Lil Yachty may just be the most polarising name in modern hip-hop right now. He’s certainly one of the most interesting, which has caused him to be constantly mocked for his appearance and approach to music throughout his career. To the youth, he embodies the culture, injecting uniqueness and individuality into a somewhat static rap culture. To old heads, he’s ‘trash’ and everything wrong with modern hip-hop.

“You are the poster child for wack rappers. If they want to say somebody’s wack, they say you.”

Charlamagne Tha God to Lil Yachty on The Breakfast Club (2017)

But to understand Yachty is to understand the disconnect between the past, present, and future, and why he’s so important for current artists.

From credit card fraud and a potential life sentence to collaborations with Nautica, Sprite, Target, and countless others, Yachty’s life could have been very different. Once he finished high school and after a brief University stint, a young Boat moved to New York to pursue his music career. But he didn’t just move there, he was tactical about his approach. He’s a marketing genius, something that has been evident in his come up even from the very beginning. See, Yachty’s intention from the jump was to get in the inner circles occupied by internet famous fashion centric kids who he knew he would relate to because of his own style, and then later get them to promote his music once they were friends.

…and that’s exactly what happened.

“Almost had a lifetime sentence but I beat it, shout out to Pat. Pat that’s my lawyer he got me off them charges, 8 stacks for that boy, he took care of the boy.”

– Lil Yachty on ‘Minnesota (Remix) [2016].

One of the first sightings of Lil Yachty was at Ye‘s 2016 Yeezy Season 3 fashion show which doubled as his The Life Of Pablo album listening party at Madison Square Garden. Thanks to an Ian Connor link, an 18-year-old Yachty was able to model during the show, and the rest was history. His red braids stood out, and people started to ask questions. Hits like ‘One Night’ and ‘Minnesota’ followed, and Yachty soon became enlisted as a classmate for the XXL Freshman List of 2016 alongside artists like Kodak Black, 21 Savage, Lil Uzi Vert, and Denzel Curry.


Young Thug at Kanye West Yeezy Season 3 is the stuff of legend 😭🐍 #youngthug #kanye #ye #thugger #hiphop #kanyewest #freethugger

♬ With Them – Young Thug

Back then, it was rare to hear Yachty compliments and far more common to hear Budden disses. People refused to understand where he was coming from as a young kid in the rap game, and failed to realise that he wasn’t doing anything wrong for simply being different. He was constantly overlooked (and still is) but the whole time, Yachty was just enjoying himself. He’s always done what Yachty wants despite the noise, immediately separating himself from the crowd who were getting more similar by the day.

He’s always been about creativity and pushing boundaries even from day one, whether its fashion, collaboration, or the sound within his music. Even when doing trap, he stood out. For me, it took a while to truly understand him, but once I saw that he was rapping off beat and doing everything against the grain on purpose, my opinion drastically changed.

And I wasn’t alone.

Most had to grow to appreciate Lil Boat’s uniqueness. He’s been experimenting for pretty much his whole career, which has spanned over the last 8 years. Whether it’s his 2020 project Michigan Boy Boat that featured a heavy Detroit presence and style or his own frozen pizza brand, Yachty’s effort to be different and strictly do things HE wants to do is admirable.

“I am the outcast of the hip hop game.”

– Lil Yachty on Complex’s Everyday Struggle (2017).

After his last project, Yachty started working on what he called an “alternative” album. A sneak preview of what was to come was seen on his remix of Tame Impala’s ‘Breathe Deeper’ back in 2021. Yachty had been working on new music for this project for over a year, experimenting with different vocal techniques and different production. An unfinished song made in this process was ‘Poland’, which leakers got ahold of last October and caused the internet to explode. Never intending to releasing it, he officially dropped the track days later despite it being unfinished, and followed it up with a Cole Bennett directed music video. Fast-forward to December last year with the internet still in a chokehold, Yachty’s entire project leaks online. Fans were heartbroken for him as he had clearly been working hard on new music and something extremely different. But, in similar Yachty fashion, he capitalised off the moment, and dropped the album on Friday.

