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Are You on or off Lil Boat?

With the release of Lil Yachty’s debut album, ‘Teenage Emotions,’ two Ringer staffers argue about whether it’s any good and about Yachty’s merits as a rap artist

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

By Justin Charity and Micah Peters

Micah Peters: Lil Yachty, self-proclaimed “King of the Teens,” has a new teenage album out Friday called Teenage Emotions. I think it’s an enjoyable 70 minutes of lolling, Seussian, brightly colored, bizarro pop music. Which in short means I think it’s fine. Sometimes even great! And Charity is a salty salted saltlick. And also a hater.

Justin Charity: Yachty called the Notorious B.I.G., who is dead, “overrated.” But he said this in that goo-goo, gah-gah, aw-shucks, Rugrats voice, so I guess that makes him a bushy-tailed champion of positivity or whatever. I’m not the hater here. I’m the reaper.

Teenage Emotions opens with Lil Yachty introducing himself in the style of a stage-play puppeteer, referring to himself in the third person, and stealing Lil Bibby’s whole flow for “DN Freestyle.” This your mans?

Peters: Well, later in Teenage Emotions, on “Priorities,” Yachty repeats, “My priorities are fucked.” And as someone who has spent an embarrassing amount of money on sneakers and then balked at a plane ticket home, I felt it deeply, like, in my bones. In my soul, Charity. Why does everything cost money?

Then again, he also said, “Suck me like an insect,” on the same song, which doesn’t make sense logistically or like, anthropologically, so …

Charity: Ah, money, yes. How much money do you think they had to pay YG, an actually great rapper with a legitimately interesting musical perspective, to shout “I fuck with Lil Yachty” not once, not twice, but three times on “All Around Me”?

Micah, how did we get to this unfortunate point, where a sentient Millennial Personal Brand Starter Kit has released a must-listen rap album?

Peters: Well, a wildly popular SoundCloud song, raucous live shows, and an interesting persona that’s only grown stronger each time he’s made to answer for himself and his entire generation. Which he does, really well, a lot.

Also, no one is saying the Biggie comments weren’t wild out of pocket. But there are also few people who were in pocket at the age of 19.

If I knew everything about Jimi Hendrix, from his favorite mistress down to his preferred brand of sock, would that suddenly make me able to play the guitar with my teeth? There are so many steps between those two things that it is almost as if they have nothing to do with each other.

Yachty’s music itself isn’t really it; it’s mostly throat-clearing and half-finished thoughts. But it’s fun, the way that stuff usually is. Not much to think about, plenty to enjoy. It misses as often as it hits, but when that Yachty hits 

Yachty is mostly “good” on the merits of him being game to test out an idea — however dumb — without the smallest hint of shame, and succeed often enough, I find. But like, Charity. Charity. Have you heard “No Hook”? Quavo kinda carries it, but who else do you know that’s used the word “flabbergasted” in conversation, let alone in a rap song?

Anyway, he’s a fun character to root for. Give me a rapper with the brusque simplicity of Migos, the impossible positivity of Lil B, a needless alter ego, a healthy distaste for rules, and I’m pretty much sold.

Charity: You’re giving Lil Yachty way too much credit. Soulja Boy was piloting dumb ideas and hook-first nonsense since Lil Yachty was blowing snot bubbles on plastic cots in Kindercare. (That was 10 years ago, for the record.) Who else do I know who would say “flabbergasted” like that? How about Quavo himself?

Ostensibly, Lil Yachty is a pioneer of teen self-expression. This is despite the fact that Yachty’s depictions of adolescence and his embodiment of such, are generic contrivance. I will pay you $1 million to cite just one distinct instance of Yachty’s teen angst, or whatever, that isn’t just some plug-and-play bullshit. Meanwhile, I will pay Lil Yachty $1 trillion to make a song — just one song — that is one-tenth as good or interesting or authentic to adolescent mood as Lil Uzi Vert’s fatalist screed, “XO TOUR Llif3.”

Most pop music is generic. SoundCloud is a wasteland of genre clichés. But most pop music doesn’t ask me to hail cat-rhymes-with-hat Top 40 musicians as idiot savants. Lil Yachty’s music asks me to pretend that I’m dumber than I am. It asks me to be in on a joke that’s not particularly funny or interesting. Hard pass.

I hate his music in general. We should talk about Yachty’s album in particular, though, since it’s his first proper commercial release, and so the stakes for this kid — who has otherwise made his name on a song here, a feature there — are new. What do you make of Teenage Emotions?

Peters: It’s about as scattershot and goofy and earnest and heartwarming as the cover art suggests, which is to say very. He tumbles headlong into novel, awkward feelings — as teens do — without having the faintest clue what any of them could really mean. Some of the words he uses to talk about them sound borrowed from the conversations of older people. On “Say My Name,” he searches for love, like, real love, you know, the kind that’d still be there even if you weren’t making Target bank. “Better” is similarly obvious: “I love you ’cause you be making me better, you make me feel so much better.” It’s clumsy and funny (even when it could be serious). And juuust endearing enough to grant him partial credit on emotional intelligence. Like Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club, but without the pinot grigio because Yachty doesn’t drink. (Get off me I’ve got weird references for days.)

