At only 19 years old, Atlanta-based artist Lil Yachty released his debut album Teenage Emotions on Friday following the release of two mixtapes and amid heavy backlash. His appearance, including his iconic Twizzler-red locks and goofy smile, mirror his musical style, which fuses upbeat pop with trap. The combination is not only distinct, but also has been widely criticized for hastening the demise of traditional rap. However, Yachty himself does not like being referred to as a rapper.
“I’m not a rapper, I’m an artist,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. “And I’m more than an artist. I’m a brand.”
While Lil Yachty isn’t an artist the same way that hip-hop greats like Nas or Biggie are, he is most certainly a brand: a brand of outcasts, and a brand of his own — something rap has not seen much of before.
For that reason, before listening to Teenage Emotions, check any preconceived notions of “what rap should be” at the door and instead buy into his showmanship. His unorthodox style rightfully offends pretentious hip-hop purists. After all, the lyricism is garbage and the rapping is off-beat.
In “Peek a Boo” featuring Migos, Yachty raps, referencing a cello in his lyrics. He came out in an interview acknowledging that he didn’t actually know what a cello was, mistaking it instead for a woodwind instrument. In fact, in the entire album of 21 songs, there isn’t a single bar that stands out as especially clever.
“DN Freestyle” and “XMen” are the most traditionally hip-hop; these are also two of the worst tracks on the album. Especially in “DN Freestyle,” Lil Yachty’s rapping under “hard” alter-ego Lil Boat sounds forced and awkward. It’s almost painful to hear him sing “Goddamn, Boat you hella wild / Turned your mother into a pedophile.” “Peek a Boo” still managed to capture attention as the only Boat song on the album that merits a listen, although rap group Migos carried through most of the song.
Instead, just like on the mixtape Lil Boat, it’s his pop-heavy songs that stand out. “Say My Name” and “Better” are guaranteed earworms that combine Lil Yachty’s classic auto-tuned vocals with catchy hooks and good-natured fun. They’re not going to go down in any history books, and hell, I would refrain from even calling them good. But they aren’t pretending to be something they’re not. Both songs showcase the best of Yachty’s bubblegum trap. “Priorities” and “Lady in Yellow” also seek to cement themselves as carefree party anthems, but both fall flat.
True to its name, Teenage Emotions hosts several angsty tracks as well. The album opener “Like a Star,” along with “Running With a Ghost” and “All You Had to Say” impressed mostly because they were better than expected. The songs don’t deserve a skip, but they also don’t offer anything that could not be better found elsewhere.
The album, like Lil Yachty himself, is fun, but lacks real nuance or depth. It would also benefit greatly by cutting some of the weak links from its long track list. Despite this, it symbolizes a massive movement within hip-hop that cannot be ignored.
Within the first week of its release, Teenage Emotions is projected to sell 60,000 albums. Love him or hate him, Lil Yachty is poised to remain relevant for years to come.