If you’ve clicked on this review to read about how disgraceful Lil Yachty is to the rap game, then I’d suggest you stop now. Yachty wasn’t introduced into the hip hop universe this year to turn heads with his verbosity, layered wordplay, and themes of the internal and external struggles of the human condition, but he has been having a blast in 2016, and that positive spirit has been infectious through his various features and two full-length projects. Lil Boat is Yachty’s defining statement in the midst of what has been an exciting breakout year for the young rapper.
Initially, what really drew me to Lil Boat was “Minnesota.” The piano loop in the instrumental of “Minnesota” sounds like it was pulled straight from a nursery rhyme, but when spruced up with some bass and crowd chants, becomes one of the most unique and banging trap songs of the year. “One Night,” the other more popular single off of Lil Boat, doesn’t quite have the vivacity that “Minnesota” has (even though “One Night” may have the best, meme-iest music video of 2016), so I wasn’t sure if the rest of the mixtape could live up to the greatness of “Minnesota.”
But there is no shortage of fun tracks on Lil Boat. “Up Next 2” showcases Yachty’s abilities as a more conventional trap rapper, along with strong features from Big Brutha Chubba and Byou. Byou, in particular, has the best verse on the album, unloading a barrage of devastating similes and metaphors, including lines such as (“Flyer than an albatross / rims chopped like applesauce”) and (“I’mma catch a body like a cheerleader / I’mma die fly like Aaliyah”). “Good Day” is as simple as it gets for a hip hop song, but undeniably sunny. Yachty and his alter-ego Lil Boat are both at their best on the Finding Nemo-sampling opening track, “Intro (Just Keep Swimming),” as Boat describes life before he became a famous rapper, (“Went to school on a dirt road with black h**s and potholes / This shit was just then, this was four months / Late nights with gang on them store hunts / Loitering Walmart for pure fun”), and then Yachty responds on the next verse by crooning, (“Hello Boat, it’s so nice to meet you”), with a contrasting, exploding baseline behind him. “Not My Bro” and “Interlude” are small bursts of irresistibly catchy pop rap songs too.
Although I prefer the Lil Boat rapping persona to the auto-tuned soaked singing of Lil Yachty, some of the slower tracks also maintain the vivacity of Lil Boat’s more spirited material. “Out Late” is an unabashedly sweet love song that maybe could’ve made the radio back in the mid-2000s. “Never Switch Up” is a song that doubles as slow grinding music and after-party cooldown music. However, taking Yachty too seriously as singer (or rapper, I guess) is beside the point of what gives Lil Boat the magic it has.
There are cringe-worthy lyrics, out-of-tune auto-tune singing, and a somewhat weak tail end of the mixtape. There are also moments where Yachty is indulging in boring rap tropes about being some sort of gangster, which doesn’t really make sense with how upbeat and youthful his personality is. Yachty is cool enough to sing over a Super Mario 64 sample on “Run/Running,” but can’t go two lines without referencing every rapper’s favorite drink these days, (“Purple codeine in my beverage”). Yachty has the right production and energy to make it for years to come in hip hop, but the more he relies on current hip hop trends instead of setting his own, the shorter his lifespan in music will be.
Still, Lil Boat has more replay value than many more hyped hip hop projects this year, including Summer Songs 2, Yachty’s follow-up tape that dropped this past summer. If you haven’t checked out Lil Boat yet, do as Yachty artfully says on “Not My Bro” and (“…go on and get afloat”).