TEENAGE EMOTIONS by Lil Yachty
Favorite Tracks: “Like a Star,” “Peek a Boo (featuring Migos),” “Dirty Mouth,” “Harley,” “Say My Name,” “X Men (featuring Evander Griim),” “Bring It Back”
The only thing I think anyone can really agree on when it comes to Lil Yachty is that he really, truly, genuinely does not give one single flying fuck about who you are or what you think about him. Rising to astronomical prominence last year on the back of the now-corporately-parodied “Minnesota,” Lil Boat was immediately met with passionate detractors as soon as he cut his moors and set sail. And not without understandable reason, either; mixing a devil-may-care attitude towards the hallowed halls of hip hop history, a DIY middle-finger to demonstrating any actual technical propensity for rapping or music in general, and an immediate sell-out to any brand that would have him, Sprite, Nautica, and Target alike, is simply unprecedented. With cries of talentless mockery from one end and hyper-intellectual justifications for presence on the other, the man born Miles Parks McCollum has been nothing if not consistent in terms of insisting that he could care less, motivated solely by having fun and getting money to take care of his friends and family. But as I attended the release party for TEENAGE EMOTIONS two weeks ago, once again trying to unpack everything that Lil Yachty stands for and means, he started a food fight in the Loews Hollywood Hotel and I got a bowl of relish thrown in my face. And, in many ways, that’s the perfect way to approach Yachty’s full-length debut: we often forget that Boat is still only 19, and TEENAGE EMOTIONS is the perfect encapsulation of that age’s braggadocio, ennui, and sheer, misguided stupidity, hitting career highs and lows in equal measure, but never allowing a boisterous grin to leave its face for the duration.
Right off the bat, casual listeners will find the 21-song track list daunting (23, if you got the Target-exclusive version), and they can’t be blamed for it in the slightest. It’s clear that Yachty and his sailing team are enjoying the freedom bestowed upon those who are currently in the limelight, and as such, one should go into the album expecting a certain self-indulgence that manifests in a fearless and continually incongruous hodgepodge of Auto-Tuned crooning, a distinctively more hard-hitting propensity for trap, and a brazen experimentation with several different styles. In short, TEENAGE EMOTIONS can be a hot mess, and is best approached via the intro, “Like A Star,” which once again insists that Lil Yachty and Lil Boat are, in fact, two distinct and separate personalities, Boat being the Mr. Hyde to Yachty’s Jekyll in terms of tone and vocal style. While Lil Boat gives us the most traditionally enjoyable and easily accessible moments for those who have travailed the tides of modern trap rap, the most memorable tracks, as they often do, belong to Lil Yachty and his pastel-shaded, wide-eyed victory bop.
TEENAGE EMOTIONS is predominantly Yachty-oriented, but the Boat tracks, more than ever, prove that it would behoove those who immediately dismiss him as a meme to shut up and listen. The front-loaded triple threat of “DN Freestyle,” “Peek A Boo,” and “Dirty Mouth” certainly seem to suggest that there’s a darker undercurrent of frustration running underneath those cherry-colored locks, showcasing an outlook that is ruthless towards haters and cold towards women in turn. It runs into the same sticky thematic situations that any rapper operating in this realm does, and it’s songs like these that ultimately run up against Yachty’s outward persona of transgressive acceptance and youth-oriented antics. However, with “X Men” rounding out the pack much later in the album, uncomfortable associations (including an exceptionally unfortunate one with the despicable XXXTentacion) aside, it proves that Yachty is a much more invested and, for lack of a better word, “hard” rapper than most of the internet is willing to admit.
While “DN Freestyle” loses some efficacy due to its admittedly intentional lack of polish, “Peek A Boo” goes toe-to-toe with any trap single released in the past few years, riding high off a Clams Casino-esque beat and a blessing from the most ubiquitous trio in rap, and “Dirty Mouth” and “X Men” pummel and menace in equal measure, not sounding out of theoretical place on a DJ playlist opening for Chief Keef. In stark contrast to Lil Yachty’s marketing persona, and only really relatable to a thematic core of teenage emotions by a tenuous thread of anger, they’re hard songs to love, but if they get the layman to give the album a try, they’ve succeeded. And if that layman were to do just that, that’s where things would get interesting.
