At the forefront of today’s wave of new school rappers reinventing hip hop, is Lil Yachty. 2016’s Lil Boat mixtape saw the inventive artist being proclaimed as the saviour of modern rap, with cloudy, mellow, but somehow feelgood tracks like One Night and Minnesota stick out as pioneering singles of the cloud rap generation. Unfortunately, Teenage Emotions doesn’t live up to the hype – it doesn’t even come close.
While Lil Boat and Summer Songs 2 saw young Yachty glide around a tracklist of sprawling, dreamy, but ultimately cohesive songs, Teenage Emotions finds itself all over the place. The album art and title might suggest the same unique outsider identity that Yachty has projected in the past has come out to play, but instead this project feels more like a concession to pop charts. Without frequent collaborator TheGoodPerry providing production duties, Teenage Emotions seems indecisive and messy.
Yachty brings out both sides on Teenage Emotions – tracks like DN Freestyle, Dirty Mouth, and the Migos-featuring Peek A Boo show off the rapper’s hard side rather than his soft one, but it’s really those more ethereal tracks like the cloudy Made of Glass that will linger on people’s minds the longest. Even the laughably warped attempt at synthpop that is Bring it Back stands out – something so many of this album’s songs don’t do. Yachty’s greatest strength is his atypical style and willingness to do things differently, but instead he continues to yield with boring tracks like All You Had To Say or Running With a Ghost.
Teenage Emotions’ best moments are where it’s freshest ideas come out to play. Tropical house and trap combine on Better, with Yachty’s glitzy autotuned optimism gleaming atop a bouncy beat, almost embodying a lighter version of the reggae-rap found on Young Thug’s Wyclef Jean. These sort of tracks show you can do catchy pop rap well without making concessions – even the Diplo-produced Forever Young showcases Yachty’s knack for hooks and poptimistic lean without compromising on songwriting.
But the most typically Boat moments are the most unforgettable – something about lo-fi vintage synths and trap instrumentation make cloud rap the best platform for Yachty’s electronic crooning. YG and Kamaiyah join Yachty for the beautifully mellow All Around Me, ethereal and reverb laden chords ebbing and flowing beneath the trio’s verses. FYI (Know Now) is another lowkey but undeniably catchy track similar to his hits, but it’s the closer Momma where Yachty shines the brightest, combining pop sensibilities with introspectiveness.
For a figure labelled as the leader of hip hop’s new wave, Teenage Emotions is a disappointing project. There’s so much potential here, but save for a handful of tracks, it remains to be discovered. If Lil Boat was Yachty’s maiden voyage, then Teenage Emotions seems like there’s an iceberg in the distance.