Wow. In one of the most surprising and impressive recent releases, Let’s Start Here sees Lil Yachty completely change direction. Moving into pop, psychedelic, alternative and most notably classic rock, the Atlanta native not only succeeds in the most difficult of transitions, but preserves his idiosyncratic, carefree style when doing so.
Rappers love dipping their toes into rock music. To varying degrees of success, XXXTentacion, Lil Uzi Vert, Vic Mensa, Machine Gun Kelly and Slowthai are just some to have recently straddled the line between genres. Rap-rock is nothing new and it’s typically always culminated in a punk-inspired sound, feeling a little like an impersonation of a rock star, the music often worse than good rap or good rock.
Lil Yachty bucks that trend, in more ways than one. Assessed purely on its merits as an album, Let’s Start Here is excellent. It’s engaging, confident, experimental and consistent. Almost as admirable, for as much of a divergence as this marks, is that the music is always recognisably his, his autotuned croon distinguishable even in this new arena.
In a sentence I never thought I’d write: the influence of Pink Floyd on Lil Yachty is clear. More remarkable still, is that Yachty is not only able to draw inspiration from this sound, but effectively add his own twist to it. It’s not just classic rock, either, there are elements of synth-pop and more experimental music as well – if songs like ‘The Black Seminole’ and ‘We Saw The Sun!’ serve as Lil Yacht-ified iterations of Pink Floyd, ‘Running Out Of Time’ sounds like if Lil Yachty made Channel Orange.
On one hand, Yachty had little to lose in releasing such an ambitious record; he’s never been known for his projects and has had a string of underwhelming LPs. On the other hand, this is an album packed with monumental risk, each track pushing boundaries, each track seemingly destined to fail, and yet none do. Even the interlude, ‘Failure’ – I would have never believed you if you’d told me Lil Yachty would make an engrossing, vulnerable three minute monologue that sounds like an ayahuasca retreat with Native Americans.
There are still rap verses from Lil Yachty on Let’s Start Here. Even these sound better than ever before. On both ‘The Ride’ and ‘The Zone’, he quickly finds his feet, a slower, more monotonous flow helping avoid the peaks and troughs that defined his music catalogue for so long.
My favourite track on this album might be ‘Drive Me Crazy’, featuring Diana Gordon. The first two minutes are a fantastic, 70s and 80s inspired dance track, reminiscent of ‘Boogie Wonderland’. Gordon deserves the credit for opening it up, but even Lil Yachty himself sounds good in this unimaginable setting. The track ends with what might be the longest verse on the album, Yachty again benefitting from slowing things down.
‘I’ve Officially Lost Vision!!!!’ is a song of two halves. The first half was one of the only moments on the album when I wondered if, perhaps, the style-fusion wasn’t quite going to work. Instead, Gordon features again and the end of the track is one of the best examples of how Yachty has amplified and extended his sound into a realm that seemed beyond his reach.
That Gordon is so impressive is indicative of, I imagine, where some criticism of Let’s Start Here will lie. People will say it’s not really him. Unlike Pink Floyd, back in the day, he’s not playing the music, he’s just enlisting big-budget production, and elite vocalists like Gordon and Daniel Caesar on the outro, ‘Reach The Sunshine’. In my eyes, that’s besides the point. Let’s Start Here has Yachty’s fingerprints all over it, even in the moments that he’s not singing, and choosing to prioritise quality over quantity is a decision so many hip-hop artists of Yachty’s generation could learn from.
You wonder quite what he means with the title, Let’s Start Here. It may well be entirely personal. If so, it’s more than just a perfect fresh start in a career that was beginning to stagnate. If the start Yachty is referencing is wider reaching, the album is as bold a statement of direction as he could have made.
Because, rather than making his life easier, enlisting high-end production and guest appearances seems a sign of maturity. Yachty’s still only 25. The easy decision is to just back yourself and stick with what you know. Yachty’s always shown moments, but he’s adapted here to maximise those moments, and turn to others when needed. Gone are the sunshines and rainbows of the likes of ‘Broccoli’ and ‘iSpy’ that helped launch Yachty, but make no mistake, this is still an optimistic, radiant album.
Lil Yachty just doesn’t need to explicitly say so anymore.