Music: Lil Yachty and musical taste vs. musical ability

Last weekend, I found a hip-hop mixtape on the Internet unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. The mixtape is called “Lil Boat,” it was made by rapper Lil Yachty, and while you can label it many different things, you can definitely label it “boundary-pushing.”

Yachty calls his music “bubblegum trap,” but I’ve seen it described as “nursery rap” by a commenter from the HipHopHeads forum on Reddit, and I think that’s as accurate as you can get. Yachty likes to take simple, often childish trap-influenced instrumentals, and poorly sing the same whiny melody over them again and again.

If this sounds awful, that’s fine. A lot of people feel that way. On that same Reddit forum, “Lil Boat” has been called “garbage” and “trash” multiple times, and those comments have received just as many upvotes as the numerous positive comments have. I’ve never seen a more divisive Internet reaction to a hip-hop project.

Personally, I love the thing. I played it for the first time last weekend, fell in love instantly and have had it on repeat this entire week. However, when people criticize it, I don’t rush to its defense.

Lil Yachty is a mediocre technical rapper and a terrible lyricist (“Diamonds so cold you might need a fan,” goes one head-scratching boast), but that’s not even his biggest weakness. No, that would be his inability to sing, which is a major problem because he does a lot of singing. Not only does he sing a majority of the mixtape’s hooks, but the hooks repeat very often because he doesn’t spit many real rap verses.

Many of the songs on “Lil Boat” are constructed haphazardly, morphing from choppy verses into Yachty’s sung hooks seemingly every time he picks up momentum as a rapper. Also, songs often end early, or drag on far too long without much variation.

But my love went on, and I tried to figure out why.

Then I remembered a great YouTube video by prolific music critic Anthony Fantano called “Taste and Ability” in which Fantano discusses those two musical attributes, and their importance in creating the artist’s final product.

Fantano asserts that technical ability is extremely important, and forms the backbone of an artist’s sound, but that musical taste is far more crucial in building a compelling final product. He likens the comparison to an orchestra player performing a complex classical piece perfectly, but possibly lacking the decision making and passion to create something great.

Lil Yachty, more than any other rapper I’ve heard, is a tastemaker rather than a technically skilled musical artist. As outlined before, he cannot sing, he can’t really rap and doesn’t know how to put songs together. But he brings his own unique style to the table, and makes the correct decisions to turn this style into a consistent and engrossing musical aesthetic.

To listen to “Lil Boat” is to get lost in the world of Lil Yachty, where deep, thumping bass chords play over samples from “Finding Nemo” and “Super Mario 64,” where fellow eccentrics Skippa da Flippa and Young Thug stop by to lay down rhymes, and where the main artist’s two personas trade bars on the same song.

And although Yachty cannot sing, he’s surprisingly good at conjuring catchy melodies, which run like rivers through the mixtape’s strong production. Some of these melodies become extremely grating, don’t get me wrong, but they always come off as likable.

That same strong production is an undeniably key part to the mixtape’s success, and although Yachty doesn’t pick up any credits of his own, his ear helped define the aesthetic. In a Vice profile of the rapper, “Lil Boat” lead producer Burberry Perry reveals that no one “gravitated” to his beats until Perry met Yachty.

Yachty’s music is much more effective as a whole then as a sum of its parts. His mixtape emanates vibes of happiness and carefree living, sentiments that drew me inwards while the technical quality of the music attempted to push me away.

The young rapper has immaculate taste, which has earned him studio time with Kanye West as he attempts to grow his fame even further. I implore you to listen to “Lil Boat,” just to try it. If it hooks you, great. If it doesn’t, no problem. Lil Yachty will be in his corner, doing his own thing, regardless of what people say.


Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu.