Though conditions aren't ideal, Lil Boat manages to stay afloat on this more satisfying follow-up to "Teenage Emotions."
After the disappointing debut album Teenage Emotions, Lil Yachty was in need of a course correction. His fans knew it. He knew it. "When I first released my Teenage Emotions album I thought that shit was fire, as you should! Then the sales came back and it did 44,000 first week and I was devastated and so confused, I worked so hard," he told Interview magazine in January. "I disconnected with my fans because I tried to do this other stuff, you know?" Not long after the sales week that left Yachty “devastated,” the rapper announced Lil Boat 2, which off title alone seemed to be an attempt to reconnect with his core fanbase. The first Lil Boat, though divisive upon release and admittedly uneven, laid out everything that was unique about Yachty quite plainly. Glistening auto-tune, sharp synth tones, and goofy, happy-go-lucky charm made Yachty the alternate path to the grim, minimal trap emerging from Atlanta — perhaps best illustrated in the Simpsons meme that put his rainbow road rap next to 21 Savage’s “murder music.” Rather than building up those strengths, Teenage Emotions overreached, both attempting to pump up Yachty’s cartoonish melodic affectations into concise pop-rap and awkwardly marrying his jagged style with QC labelmates Migos. LB2, released under a year after Teenage Emotions, is a more fluid transition into rap’s mainstream for Yachty, but still suffers some of the same pitfalls of its predecessor.
Opening track “Self Made” picks up where the first Lil Boat left off. “Made it out my momma crib / Then bought my moms a crib / Bought myself a chain / Kept it short ‘cause I ain’t Jibbs,” he sings, displaying both heartwarming everyman charm and a sharp sense of humor (though the fact that he had to explain the “Chain Hang Low” reference on Twitter suggests the joke was lost on his young fanbase). Hinting at a promising direction, the song is over in under two minutes, giving way to a series of tracks that forego the dreamy melodicism of the opener for a more driving, confrontational approach. Yachty is not a natural rapper in the traditional sense, but his quirks can work to his advantage. On barreling rap assaults like “Boom!” and “Oops” he proves that he’s made major progress as an emcee, and his frantic, off-kilter flows can be thrilling even when they’re slightly left of center. His collaborations with members of Migos, of which there are three on the album, still do not connect as cleanly as they’d like to. While Migos effortlessly lock into the grid of a beat much like the quantized hi-hats they favor in their production, Yachty’s loose, non-traditonal style is best when it’s able to wander unrestricted by guidelines. As a result, the two QC acts often feel like they’re pulling in different directions.
As a middle ground between Yachty’s early left-field SoundCloud experiments and more straight-forward Atlanta singles, Lil Boat 2 is moderately successful. “Count Me In” features a propulsive, unpredictable beat from Playboi Carti collaborator Pi’erre Bourne. It lets Yachty’s eccentricities breathe while still sticking to the script enough to creep into an ATL trap playlist. “NBA YoungBoat” has a similar appeal, tweaking the Atlanta formula just enough by adding a pounding quarter-note bassline that Yachty mirrors with colorful lines that skip like the bouncing happy face in cartoon karaoke (“Canary yellow diamonds in my mouth like I bit a daisy”). However, tough-talking tracks like “FWM” and “Flex” lose sight of Yachty’s charisma and weigh down the project.
Though now more capable than ever at making knocking rap tracks, Yachty’s more melodic moments on Lil Boat 2 show what could have been a more satisfying path. “Love Me Today,” the best song on the project, is also Yachty’s greatest performance as a singer to date. Like “Self Made,” it’s gone as quickly as it arrived. It supplies the stickiest hook on the album by some measure, as well as plunging into an emotional depth only skimmed on other tracks. It’s sweet but not nearly as sugary as the major-key crooning on the first Lil Boat, and gives us a glimpse at a more refined pop-rap style that skews more earnest and introspective – in other words, the opposite direction of the 80s synth-pop gimmickry of Teenage Emotions single "Bring It Back." The closing record, "66," is another fascinating song that speaks to Yachty's growth. Rather than aligning Yachty with the concise hitmaking of Migos, it pairs him with Trippie Redd, a like-minded artist with a preference for murky beats and strained emotional hooks. For the first time on the record, Yachty sounds more restrained than his collaborator, playing the straight man to Trippie's wild-card vocal style. It's a rare chemistry for an artist whose idiosyncracies can often clash with his features.
With rap moving faster than ever, Trippie feels more like a descendant of Yachty's SoundCloud wave than a peer, and his show-stealing verse seems to keep Yachty on his toes. As a new legion of SC rappers emerges, Yachty's groundbreaking original sound is not quite as divisive as it may have seemed two years ago. If anything, the many new artists he's influenced are an affirmation he was on to something. LB2 suggests that initial spark could still grow into something greater, it's just a matter of fanning the right flames.