First and foremost, “Harley” and “Say My Name” are two of the best songs from Boat’s discography and possess infinite replay value. “Harley” is a melted Jolly Rancher of hip hop preening and posturing, situated somewhere between the joyfully loose vocalizations of Lil Uzi Vert, the blaring, blinding robotic shine of Sicko Mobb, and a vaguely nostalgic cacophony of instrumentation that is sure to make it a contender for song of the summer. “Say My Name,” meanwhile, channels Kanye’s “Wolves,” with a hard-hitting, rigidly structured beat that perfectly syncopates Yachty’s crepuscular, boastful message of resistance to the myriads who attempt to bring him down, with the ultra-affected “I just hit a lick on the runway…” segment raising the hair on the back of my neck every time.
As the most contentious single, “Bring It Back,” set the stage for, TEENAGE EMOTIONS could have (and, one could argue, should have) been a nearly unheard-of move from one of the most polarizing rappers in recent memory; a sentimental, groovy, Hell, even a little Drake-reminiscent ode to puppy love and the feelings alluded to in the album title. This is where Lil Yachty takes the mantle of King of the Teens over his angrier alter-ego, at least in terms of a coherent artistic vision, and I will argue the aforementioned song is certainly amongst the forerunners of the album’s highlight reel. “Bring It Back” is joined at the top of the pile by the breezy, downright fun one-two punch of the reggae-influenced, steel drum-redolent “Better (featuring Stefflon Don)” and high-school-prom-ready dance anthem “Forever Young (featuring Diplo),” both promising an unexpected versatility from Yachty while at the same time strengthening Boat’s presence as a shape-shifting parameter destroyer.
“Lady in Yellow” and “Made of Glass” are the two most extreme examples of this philosophy, with the former being a glacially-paced, Roger Troutman-influenced experiment in soporific seduction and the latter being the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard from Lil Yachty: synth ostinatos and arpeggios accompany Boat at his most saccharine and vulnerable, before transitioning into a soaring, piano-driven, string-soaked ballad that sounds like WICKED via T-Pain. Good? Perhaps not, but I’ll be damned if it’s the most daring thing I’ve heard from a “hip hop” artist.
All of that being said, there are several forgettable tracks that unnecessarily bloat the tail-end. While “Priorities” is a fun little diversion, offering an ultra-enunciated old school swagger that distracts from the fluff around it, “Running With a Ghost” might as well be white noise, “FYI (Know Now)” exists in the same world as “Harley” as a poor imitation, and both “No More” and “Momma (featuring Sonyae Elise)” are perfectly pleasant, but lack any singular flair that hasn’t been offered in a stronger format by other artists that came before Lil Yachty. However, my biggest complaint about TEENAGE EMOTIONS is a similar one to those I had of JEFFERY; I hate to say it, but Lil Yachty’s bark is worse than his bite in terms of actively opposing and dismantling hip hop hierarchy. I want Boat to be really, truly in defiance of all stereotypes and archetypes, but there are still the specters of tacit, nearly unconscious misogyny and violence, sexual and otherwise, that hang like shrouds throughout. For as daring as the album cover is, there’s really nothing here thematically that challenges any sort of status quo. Lil Yachty is, and likely always will be, an outsider, written off as a memetic, vapid sham, and it would behoove him to use this outsider status to make even bolder statements and claims in the future.
Now somewhere on my 15th listen or so, TEENAGE EMOTIONS has smoothed out its edges both positive and negative in terms of my enjoyment of it, but to the uninitiated, I would certainly encourage you to give it a spin. It doesn’t possess the jaw-dropping disbelief of the first time you heard LIL BOAT THE MIXTAPE, and in many regards shoots straighter than many fans would have hoped, but this is an impressive, bull-headed, self-indulgent major studio debut from someone who only rose into prominence a scant year before. As I’ve long said about Lil Yachty, it’s almost impossible to be neutral towards him, and his latest is still sure to garner a reaction. With so many clones drowning the blogosphere in hastily-produced SoundCloud refuse, TEENAGE EMOTIONS is refreshing. Many will hate it, some will love it, but nobody can look me in the eyes and tell me that Lil Yachty isn’t having much, much more fun than we are.