So here we are. January 2023, approximately 8 years after Yachty’s introduction. He dropped something that nobody thought he was capable of, especially if you’re on the outside looking in. From the inside, a switch-up was bound to come at some point, but the actual quality is what shocked everyone the most. The artwork, although AI generated, was a full circle moment for him. It likely represents music executives laughing at the idea of Yachty making something other than a trap album. The AI art could symbolise killing creativity the same way labels have been known to do.

Let’s Start Here was the last thing people were expecting. It was far left of any trap album he had previously released, and featured entirely new psychedelic rock soundscapes alongside live instrumentation. To be clear, Yachty isn’t the first rapper to make an alternative switch. Machine Gun Kelly is a full pop punk artist now, and Vic Mensa dropped a punk album a few years back. But Yachty did something they all couldn’t: he shifted the culture.

“This album is so special and dear to me. I think I created it because I really wanted to be taken serious as an artist. Not some Soundcloud rapper, not some mumble rapper, not some guy that just made one hit. I wanted to be really taken serious because music is everything to me. AND – if we’re just going to be honest, a lot of n***** started copying the swag, and I just felt like “okay, cool well, if everyone can do this, thats fine, but imma show ya’ll what ya’ll CAN’T do.”

– Lil Yachty at his album listening event (2023).

He collaborates with artists like Foushee, Daniel Caeser, and Teezo Touchdown on the amazingly executed Let’s Start Here. The intro is nearly 7 minutes in length but is one of the extreme highs. Titled ‘the BLACK seminole’, Yachty relates himself to the Seminoles, a group of Native American-African people who descended from escaped slaves that currently reside heavily in Florida and Oklahoma. His vocal performance is deeply emotive and extremely refreshing, as seen again on ‘pRETTY’ – one of the best songs on the LP. ‘The ride’ is also an amazing song, as is ‘IVE OFFICIALLY LOST VISION!!!!!’, both of which see Yachty majorly switch up his style. Yachty shows the world how much he’s grown behind the scenes and the sheer amount of dedication he has for his craft, all while still releasing countless records and features in between projects. Track 5, ‘:(failure):’ sees Yachty open up about what failure means to him, and how he overcame the feeling of it throughout his career.

The musicianship and the ability to execute such an incredible album is something that most wouldn’t have expected from someone like Yachty. He lets the production shine, but it doesn’t overshadow his own performance whatsoever. It might be the first time in Yachty’s career where you have to listen to it front to back and at its 57 minute run time, it’s an extremely impressive feat.

While he’s had sprinkles of consciousness throughout his music over the years, it’s now in full flow on Let’s Start Here. Yachty sounds assured and confident. He was once called the worst rapper alive, but finally he gets to showcase his artistic ability to the world, and rightly receive his long overdue credit as an artist. He successfully created a completely off-brand, experimental album that was emotive, conceptual, and artistically brilliant. And honestly, there isn’t really any lows, just standout highs. His music used to be fun and experimental and it hasn’t lost that element. Only now it’s polished, focused and concise.

Yachty proved all the critics wrong with this album. The last year and a half have shown all of Yachty’s strengths as an artist and as a creative. His ability to capitalise off momentum whether it’s expected or not, his business acumen, his deep-rooted ear for production and small nuance details that make all the difference, and lastly, his diversity, bravery, and willingness to step outside the box as an artist.

People always wondered why Drake frequently collaborated with Yachty over the years when most thought he was finished as an artist, but its clear he saw what others didn’t. Drake’s latest album, a collaboration project with 21 Savage entitled Her Loss which dropped back in November, had Yachty’s fingerprints all over it. He even lived with Drizzy for over 4 months to complete the process, and his ad-libs were featured on the standout track, ‘BackOutsideBoyz’.

Fitting in was never something Yachty was born to do. He embodies youth culture, occupies multiple creative lanes, and is one of the leading artists of the new generation. People were too quick to completely write off artists like Yachty without allowing room for growth and maturity both as a person and as a creative. But it’s clear: Yachty has helped pave the way for the future whether you like it or not. At 25-years-old, he’s now blossomed from the proud Concrete Boy to the rose that grew through.

Yachty was a major part in taking the hit for young rappers to be themselves and not be afraid to try things, have fun, and not take themselves so seriously. Safe to say it’s worked in his favour. It’s well and truly Yachty’s world in 2023, and we’re all on the receiving end of his influence whether we know it or not.

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