Yachty’s loose rudder on Teenage Emotions causes him to lose his bearings as he only half commits to “capturing all aspects of teenagers” while the other half boasts of a life unrelatable to most.
Lil Yachty has become the face and leader of a new generation of rappers that include the likes of Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage, and Playboi Carti. And one thing that generational changes always tend to bring is divisiveness. Either you’re totally on board with the oncoming wave, or you can’t stand it and will always be fundamentally against it. This seems to be the divided acceptance of Yachty thus far in his career.
But regardless of acceptance, it cannot be denied that the 19-year-old Miles McCollum has been successful. Last year, he put out two successful mixtapes, had major hits with D.R.A.M. and Kyle, and was featured alongside Carly Rae Jepsen in a cover of “It Takes Two” for a Target commercial.
Yachty’s been busy. And he’s built himself a brand, dubbing himself the “King of Teens” and continuing to crank out carefree, lighthearted “bubblegum rap”. And with a crew named The Sailing Team playing supporting cast, Yachty has been captaining a ship that is only gaining speed.
At this speed, Yachty came to release his debut studio album Teenage Emotions, a fitting title for the guy who started last year’s Summer Songs 2 by chanting “We are the youth”. This time around, Yachty said that he wanted to capture "all aspects of teenagers and what they go through: turnt, heartbreak, happiness, sadness." And this he attempts on a 70-minute voyage for which he almost completely left his normal crew behind. Instead, on Teenage Emotions, Yachty decided to collaborate with bigger names like Migos, Diplo, the Stereotypes, and YG.
These collaborations do result often in great production, some exciting and fun tracks, and actually, a much broader soundscape than Yachty has previously employed. However, Yachty’s loose rudder on Teenage Emotions causes him to lose his bearings as he only half-commits to “capturing all aspects of teenagers” while the other half boasts of a life unrelatable to most.
A significant factor in this half-committed effort is Yachty’s alter-ego, Lil Boat, and the clashing personalities and styles the two have. While Lil Yachty is the sensitive, high-pitched, Auto-Tuned guy that loves his momma, Lil Boat is the egocentric, money-stackin’ (but not heat-packin’) rapper trying to prove himself. The problem with Lil Boat’s rapping, however, is this: it’s bad. Like on his previous releases, Boat continually falls off the flow as seen from the very beginning on the sloppy “DN Freestyle”.
It’s undeniable every single time Yachty collaborates with other rappers that he is very under-developed. Case in point: “Peek a Boo”, which features Migos, where Boat’s lazy delivery gets shown up by Quavo and company. Another issue with his raps is that his lyrics just do not connect with the average teenager, except in an escapist type of way. On “X Men”, he raps, “Countin’ it, stackin’ it, flexin’ it / If she pretty, promise I’m sexin’ it." Now, I’m three years removed from Yachty; I guess I must have forgotten all those perks of the teenage life. And while we’re talking about “X Men”, he ends the sole verse with the gem “You stinky and dirty like farts”. OK, I guess that smells like teen spirit. Joking aside, not only is it unrelatable, but it’s dull worn-out braggadocio. It lacks the carefree, fun-in-the-sun nature that popped up so much on Summer Songs 2.
The sole trap song that works on the album is “Priorities”. This song is a middle finger to authority and structure: “I’ma do whatever I want to when I say so.” But at the same time, Boat is self-aware as he admits his attitudes and “priorities are way out of whack." The emotions on this track are as pop-punk as the girl with the green mohawk on the album’s cover.
So where do those efforts to capture teenage emotion culminate? Mostly in the second half of the album when Yachty decides to sing more, rap less, and just let loose. The one, two of “Better” featuring Stefflon Don and “Forever Young” featuring Diplo are easily the happiest tracks on the album. The former is a reggae love song featuring heavy snap tracks, bright acoustic guitars, and lots of island vibes as Yachty daydreams: “Let’s grow old, rocking chairs and play checkers.” The dreams of the future continue on Diplo’s youth pop anthem as he belts out “We could be together forever / We forever young."
The hot streak continues with the seductive “Lady In Yellow”, which brings to mind “Purple Rain” with its scattered electronic kicks and toms. The ‘80s callbacks return on “Bring It Back”, which is what I’d imagine we’d get if Justin Bieber sang over a track by the 1975, sax solo included.
Yachty sings some pretty good Kanye circa-808s and Heartbreak karaoke on “No More” as he laments through distorted auto-tune all the hoes that just want his money. As Yachty comes to the close of the album, he gets more emotional and more focused on love (perhaps trying to get his priorities back in line). “Made of Glass” is a truly heartbreaking piano ballad where Yachty asks a girl, “Am I made up of glass / Do you see straight through me / Do you not want to be what we once talked about.” But despite all the girlfriends and hoes, the first lady of Yachty’s life is found on “Momma”, a heartwarming track that features Miles’ mom loving on him to close out the album.
If this album started at about track eight or nine, this would be a different review. The back half is full of heartbreak, happiness, and all things teenage life over some really good instrumentals varying from trap to reggae to ballads. It has arc. It has feeling. But for some reason, Yachty thought that bragging about himself, calling out haters, and trying to prove that he can rap (he shouldn’t so much) was more important than creating something focused and sincere. There is potential to be found here. Just stick to the singing.