Although popular to dislike, few can deny that Lil Yachty is somewhat of a spectacle within mainstream hip hop. Born Miles Parks McCollum, the red-braided and self-described “bubblegum trap” MC split the hip hop audience down the middle with his debut mixtape from last year, Lil Boat, which saw Lil Yachty establish the saccharine, hook-driven, playful style of pop-rap that some saw as undeniably fun, whilst others argued to be immature and inane to the point of irritation. The mixtape’s sample credits, which range from a theme lifted from Super Mario 64 to a song from the Finding Nemo soundtrack, offer a rather fitting insight into the stylings of Lil Yachty for those who may be unfamiliar. Essentially, Lil Boat established McCollum as a rapper who doesn’t take himself at all seriously, and it seems that this is what was so appealing about the artist to his fans and what was so repulsive about him to his detractors. Just four months after the release of Lil Boat, Lil Yachty released a follow-up mixtape in the form of Summer Songs 2. As the title suggests, this project was more tailored towards producing a selection of mindless, colourful bangers and, as a result, only a handful of cuts retained the goofy eccentricity that made Lil Boat so attractive to some. Indeed, if anything could be taken from Summer Songs 2, it’s either that McCollum wished to pursue a more cool and collected sound, or that the off-the-wall foible of Lil Boat was not necessarily entirely intentional. Now with the insight that has come with the unveiling of Lil Yachty’s debut, full-length studio album, Teenage Emotions, it seems as if both of these possibilities may have been true. Although, from a production standpoint, this record is true to the bubbly, vibrant aesthetic that McCollum’s two mixtapes established, arguably even doubling down on this with some more lavish and expensive production, there is a great change featured on Teenage Emotions, and it arises almost entirely from Lil Yachty himself. As a personality, the MC seems less interested in maintaining the kooky, schizophrenic façade of Lil Boat and more inclined towards pursuing a cool and, at times, serious persona, or at least as serious as a mumble rapper can be. The sexually-charged lyrics across this album, for example, assume the brand of corny braggadocio associated with the majority of mainstream trap artists, rather than the oddball freakishness of Lil Yachty’s past projects. The issue, however, is that the artist’s comically absurd character was the primary point of appeal for those who had their interest piqued by his breakout mixtape and, without this personality, McCollum’s below par abilities as both a rapper and a lyricist are on full display. In his attempts at crafting a debut album with a more accessible presentation, Lil Yachty’s Teenage Emotions is, at the best of times, disappointingly boring, whilst the low points in the tracklisting are genuinely embarrassing.
Indeed, as ironic as it may be, Lil Yachty is unequivocally the Achilles’ heel of his own debut album. In substituting the bizarre persona displayed on Lil Boat for something more in accordance with that of his contemporaries, McCollum’s lyrical and technical shortcomings are at the forefront of much of Teenage Emotions, and neither his capacity as a rapper nor a wordsmith constitute an album anywhere near the length of this 21-track and 70-minute long record. In fact, the MC is so far off the mark at points that it’s hard not to raise questions concerning what, if any, quality control went into this album. Only two tracks into Teenage Emotions, on DN Freestyle, the rapper isn’t on beat for even one bar of the song, whilst he goes to excruciating lengths to force a great deal of these couplets to even come close to rhyming, such as by erroneously pluralising ‘cactus’ as ‘cactus’, as to pair it with the word ‘months’. When factoring in the context of the rest of the line, in which McCollum claims that, were it not for his annual taxes, he would be able to afford “some land with several cactus”, this couplet really does shine as being particularly forced. With this freestyle being littered with pitfalls on every level — with the MC even incorrectly insinuating himself to be below the age of consent, which, at 19, is true of no state in the US — it’s hard not to listen to this track and ask why it’s here. The tracklisting is bloated enough as it is without the need for a cut that is as objectively flawed as this one.
