By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
Lil Yachty dropping a psychedelic rock album certainly wasn’t on my 2023 Bingo Card, but here we are!
A Soundcloud legend turned genre explorer, Yachty’s most famous for constantly having his hands in different bags, whether it be Detroit-based hip-hop, pop rap ghostwriting/producing, or just being a loveable social media presence. Yachty’s status in music is undoubtedly big, so him having interests beyond the hip-hop he came up in is natural. Even then, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted him going full on psych rock and dropping an album full of trippy instrumentation, minimal rapping, odd detours and grooves. Let’s Start Here is Yachty’s biggest risk yet, and he is helming it as his most serious and “mature” album yet. Despite me enjoying this project a lot, I think that there’s flaws underneath it that hold me back from truly loving it, especially in its songwriting and vocal performances.
Let’s start with the positives first, because there’s a lot to cover. This album sonically is gorgeous; not only is it Yachty’s most pristinely produced record, but it packs a lot of really cool textures and into each track. Opener “The Black Seminole” is a breathtaking opener, booming guitars and digital tones running under Yachty’s understated and spooky vocals. Yachty, the many producers, and the engineers here deserve so many flowers for the production throughout this record, as despite its abrasive and almost ethereal edge, there’s always something great about it. “The Ride” and “Pretty” are synth heavy summer jams, laid back and beautiful. “The Alchemist” is a mix of heavenly beat switches and distorted, fuzzy tones against some punk drums. One of my favorite beats has to be Pharrell-esque groove of “Drive Me Crazy”, a wonderful indie track that captures the same feeling of craziness for someone you’re in love with. This song also features one of my favorite songwriting moments from Yachty here, the verses being mellow and the hook with Diana Gordon sticking immediately. The production here absolutely rips, and even when there’s a less hard-hitting beat, the grand presentation is something to behold.
That isn’t to say Yachty gets washed up here; on the contrary, this is the most interesting Yachty has sounded artistically in a while, with some interesting risks taking place. Yachty kills it on the intro vocally, discussing his self-perception. “Paint the Sky” is a tried and true “love is a drug” ballad, but Yachty’s desperation on the song hits very hard. While many songs here can be a bit vague, I think that’s purely intentional, as the stream of consciousness style of a track like “We Saw The Sun” matches the slow burn it instills. Of course, despite acting serious and playing it straight for 80% of the album, there are a few moments where I think Yachty’s word choice works against that more “serious” thesis he goes for: “Pretty” is a great song but the way he describes sex is very juvenile, and “Failure” feels like he’s just rambling to make an ambient interlude work. Despite the occasional lyrical lowlight, again, the majority of the album is pretty well written, and the effort Yachty gives to give more weight to his emotions and his own confidence is tangible on tracks like “I’ve Officially Lost Vision” and “The Alchemist”.
Despite the initial honeymoon phase I’ve had (and I think others had) with this project, a few snags in the road have left me feeling a little less positive than I initially thought. To begin with, I think lots of people agree that many of the guests here overshadow Yachty, though in a way that may be intentional. This album is the least Yachty-centric one yet, but it’s still jarring to hear his guests like Teezo Touchdown run the show on “The Ride” or for Daniel Caesar to make up the majority of the outro, leaving the ending feeling a bit hollow thematically. As much as I love “Drive Me Crazy,” my favorite part of it is definitely Diana Gordon’s much more dynamic vocal performance; same goes for the bridge from Foushee on “The Alchemist.”
On top of the guests overshadowing Yachty quite a bit, I also admit that while I am loving the production of this album, it may slightly have worked against his bread and butter of hookiness. A decent amount of the refrains here don’t really hit like I think they should, and sometimes feel like they’re flat out missing in favor of instrumental detours; that isn’t to say different songwriting is inherently wrong, but it feels like Yachty’s talent for catchiness was erased, not replaced with anything more standout. It’s weird to say, but as I re-listen to these tracks, they don’t stick out that much to me individually (outside of the absolute highlights), making the more ambient or instrumental parts of the record feel kind of redundant. This is just a small issue though; the album as a whole is still a very good listen for the most part.
All in all, I think Let’s Start Here is a fascinating and mostly solid effort from Yachty. As far as branching out, Yachty’s done this transition to a new sound incredibly well on his first try, something he should be proud of…but I also don’t think it’s perfect. Yachty’s said that he wants this album to be taken seriously, more than just a “mumble rap” tape, but I think he may have missed the point. Any real fan of his music will respect a tape like Lil Boat as a serious project, and doing a rock album with fancy new instrumentals doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s better than your older stuff. I think that this project could have been touched up with some stronger songwriting and performances. Even then, I think Let’s Start Here is a great listen and will definitely yield some of the best songs that 2023 has to offer.
Best Tracks: “The Black Seminole,” “The Ride,” “Running Out of Time,” “Pretty,” “We Saw the Sun,” “Drive Me Crazy,” “I’ve Officially Lost Vision,” “Paint the Sky,” “The Alchemist