Raise your hand if you predicted Lil Yachty releasing an album that has more in common with Pink Floyd than Pink Friday. That’s precisely what the world got with Let’s Start Here., Yachty’s first studio album since 2020. What makes it even more shocking is that nothing on his latest release sounds remotely close to the crazy successful “Poland,” which came out just a few months ago.
Now, for most artists, following a song that big with something similar sounds like a no-brainer. It’s also good business sense because it makes a lot of cents. But even at 25, Yachty’s artistic instincts led him in a different, riskier direction. While he’s not the first rapper to pull that magic trick, he might be the only one who pulled another genre out of his hat. Let’s Start Here., released on January 27th, isn’t just far from his origins in bubblegum trap; it’s miles from even the Detroit rap scene in which he embedded himself as recently as two years ago, and a perfect example of how artists develop themselves in the streaming age.
Artists get stagnant for a variety of reasons, whether it’s their hubris, changing times, or that imaginary but ever-so-dangerous creative wall. And with the sheer speed at which we consume music, getting left behind is even easier. This isn’t to say Lil Yachty needed a refresh or was veering dangerously close to getting the “old school” tag. Still, he clearly felt tired of every angle on his former trajectory and possibly even bored. It says something about hip-hop’s reach: a rapper from any region in the country can switch styles with little to no pushback from their fanbase, though bellyaching from several or several hundred die-hards is unavoidable.
Still, here we are more than 48 hours after Let’s Start Here. dropped, and the reactions still veer toward positive. That’s a stark difference from many moons ago when Ja Rule caught his fair share of boos for switching styles on his second album. When Ja first hit the scene, he took pleasure in being one of the hardest rappers in the game. Then Rule 3:36 came around, and that’s when the harmonizing and duets started. While it took Rule and Murder Inc. to a completely different stratosphere commercially, the hip-hop fanbase at the time felt more than a little chafed. But because of moves like that, or Nelly dabbling in country years later, hip-hop fans of a certain age became more accustomed to their favorite rappers peeking over the fence at other genres and wondering what it’s like playing in other yards.
For Lil Yachty’s generation, no rapper symbolized this more than Lil Wayne. Wayne dressed like a rock star, called himself a rock star, learned guitar, and even released a rock album. Wayne, like Yachty today, wore his influences on his sleeve without fear that exposing them might get him caught up with the faithful. Without all the guts it took Wayne to release Rebirth immediately after the immensely successful The Carter III, there’s a good chance Yachty wouldn’t have gotten inspired to do the least expected and do it on his terms. (Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti have also leaned into the “rockstar” label, though Yachty is the first one to make an actual rock album.)
Still, Yachty’s never marched to anyone else’s drum. He never adhered to a hip-hop fundamentalist’s worldview, nor does he care about being on anyone’s rap Mount Rushmore. Coloring outside the lines suits him perfectly, so releasing a psychedelic rock album makes sense. Yachty isn’t messing around here, either.
To create the record, he selected key collaborators capable of shaping something around him rather than forcing him into a mold he doesn’t fit. Sky Ferreira collaborator Justin Raisen, former Chairlift member Patrick Wimberly, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jacob Portrait shared production duties on the album, while Mac DeMarco and Alex G served as co-writers.
“The BLACK seminole.” sums up the album. Mostly an instrumental track, it features a soothing guitar that comes in within the first seconds of its almost seven-minute runtime alongside Yachty’s distorted vocals. It echoes Pink Floyd’s “Breathe (In the Air)” from Dark Side of the Moon. Anyone familiar with Floyd, The Doors, or any other experimental 1960s rock band will recognize what Yachty’s doing. Thankfully, he’s not imitating anyone, but rather carving out his own lane like so many of those bands did many (dark sides of the) moons ago. And like those artists, he found new vitality through reinvention.
Experimentation just for the sake of it is wack. Fans see through it, and it’s obvious when the artist wishes they were somewhere else doing anything but recording music. Yachty shows wisdom beyond his years by pushing himself at this juncture and being himself in the process. Let’s Start Here. never feels like a cash grab or a ploy for your attention while you doom scroll or cry over the fact your favorite football team is home for the summer.
He understood better than other artists with many years under their belt that reinvention and resurrection are necessary when navigating the music business. Even if those big swings don’t work, they build a solid foundation that gets some artists from one point in their careers to another. The lucky ones do it with very minimal pushback from their core fans. Ghostface Killah made an R&B album as an experiment because he loves the genre. Did his fans abandon him? Of course not. Ghost built so much equity over his career that no one blinked an eye.
Yachty doesn’t take rap that seriously, but he holds music in very high regard. His fans understand that and ride with him on any sonic journey. But that doesn’t mean he made the safe choice producing this album. Since predicting the future isn’t an actual thing — especially as highlighted in recent documentaries — Let’s Start Here. represents a tremendous risk. That Yachty took that dive at such a young age speaks volumes about his future and his ultimate goals as a musician.
Let’s Start Here. joins a long list of albums that gave fans an unexpected surprise, and within a generation of rappers that all want to be rock stars, Yachty has actually jumped into the deep end without a life vest. Whether fans see that as a trick or a treat is up to them. Give props to the man regardless for showing growth in a way that few dare to do, even on their best days.
Lil Yachty is set to play this year’s Rolling Loud California on March 4th. Grab tickets for the event here.
Let’s Start Here. Artwork: