Hip-Hop and rap continues to schism, and there hasn’t been such disparity as there has been over the last few years. The rise of the pop-rapper has been buoyed by viral hits from the likes of Rae Sremmurd, Migos and Young Thug whereas more conscious, classicist style has also been strengthened by recent releases by Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole. Teenage Emotions, the debut album from Lil Yachty, may on the surface seem like it sides with the former but notions of serious engagement with his genre’s revered foundations do occasionally manage to dissolve the sugary, Auto-tuned gloss.
The tracks often lack the same depth and range that his debut album’s title and cover art suggest, with Lil Yachty attempting to incorporate a number of different styles under an overall lite-trap pop production. Notions of nonconformity and isolation are explored interestingly on ‘Made of Glass’ and ‘Priorities’, and the effect is heightened further by Yachty’s superb knack for constructing nursery rhyme earworms; the latter’s hook nails the disenchanted adolescent psychology extremely well. As ‘Forever Young’, a collaboration with Diplo further illustrates, Lil Yachty has adapted particularly well to the mainstream. The unevenness that haunted previous mixtapes has curbed and shaped into a far more seamless delivery that’s only strengthened by the yelp of Auto-tune effects.
Despite attempts to stuff his album with a plethora of emotional hues, Yachty is at his best when he pushes the elation of tracks like ‘Forever Young’. Yachty positively beams with happiness and buoyancy even when his lyrics and trap beats darken the tone. But when he tries to tick boxes the album ultimately becomes uneven and Yachty begins to sound unnatural and uncomfortable. The aggressive stance on ‘DN Freestyle’ threatens to stall out at any moment and the boastful rap on ‘X Men’ just seems woefully out of character for a rapper attempting to push positiveness for the vast majority of his record.
Yachty’s greenness shows up on the ‘Panda’-baiting ‘Harley’ and the questionable rhyme scheme of the calypso-tinged ‘Better’ too. Their hollow constructions are microcosms for Yachty’s record on the whole. Like the teenagers that Yachty is supposedly pedalling his tracks to, he is yet to decide confidently on what style suits him best. Sometimes that leads to severe aimlessness (‘Harley, Harley, Harley…’) and at other times the songs exhibit Yachty’s great potential. You could never accuse Yachty of being boring on Teenage Emotions but settling on a balanced execution of his strengths and personality will serve him well should he unlock that niche on future records.