Review Summary: Let's Stop Now.
'The court is now in session, Justice Common Sense in the chair. The case before us is that of Artistic Integrity vs. Lil Yachty. Anything before we kick off, Mr. BoffBag?'
'May it please the court, as this is clearly an open-and-shut case I request leave to bring a private prosecution against the defence council for wasting the court's time?'
'Granted. The defence council is fined for turning up. Right, the charge before us is that Mr. Yachty did deliberately, callously, and with beastliness of forethought, release a poor excuse for a record that has hoodwinked critics into believing he is improving as an artist. How do you plead?'
*unintelligible autotuned mumblings from the dock*
'Right, council for the defence, get on with it.'
'Thank you both. Mr. BoffBag, case for the prosecution, if you please?'
The issue with Let's Start Here is a simple one, and yet it has been able to pull the wool over the eyes of a great many of my learned friends. When looking at his most recent offering contextually against the rest of Mr. Yachty's output, it raises an interesting question to me, that question being, 'when does it become appropriate to start mocking an artist's creative endeavours?' Mr. Yachty's previous work was heavy criticised for being derivative and lacking in any substantial artistic merit, and he was heavily maligned for it. Bizarrely, though, it appears that Let's Start Here serves as a line in the sand for many; a point at which artistic value can start being unironically discussed in regards to Mr. Yachty's work. The evidence clearly points, however, to the opposite being true. Whilst Mr. Yachty's previous albums have been very poor in quality and lacking many of the foundation elements one would attribute to 'good' music, they were at least a true reflection of the artist, the scene on which he held something of a noteworthy status, and his interests. The fact that he has expanded his sound does not mean that the quality has improved, nor that the value of the piece holds any more meaning than previous releases. Going back to the initial question I posed; whilst I now feel that this is the appropriate moment in Mr. Yachty's career to start actively belittling his endeavours, rather than merely criticising, I struggle to do so in a way that feels tasteful. It feels cruel, like stealing from an elderly relative or clubbing a seal. Nevertheless, considering the title of the release, it appears that Mr. Yachty himself has given us the green light.
In crafting Let's Start Here, the apparent inspiration Mr. Yachty seems to have taken from the more strung-out, psychedelic strains of R&B not only fail to serve his particular style of performance; they actively stifle it. The release is smooth, buttery, even, but it doesn't have a hint of attitude, expression or true meaning. Introspective, surely, but signifying very little. The detached feel of the uncanny so epitomised by the admittedly intriguing yet inappropriate album artwork continues in the musical content therein, and the clear influence of artists, both contemporary and spread across a positive wealth of genres and eras, feels little more than an overindulgent gumbo that is so thick no meaningful ideas are able to escape. Mr. Yachty's own presence here- a benchmark for his personal and musical development- is a vapid, autotuned slog that merits very little attention despite the personal nature of the subject matter. It is a reflection of culture, both broad and contained to hip-hop circles, but it is not a critique, or an interpretation of this vision. It is a pandering- a peddling of trends rather than a furthering or conscious admonishment of them. The hazy instrumentals and airy, ethereal melodies obfuscate this fact by lending meaning and nuance where there is none, much in the same way that a psychedelic stupor will afford specious meaning to tissue boxes, furniture, and patterns in woodgrain.
Hints of Hendrix, Tame Impala, Kid Cudi and Lupe Fiasco sprinkle the release with a sincere, misty clarity, but this off-brand style does nothing but give the release the novelty of feeling somewhat atypical as a Lil Yachty project. It sits shoulder to shoulder with Speedin Bullet 2 Heaven as a solid example of a creative vision becoming skewed into intriguing-for-all-the-wrong-reasons asides. Titling the album 'Let's Start Here' is a bold statement from a rapper established as mumble royalty, as it should indicate a new benchmark of quality to be built from in the future. The reality is much more disappointing, as the aspirations have turned out an album that upheaves the established formula for the rapper, and replaces it with something even worse. It's overlong, uninteresting, and completely silly on a borderline sublime level. Moreover, it revels in its indulgencies, improperly attributing meaning to them through the lens of an introspective, lackadaisical pseudo-philosophy that takes whatever well-meaning intentions it has and grinds them into dust. The over-modulated psychedelic flows are dreary and rob any would-be weight from the thematic content in a flash, before the heavy-eyelid musicality finishes the job. I never thought there would be an era in popular rap trends that would make me long for the xanny-popping wave of the 2010s. At least that unfortunate, fragmented movement had a purpose, even if it was paddling-pool shallow. Catch me unconsciously mumbling through 'Gucci Gang' a million times over before I start warbling along to this studio-mangled trainwreck.
The biggest offence of Let's Start Here, however, is the mealy-mouthed cynicism inherent in the project overall. The tonal shift here is so beyond the stylistic bounds of Mr. Yachty's previous output it tap-dances around the globe and back to the boundary line. This adjustment has not been made with honest intentions. It is a ploy to be taken seriously; an attempt at ingratiating the rapper with those who viewed his former style as bereft of musical integrity. That it displays a semblance of depth in its conception is immaterial when the reason for its creation is nothing more than a broken-voiced yearning for acceptance, with the desperation notable in just how far the artist has strayed from his own identity. Executed in a manner more indicative of a complete overhaul, the release may have been a courageous first step for an artist too mired in his own tired sound. However, the eventual outcome of Let's Start Here cries out for direction, retaining some of his unmistakeable vocal traits but upending the musical backdrop to create a jarring and utterly bewildering display of honeyed indulgence and self-serving novelty. The record overall displays a disdain for Mr. Yachty's sound, his fans, the music world at large, but perhaps most strikingly, for his entire career up until this point. In replacing the more hip-hop centric tone, Mr.Yachty makes a statement about his own trajectory and the way he wishes to be viewed on the scene, and this statement is one of resolute petulance- a need for affirmation and acceptance so eye-wateringly strong it has led him to construct an album that is neither a representation of a worthwhile new direction nor of his artistic integrity. It sluices, it droops, it drools, without enthusiasm or purpose. It is nearly an hour of Mr. Yachty attempting to capture profundity, and instead only managing to catch a heavy nod.
The prosecution rests.