Eighteen-year-old rapper Lil Yachty has been making headlines for the last seven months, starting with his modeling stunt at Kanye West's Yeezy Season 3 fashion show/album release party at Madison Square Garden. Since then, he's been remarkably active.
The flame-haired Atlanta native dropped his debut album, Lil Boat
, in March, and I kid you not when I say that every single song on the 14-track record has at least one million listens on SoundCloud, with single "1 Night" topping the list at 32.6 million plays. He made it on the cover of XXL
's 2016 Freshman Class issue, modeled for Puma and Pink Dolphin, appeared on Drake's OVO Sound Radio, and became the first artist to collaborate on a song with reality star and, arguably the world's most famous then-18-year-old, Kylie Jenner. He's performed with Young Thug, held a show at the Museum of Modern Art, and collaborated with some of the biggest of-the-moment artists in hip-hop, like PARTYNEXTDOOR, French Montana, Ty Dolla Sign, Desiigner, and ilovemakonnen. And, though he's currently on his Boat Show Tour, he'll hit the road again later this year to tour as an opener for Rae Sremmurd.
For an artist with seemingly few skills — his vocals are mumbled, muffled efforts overlaid with Auto-Tune, and the beats he combination rap/sings over are so simplistic, they're almost childish — his success is astounding. Somehow, in the span of under a year, Lil Yachty has become a cult icon for young adults, while at the same time stirring up a decade's old conversation among hip-hop heads about what it means to be a rapper.
Pessimist that I am, I had preconceived notions about what to expect at a Lil Yachty show, and they weren't too far off.
When I arrived at The Regency Ballroom on Thursday night, there was a line of underage girls in crop tops and strategically ripped jeans and a gaggle of not-yet-fully-developed boys donning snapbacks and beanies waiting to get inside the venue. Intrigued by the turnout, at least three passersby asked me who was performing, and I overheard one bro say to another bro something about how every show on Lil Yachty's tour has been sold out.
The main floor of the Ballroom was so packed that my friend and I headed up to the balcony level where it was also equally packed. To emphasize how large the audience was, I'll say this: There were so many bodies that the air was humid and steamy with sweat, and at times, the crowd's banter and cheering were so loud that it competed with the music.
The stage was startlingly sparse. Other than a tiny stool with a laptop on it, the only thing on it besides Lil Yachty and the five or six random other dudes was a screen in the background that played a montage of beach scenes throughout the night — think waves, shorelines, sand dunes, beach chairs. That's it. That's all there was.
With such a bare-bones set-up, you'd think Lil Yachty would have upped his showmanship, but he didn't. He barely talked to the audience, only pausing to utter a few one sentence quips every now and then, such as "Damn! I ripped my pants again!" The most exciting moment of the night was when Lil Yachty and some other dude stood atop the speakers on opposite ends of the stage and yelled, "1, 2, 3!" before jumping into the crowd. A collective "Woah!" arose from the audience and a sea of arms swept gracefully forward to catch them. Meanwhile, the recording of whatever song he had been performing continued playing in the background, with only a few grunts and "woops" added from Lil Yachty.
Which brings to me to my next point: I still don't know much of the show was live and how much was lip synced. Not that I could have deciphered the lyrics anyways. The speakers were so harsh and blown out that they drowned out Yachty's already unclear words, and at one point, I could have sworn he sang, "Nervous about Trump" — though I highly doubt this; Lil Yachty does not strike me as someone with even an inkling of interest in politics.
He performed songs like, "1 Night," "22," "Wanna Be Us," and Playboi Carti's single, "Run It," and the crowd of youngins ate that shit right up. Have you ever seen a horde of white kids waving their arms in the air and chanting lines like, "I get the guap and I run it" and "I got diamonds on my neck, yeah / All gold like pee, yeah"? 'Cuz I have and it was weird.
At the height of the show, about eight dudes were on stage — two of them sans a shirt because, you know, every "lit" party has to have at least one skinny shirtless guy on stage — and they basically just jumped around and screamed partial lyrics and sporadic words into the microphone. I felt like a voyeur watching a house party through a window: I could see that everyone was having fun, but I couldn't understand why, and I certainly didn't feel a part of it.
Did I stay for the entire show? Nope. Why bother? For a solid hour it remained the same, and once the joint stage dive was over, I knew nothing more exciting would happen. When Lil Yachty started instructing the crowd to yell, "Don't be a pussy!" I knew it was my queue to go.
When I walked outside, the same girls I'd seen chugging from plastic bottles before the show were outside again. This time, one of them was stumbling, and the other one was visually amped up, repeating variations of the line, "A bitch punched me in the face. I don't give a fuck."
Also worth mentioning was the girl who was clutching her guy friend, telling him, "I literally thought you were going to get arrested! I literally had to run after you!"
Anyhoo, back to Lil Yachty. I went to the show and I still don't get his appeal. But maybe I can't. Maybe I'm too snobby, and, let's be honest, just too old to understand him.
Perhaps a random dude named Fred who I chatted with while smoking a cigarette put it best. Forget about talent, he said, because that's not "Lil Yachty's thing." Rather, people like him because "he captures a certain time in music by being fucking weird and making bad music catchy."