Review: Lil Yachty - "Lil Boat the Mixtape"

Lil Yachty - Lil Boat the Mixtape
(2016 Self-Released)

Armed with an arsenal of alternate identities to rival David Bowie, the utter disregard for polish of Beat Happening's Calvin Johnson and a nasal delivery that eerily resembles the drawl of Aqua Teen Hunger Force's Meatwad, Lil Yachty boasts an impressively deep sense of artistic self-actualization for an 18 year old with a few hot tracks on his Soundcloud. Thanks to the inclusion of his infectiously sardonic "1Night" in a popular YouTube clip and the striking presence of his signature red beaded dreadlocks at Kanye's latest fashion show, the Atlanta-based rapper has enjoyed a rapid, nearly post-human rise to his 15 minutes(?) of online superstardom over the course of the winter, his output blooming from the screwball buds of "Ice Water" (which samples an ice cream truck) and "All Times" (a surreally autotuned cover of the Rugrats theme song) to the crimson flower of Lil Boat the Mixtape, released just in time for Spring. 

The tape wastes no time asserting its weirdness - after intro cut "Just Keep Swimming" opens with a snippet clipped from Finding Nemo, Yachty assumes the identity of Darnell Boat, setting the stage as a Rankin-Bass narrator of sorts. It's hard not to imagine Darnell as Rudolph's anthropomorphic snowman or the deliveryman from Santa Claus is Coming to Town as he pulls up an invisible chair, inviting listeners to lend him their ears. As it turns out, he's the proud uncle of two nephews: Lil Boat, an oft-giggling trap-rapper dripping in dry wit, and his more outgoing brother Yachty, who douses his autotuned glossolalia in reverb and positivity. It's this sonic duality that rests at the very core of the Boat/Yachty discography - though his vocals are far from pretty, Yachty maintains a commanding presence throughout the Lil Boat Mixtape thanks to his laid-back confidence and self-aware sense of humor. Whether he's warbling an clumsy falsetto atop the chiming melodies of "Minnesota" or dropping non-sequitur after non-sequitur a la Young Thug on the atmospheric "Up Next 2", Yachty exudes an undeniable sense of fun. Pleasantly surprised at his accidental/inexplicable ascent from "loitering at Wal-Mart" to grabbing the attention of tastemakers across the Web, our protagonist can't help but crack jokes at his own expense to prevent the swelling of his ego. The audience is encouraged to join in.

Even production-wise, the tape is brimming with character, filled with sparkles of twee-pop synth, J-pop samples and comically distorted basslines. Highlights include the flautal "Run", which loops the menu music from Super Mario 64 atop fluttering hi-hats and the aforementioned "Minnesota", its painfully catchy (not to mention staggeringly minimal) piano melody carrying its army of Atlanta features with understated grace. 

Though lacking in substance, Lil Boat the Mixtape is a testament to the rich stylistic creativity and lo-fi experimentation running rampant in Georgia - alongside like-minded artists like Future and Pollari, Lil Yachty is hip-hop's answer to the Cocteau Twins: beautiful, wordless vocals smeared across a canvas of abstract ambience. It's the future of pop music - niche crannies of soundcloud and bandcamp are the new outlets for buzz-worthy music, faster and vaster than the radio. Most importantly, wrapped in playful arrangements and Wes Anderson-inspired cover art, it's undeniably fun.