that differentiates these two attempts? Collaboration. Unlike Drake, whose sonic disruption rang hollow for all those familiar with the dance genre he chose to indulge in after throwing darts at a board, Lil Yachty clearly put thought and effort into researching and accumulating some of the best names in the psych rock business to help with this project.
Whether it’s the extensive knowledge from Jacob Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra acclaim, the cutting-edge production ear from Matthew Lewin of Magdalena Bay, or the legendary piano instrumentation from Ben Goldwasser of MGMT, Lil Yachty spared no expense when it came to enlisting an elite crew for his production team.
And all this is simply the tip of the iceberg, the laundry list of talent continues with writing credits from City Girls, Mac Demarco, and Alex G, alongside multiple captivating features from Justin Skye and Diana Gordon. Reinventing yourself takes dedication and learning, something Lil Yachty has proven to understand quite well, and his studious nature resonates throughout the entirety of the tracklist. Songs such as “WE SAW THE SUN!” and “Paint THE sky” focus on trippy synthesizers, slow, raw drumlines, and reverberating bass hits to conjure blissfully psychedelic atmospheres where the listener can float along to Lil Yachty’s voice, which echoes from the depths of the production, guiding us through the musical journey he’s so graciously put us on.
It feels strange to talk about the creator of songs like “NBAYOUNGBOAT” and “Minnesota” in such a way, but that dichotomy is where the beauty of Let’s Start Here is derived from. Truthfully, there is no other artist that could have created something so daring and bold. Because if established psych rock artists such as Pink Floyd or a more modern example Tame Impala attempted to create Let’s Start Here, they’d be operating within a genre they’ve already proven themselves to be well versed in. Hence, there wouldn’t be any risk associated with the creation. Yachty’s dive into the genre was a leap of blind faith and an understanding that this was a massive risk, one that could have cost him his reputation and fan base. And perhaps because of that knowledge, Lil Yachty clearly made sure to take every precaution in putting his best foot forward with this project. Collaborating with the most knowledgeable musicians at his disposal, and taking time to craft a thorough, articulate vision in a genre that he clearly respects and holds great admiration for.
This piece was not written with the intention to convince its audience to listen to Lil Yachty’s new album, (although it would be a great unintentional byproduct.) Rather, it was to give praise to the 2016 XXL freshman, who, using nothing more than his talents and connections within the industry, catapulted himself out of a decently comfortable position in the trap/hip-hop sphere into a complete and terrifying unknown. Luckily for Lil Yachty and for us, he landed on his feet, then executed an Olympic-level somersault with a few perfectly timed backflips mixed in. Hopefully, this success will spark other rappers within the game to try their own hands at a genre switch-up, (and hopefully, put more effort in than Drake did.) Because innovation and evolution have always been the cornerstones of what makes hip-hop the juggernaut it has been within the music industry, and out of left field albums such as Let’s Start Here is one among many reasons why it will stay that way for decades to come. The moth has molted, time to fly.