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Lil Yachty Transcends Hip-Hop on 'Let’s Start Here.'

This article was originally published on Respect My Region


Fans could endlessly debate over which artists stretched the constraints of their assigned genre and effectively shifted the culture. Within hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar challenged the mechanism of the craft by embracing live instrumentation on To Pimp A Butterfly. Tyler, the Creator not only broke a decade-old character centered on scandal but took a turn so sharp on Flower Boy that it became a 180 by the time he dropped Igor. The final phase of Mac Miller’s career saw our scruffy wonder boy bring a tenderness to rap that is still lacking but not as rare as it used to be before The Divine Feminine. At his peak, Childish Gambino shed his trademark nerdcore rhymes to deliver an entire project comprising funky neo-soul and alternative R&B on Awaken, My Love!


It’s now time to add Lil Yachty to the honors list with his new album, Let’s Start Here.


Though no one really saw this one coming, 2023’s first curveball is a welcomed one because it represents growth of the best kind. The Atlanta-born star is back with a purpose and determined to be more than just a rapper. When artists successfully breach the boundaries within which they flourished, it elevates everyone around them and moves the culture forward. Just three days after its release, Lil Yachty’s fifth studio record has already achieved this.


Let’s Start Here. is currently No. 1 on Apple Music in ten countries, including the United States. At the same time, it’s projected to sell 19-24K units in its first week, which would be the lowest of his career. Taking the risk to help usher in a new era in music comes with this initial imbalance. However, said album should only become greater with time. This is without question Yachty’s most tasteful and complete body of work yet, but it’ll need to marinate for a while for its true impact to take effect. After all, it couldn’t be easy for everyone to digest such a sudden shift from trap to psych-rock-inspired R&B, especially when they hear a shift from someone who has time and again been branded a one-trick pony.

It’s impossible for us to know what exactly goes on in the mind of Lil Yachty. His latest album suggests that he took a step back from what made him comfortably famous and went back to the drawing board. Most artists struggle to find a balance between “all his stuff sounds the same” and “he’s trying too hard to be different,” but Yachty managed it in his first bold attempt outside his zone.


These fourteen tracks will most likely never be referenced as the greatest in any category by any measure, but we will look back at it as a landmark moment in his music history. Hip-Hop has always had a separate ecosystem, even in a time when the lines between genres continue to blur rapidly. Yachty deserves credit for the elegance with which he has brought in a range of “outside” sounds and approaches to an otherwise exclusive space, opening up his fans to the larger sonic galaxy.


Being different doesn’t make you great — musicians have forever attempted to negotiate both and find that sweet spot in between. Only a handful are able to pull it off, and only a small fraction of them get their due recognition. Snoop Dogg made a highly unremarkable reggae album, Machine Gun Kelly revived pop punk to remind us why we moved on from it so fast in the first place, and we still don’t have a scientific term for what the Black Eyed Peas turned into. More often than not, switching styles and genres is an ugly sight. This is precisely why we mustn’t take for granted when someone gets it right.

Fans of rock and hip-hop alike might criticize Yachty’s latest work for diluting its source traditions. However, segregating art ultimately leads to its stagnation. Genres will continue to exist by themselves, but external influences will enhance them for modern audiences and prevent them from becoming dull. The spirit of hip-hop is alive and well within Lil Yachty, but his voice now thrives among the enchantment of fluctuating drum beats, thumping bass lines, and spacey guitar licks.

Yachty, like most artists, has dealt with monumental criticism that resulted in audiences not taking him seriously. The difference between him and the average rapper is that he doesn’t approach success with an aggressive entitlement. Instead, he took his creative genes back to the lab and maximized them to bring to the table something the hip-hop community has always been deprived of.


Let’s Start Here. isn’t just another pivot but an informed body of work. The album is sophisticated yet accessible, new yet familiar. It is by no means a rap album, but it has recognizable touches of R&B that are a staple of contemporary hip-hop. This is the start of something new and exciting, if not in hip-hop, then certainly in Lil Yachty’s timeline.

 




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