Of course, that goes for the bleeding-heart stuff like his adorable ode to “Momma” on the outro, or the we’re streaking through the quad stuff like “Forever Young.” Which, it’s crazy how this is now the only song ever in all of recorded human history titled “Forever Young,” isn’t it? Almost as crazy as how Kanye just sort of saw Mr. Hudson through a pub window in London and decided he had to have him.

I will say Teenage Emotions isn’t hauling you onboard if you’re still drowning in pretenses. At 19 tracks it’s too long, and there’s a lot of wailing.

But while graceless Auto-Tuned professions are kind of part and parcel of his brand of music, if you want rapping, there’s that too. He holds his own on “Peek a Boo” as well as any other rapper that was not as good as Offset this year. On “X Men” he says you, Charity, one of his haters, are “stinky and dirty like farts,” and I believe him. I am upset, however, that “Other Shit (Interlude)” now makes two rappers who failed to deliver anything satisfying over that oddly addicting Fruity Loops preset-ass beat.

Speaking of Fruity Loops, you’re right. I forgot about Soulja Boy.

I cannot believe I forgot about Soulja Boy.

To be totally fair to myself though, recently DeAndre has been spending a lot of his time failing to prove he’s stamped while also beefing with Bhris Brown over whose fame is most fleeting.

Soulja Boy was nonsense, and Yachty is NoNsEnSe.

Charity: Lil Yachty, the personal brand, could stand to learn a thing or two from Soulja Boy, who spun his own intergenerational rap riff with Ice-T into comedy gold. The best Yachty could do was mumble through his feud with Soulja Boy earlier this year, which Soulja Boy lost only due to that deus ex machina intervention from Breezy.

A theme of Lil Yachty conversations on the internet is that people only care about how Lil Yachty, the personal brand, positions himself with regard to other players in the hip-hop ecosystem. If you think Ebro is a reactionary fool, then Yachty is good because he makes Ebro, a hater, mad. Yachty’s whole “you’re either with the teens or you’re against them” shtick is the crux of his appeal. Lil Yachty is a musician only after the fact of his being a personal brand. Music is not his calling. Lil Yachty’s calling is the marketing department, which will pay him more in the long run.

“Forever Young” is horrible; please stop. If you don’t get this Quentin Miller–ass reference track for a Sunday youth choir rehearsal out of my face …

This album’s best jam is “Dirty Mouth,” a remarkably focused bit of slick talk that maybe sounds too much like the album’s weak single, “Peek a Boo,” for me to bet on it gaining much traction, even on content-starved Rap Twitter. There are songs on here on which Yachty is clearly trying to pantomime a hit record into being — “Better” apes the whole Carnival cruise Top 40 vibe to which Yachty is now 28 months late — but none of them sound especially inspired or even just plain focused. Post Malone didn’t exactly have to reinvent the wheel to pull off a clean hit with “Congratulations”; all he needed was some snappy, quotable verses, and a colorful bridge, and a simple, soaring chorus. Boom.

If you’re going to do Top 40 trap appropriation, there’s a pretty clear formula for making this stuff successful. Truly, though, I don’t believe Lil Yachty actually cares about music. At all. A year ago, when Yachty called Biggie “overrated,” a lot of critics interpreted that statement as Yachty signaling a particular disregard for the hip-hop canon. Yachty freestyled poorly on Hot 97, and detractors interpreted this shortcoming as Yachty not doing right by hip-hop as a craft. Alternatively, I interpret these statements and shortcomings as evidence that Lil Yachty is an artless troll with no musical imagination in general. A musician only after the fact. The best rappers can make words sound ridiculous; Yachty makes even Simplified English sound like a chore.

Until now, I’ve found myself agreeing to disagree about whether there’s really any there there with Yachty. But I can’t imagine too many people rallying around Teenage Emotions, a mess of half-formed thoughts, me-too clichés, and hookless yodeling in a genre where plenty of other, better rappers, such as Uzi and Kodak Black, are striking truer notes with much greater precision. There is too much good rap music out in any given week for anyone to be bothering with this shit for longer than a news cycle. As far as I can see, the jig is up.

Peters: Wait, hold up, if I don’t get “Forever Young” out of your face, you’ll do what? Wind up humming it in your sleep? It has low-to-medium resonance and high tunefulness.

I’ll concede that it’s also got a sort of high barrier to entry, psychologically, but the music was never as interesting as the character himself. I don’t know any Yachty fan (who could legally buy an alcoholic beverage) who wouldn’t admit to that with light prodding.

Charity: Lil Yachty fans are cynical taste-chasers who hate art. I appreciate your groundbreaking candor in revealing this truth to the world.

Peters: I’m totally fine with being cynical. It’s a symptom of being in your 20s. Yachty has at least another year until he has to grapple with that, before life becomes marginally more real. Can’t he have that?

Charity: You’re such a teen.