Of course, the pinnacle of Lil Yachty’s brazen lyrical incompetence comes from the lead single from the record, Peek A Boo, which has been elevated to the status of a meme thanks to the infamous line, “My new bitch yellow / She blow that dick like a cello”. Indeed, the utter failure of McCollum’s lyrical chops across Teenage Emotions could be summed up by the fact that the only laugh I got from a line penned by the once amusing rapper across the entire record comes from a bar in which he mistakes a cello for an instrument that requires blowing into. The icing on the cake is, of course, McCollum’s response to this error, in which he, firstly, blames his record label — ironically called Quality Control — for not pointing out his faux pas, and then goes onto mistake a clarinet for a flute, which is almost unforgivable, given the prominence of flutes in contemporary, mainstream trap music. To be fair to the artist, however, his defence that his A&R should have stepped in to amend his error is potentially a justified one, as it would seem that Teenage Emotions underwent little to no vetting whatsoever. As an example, look no further than this very same track, whose chorus is so woefully underwritten and inordinately repeated that it grows nauseatingly tiresome practically by the second bar, which is even more true considering the rapper’s oddly emphasised pronunciation of the hook’s assonance and plosive sounds that becomes almost grating to listen to. Lil Yachty himself explained this song, unlike his others, to be written specifically with the club and radio airplay in mind, but his attempt at creating a sensual banger is so boringly elementary, as if the rapper was following instructions from a textbook, that there is really no reason for Peek A Boo to be played over any other trap banger to have worked its way into the charts in the past few months. This is essentially what the most glaring flaws of Teenage Emotions boil down to. Whether you loved him or hated him, Lil Yachty was once defined by his unique character, but this album comes across largely as a compromise of this definitive identity, in favour of a personality that is much more digestible. In doing this, however, it becomes clear just how lacking in talent the artist is, leaving little of substance to entice the listener into sitting around for this record’s overblown duration.
Simply listing the seemingly infinite examples of lyrical ineptitude across Teenage Emotions, from the nonsensical incest jokes that appear on All Around Me and Priorities to the fallacious similes for fellatio also on Priorities and Peek A Boo, would be an easy and understandable means of tackling a review for this album, but Lil Yachty’s lyrics are so unequivocally shallow and senseless that entertaining them with any amount of thought is ultimately pointless. If there’s at least one positive thing to be salvaged from the mess of Teenage Emotions, however, it would have to be the production. Given the standard of quality for DJs being considerably higher than that of MCs across so many recent trap releases, I may be starting to sound like a broken record, but, once again, Teenage Emotions is an album on which the artist himself is a dampener on his own project, whilst the bulk of positive things to be said about the release arise from the production value. Although the instrumentals across Teenage Emotions aren’t strong enough to just about make the album passable, as was the case with trap albums from earlier in the year, like Future’s HNDRXX and Playboi Carti’s self-titled mixtape, there are at least a handful of moments that prevent the record from spiralling into an unbearable disaster. The cloud rap hue of Say My Name, for instance, which boasts a somewhat dynamic instrumental, atop which Lil Yachty comes through with perhaps his most palatable hook on the entire record, is certainly respectable, as is the brooding, wobbly, syrupy smooth Lady In Yellow, which, again, features a sung performance from McCollum that is, at least, complementary to the track’s mood. The pretty atmosphere of these watery synth patches carries onto the next track, Moments In Time, although the same can’t be said of the artist’s vocal delivery, but the bubbling textures of cuts like Made Of Glass come somewhat close to providing a more extravagant alternative to the beats from Lil Boat. Unfortunately, the instrumental indulgence of Teenage Emotions does translate into some questionable production choices, such as the sickeningly sweet reggae fusion of Better or the flabbergasting 80s synthpop hue to Bring It Back. All things considered, however, the higher quality and more pleasingly sugary beats across the album at least make its best moments more presentable, in spite of Lil Yachty’s off-beat, off-topic and off-putting ramblings that make it seem like the MC has gone completely off his rocker at times.
The most disappointing aspect of Teenage Emotions is the fact that Lil Yachty sacrifices the persona that made him such an interesting phenomenon to begin with, for better or worse, without even attempting to establish another identity that carries this project the way that Lil Boat was driven by the musician’s character. Instead, McCollum puts his mindless, tasteless and ultimately worthless lyrics on full display, along with his lacking competence as a rapper, with very few redeeming qualities exhibited on his part. In fact, with the only saving grace of this record coming in the form of the odd glisten of pleasant production value, it seems likely that Teenage Emotions could mark the beginning of the end for Lil Yachty. Once you take away his persona, there’s really nothing much of substance left, meaning that, if the artist continues to pursue a brand of trap music in line with his contemporaries, he will reach a point at which he is utterly disposable. With his character across Lil Boat, regardless of whether or not you personally saw merit it in, the MC was, at the very least, able to sustain the listener’s attention, whereas it’s all too easy to tune out of the senseless nonsense across Teenage Emotions and, if it weren’t for some of the instrumentals, it would potentially be a challenge not to. Ultimately, Teenage Emotions is far from the final nail in the coffin of Lil Yachty’s relevancy, but it does suggest that the musician is risking losing his fanbase by compromising his initial charm for mainstream appeal.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4.5/10