Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week's album is Teenage Emotions, the debut LP from Lil Yachty.
Lil Yachty, born Miles McCollum, is the 19-year-old that has set your timeline ablaze if you’ve followed hip-hop at all in the past year. He’s emerged as a leading man of the post-Internet Wild West, an unapologetic descendant of the first wave of digital superstars that emerged once the floodgates shattered: Soulja Boy, Chief Keef, and Lil B the Based God remain the most influential oddballs that splashed the wave Yachty sails upon. His beaming immaturity has proven a silver lining that’s casted him out from the annals of Black Twitter - a real-time culture factory, moonlighting as the barometer of what America will run to death - to a mainstream relevance that’s shown no signs of slowing across mediums. He’s living, breathing virality: from his appearance to his voice to his goofy transparency, he wields every normalized millennial signature in the book, selling youthfulness as he remains gridlocked within it himself. (He went viral this weekend after he mentioned getting “blown like a cello”, only to annotate his own error, blaming his A&R for not correcting him.)
Teenage Emotions will give you an extensive assortment of bubblegum trap from the game’s brightest: WondaGurl, K. Swisha, and Lex Luger to name a few. It also offers an excessive selection of the most cringeworthy bars you’ll find this side of the timeline: within the first ten minutes, he fantasizes about making the woman in his life clean piss off the bathroom floor, raves about ARs and Dracos before airing the contradiction out to not fuck up his clean(er) image and prime endorsements, brags about making more money than the President did in several months and comments on how his wrist looks like Frosted Flakes. He hasn’t grown out of the default try-to-rap flows he’s been reconfiguring since his critics trashed his lyrical ability, either stumbling through bars like run-on sentences or parroting the contemporaries he’s admitted are far better than him. Once the celebratory braggadocio of the first third subsides into a clumsy sea of more serious attempts at pop, Yachty swings for the fences, even if the grating edge in his Auto-Tuned falsetto can still fare borderline unlistenable, especially when he ruins most attempts with another brag on his dick.
But watching him straddle the line only enhances the payoff once he hones in on the oddities that got him here. It’s what punctuates the awkwardness of Yachty fucking his godsister on “All Around Me,” where his chorus glows as Kamaiyah and YG seal the deal without sacrificing themselves whatsoever to enter his world. The Diplo-assisted “Forever Young” would easily be a guaranteed hit in the hands of nearly any other seasoned vocalist, but the Boat qualities give it just as much of a shot while showcasing his growth, or the talent many doubt was even there to begin with. And the Keef-esque posturing on “Say My Name” rings off as a satisfying touchdown dance for all the clout amassed from this awkwardness, Yachty demanding our acknowledgment while knowing he’s only becoming more unavoidable.
When he’s not demanding that respect for the umpteenth time, he’s fumbling through his melodies in efforts that border on perfect satire that’ll make you question whether or not he holds the men of Lonely Island as ghostwriters. What else could explain “Lady in Yellow,” where Yachty proposes frolicking in the meadows while whispering about good vibes? Or “Bring It Back,” the ‘80s-ish toms and synths comically melting against the eventual saxophone solo as Yachty croons for his lover? Even “FYI (Know Now)” has a bridge starting with uh, romancing, someone’s mom again before resorting to a calmer register to flex, an underrated tool in his arsenal that lets everyone breathe and entertain his outrageousness a little while longer. Somewhere on the back end, it’s hard not to consider the pubescent Take Care vibes as untapped potential for a riskier album of ballads that actually embody the namesake if about a half-hour of runtime was tossed to the wayside. (Concept or not, the cutting room floor should never die.)
Underdog effect aside, Teenage Emotions is a damn mess in every sense. When a Lil Yachty debut album arrives in all its 21 songs over 69 minutes glory, it’s easy to question why any of his accomplishments warrant such a grandiose experiment in sloppy pop. It’s not a piece that warrants repeated listens as a whole body, nor did that seem to factor into the album’s intentionality anyway. Perhaps it’s all commentary on itself: a random mass of data in the open sea of stream equivalent sales, far more reliant on Yachty’s self-awareness in selling swag than whatever the hell he’s saying within it. But we’re not here to be swallowed by capitalism, we’re here for the undeniable fun that constantly rears its head no matter the circumstances that dare restrain it. Chances are, you’ll love more of what you’re programmed to hate than you bargained for. It remains Miles’s greatest trick, like the predecessors that pissed off the old heads before him.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.