Ambition can be a fickle thing for a musician. Especially for more well-known artists, expectations can arise that they will stay within their designated genre and generally not diverge from their established sound.
It’s a shame that the industry promotes such compartmentalization, because when an artist branches out to try something novel, it may not always result in a top-shelf product, but it’s almost always an interesting experiment. Lil Yachty, titan of the trap game, has recently forayed into this experimental territory on his newest album, “Let’s Start Here.”
Heavily inspired by psychedelic rock and R&B, “Let’s Start Here.” is a far cry from Yachty’s typical, self-described “bubblegum trap” sound. He doesn’t care to hide his hand, either; from the first chord, it’s evident that this isn’t the same music his fans have come to know.
“the BLACK seminole.” opens on a lazy drumbeat matched by elongated organ chords with Yachty’s echoey vocal floating over the top, leaving plenty of space. At nearly seven minutes in length, this opener takes its time, moving through various modes and changing throughout.
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Just a few measures into a wailing guitar solo, the tempo abruptly drops into a more relaxed mode which persists until the solo’s end, when the instrumentals gradually fade to almost nothing before coming back in a forceful, Fiona Apple-style ending with piano and vocal. As unexpected as it is, it seems very effectively written and produced and establishes that Yachty isn’t messing around here.
“running out of time” brings in more elements of funk and R&B, opening with a groovy bassline over a punchy backbeat accented with horn harmonies. The backing instrumentals are somewhat evocative of Bill Withers, and the double-tracked vocal is layered with effects to add a touch of The Weeknd.
Although this album brings a myriad of new sounds into Lil Yachty’s repertoire, he’s able to retain elements of his signature style. Many of these shine through in the vocal production and writing. He retains the heavily auto-tuned sound classic to the trap genre, as well as the rhythmic composition of a rap verse at many points.
However, this type of vocal production is not common in psychedelic rock. At the album’s beginning, the sounds clash in a slightly discomforting way, but they start to sound more harmonious around “THE zone~.”
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The texture here consists mostly of bass and drums, leaving a lot of space. Yachty’s robotic voice rests on top of this bed, drenched in reverb to fill the sparse instrumentation. Baby K’s smoothly delivered verse contrasts the sound of Lil Yachty’s singing, but both seem to fit within the sound well.
The album ends on “REACH THE SUNSHINE.” It doesn’t sound quite like the rest of the album but is also certainly not close to his earlier work. It dials things back quite a bit to begin, with very soft acoustic guitar and drums later joined by heavy synth.
Yachty abandons his auto-tune sound, going for a more straight-ahead vocal that sounds shockingly akin to Frank Ocean’s bright tenor. If the rest of “Let’s Start Here.” wasn’t enough of a pivot, its closing track tangents in a completely new direction, demonstrating just a bit more versatility in the tank.
Whether this album is the beginning of a new era for Yachty, as the title implies, has yet to be seen. If it is, however, I think his first jab at this unexplored style lays a solid groundwork for any future excursions into psychedelia.
To jump fully and headfirst into such a different sound requires confidence, taste and vision, all of which are demonstrated in spades on Lil Yachty’s newest album. I must admit, though his previous work doesn’t strike me, “Let’s Start Here.” has piqued my interest, and I’ll be keeping an eye on Yachty going forward.