Lil Yachty: An Interesting Guy

I do not enjoy disliking Lil Yachty.

Lil Yachty is an extremely polarizing figure, and the problem with polarizing figures is that they tend to draw out the worst kinds of people: people with unflinching opinions. There is such an intense narrative surrounding Lil Yachty that either supporting him or dismissing him both imply a ton about you, and a ton that you might not necessarily agree with.

The biggest complaint about Lil Yachty is that he’s somehow not a real rapper. This idea has been somewhat perpetuated by Yachty’s insistence that he’s not a “lyricist” and his admission that he doesn’t really listen to Tupac or whatever, but mostly its tied into the fact that he has a sunny disposition, makes “fun” music, and people are just arbitrarily bent on hating him. There have been tons of non-serious, not-that-good-at-rapping rappers throughout history, but for some reason Lil Yachty has become the flagship figure for the concept, and therefore, a punching bag for legions of humorless, bitter old-school music pundits.

The best example of the kind of moron who hates Lil Yachty from the flimsy premise of his “non-seriousness” is Joe Budden, who recently sparred with Yachty on Complex’s Everyday Struggle web series and has since become a meme due to his violent objection to Yachty’s claim of being happy all the time. Budden comes off so poorly in the interview that it’s actually tragic: after having exhausted a series of insanely illogical stabs at making Yachty seem stupid he’s left sweaty, enraged, and so emasculated that I honestly feel like his life legacy has been severely damaged. The problem Budden runs into in his blind rush at Yachty is what all Lil Yachty critics eventually find out on their respective quests: no criticism of Lil Yachty can’t be made of other rappers, and Yachty is too self-aware to call out for being pretentious.

What I think people are discovering in Lil Yachty is the literal manifestation of rap values that are normally only expressed in a symbolic manner. His insistence that he mainly cares about money and girls is very par for the course, but the fact that he seems to truly mean it bothers people. His frank admission of a relatively nice upbringing circumvents the old accusation of people exaggerating their backgrounds, but his honesty still chafes because people actually like such exaggerations. Lil Yachty is, in many ways, a more honest reflection of what rap purports to value than anyone else, only in a warped, negative way that people don’t respond well to. That is to say, people want to hate him far more than they can find actual reason to: they would secretly want him to be more of an idiot than he is, because it would validate instinctual feelings about him that are consistently revealed to be weak and unsubstantiated.

All in all, he’s a pretty important and interesting guy, and I absolutely would defend him against Budden and his ilk.

But that being said, I kind of can’t stand him or his music.

Ok, I actually like him more than his music: I appreciate his interviews and I do think he comes off as very intelligent and self-aware most of the time. But in a certain sense, a small sliver of the argument against him is valid. He does feel weirdly flippant in a way that kind of ruins his work.

First of all, I didn’t always hate the childlike quality of Yachty’s songs (I was a fan of “Minnesota”) but the further he went along, the more I started to resent his self-aware innocence. The thing with “innocent” music is that it really has to feel organic in order to not be annoying, and Yachty seems very calculating about his public persona. He’s like the Moldy Peaches of rap: weirdly sinister is his obsession with coming off as childish and naïve, despite the fact that he’s kind of the opposite.

Second, I do have a problem with his corporatism. I don’t resent anyone appearing in commercials for money, but something about his Sprite ad really bugged me. When Chance the Rapper appears in a Kit Kat commercial, it’s just him showing up to endorse a product. But Yachty changing the lyrics “cold like Minnesota” to “cold like a Sprite soda” seemed gross. If there is such a thing as selling out, then that is it: literally perverting your own personal art to be about some company. Maybe that’s an old-school mentality, but I really feel like it’s a bad form to make your actual art, the thing people are truly supposed to appreciate about you, into a malleable, up-for-grabs entity. Changing “Minnesota” for an ad actually does cheapen the original, because it implies that that song is not meaningful enough to Yachty to protect. I suppose it’s probably naïve of me to presume that all true artists are super-protective of their work, but that is ultimately how I feel: the ad ruined the song a bit for me.

In general, Yachty’s greatest strength is also his greatest weakness. Because he makes no claims at being great or serious, you can never fault him for not being great or serious. His casualness makes all his moves permissible, but also creates weird obstacles for his brand. Even though Lil Yachty’s laissez-faire approach helps make critics like Joe Budden look dumb, it also makes it fundamentally difficult to be a huge fan of his, because being a serious fan of Lil Yachty kind of means you take his work more seriously than he does…which would feel odd, at the very least. In a way, I would actually prefer for him to claim that he is a good rapper; if, rather than dismissing his lyrics, he promoted himself as being a good lyricist in a different way, it would make it easier to accept him as something of a revolutionary artist. As it is, Yachty just seems kind of meh.

All this being said, what am I to do? I’ve expressed many times that I hate people supporting or decrying art for social or political reasons outside of the pure merit of the artist but in the case of Yachty I guess I’m forced to confront such a situation. Would defending Yachty simply because I hate the people who hate him make me a disingenuous consumer of his art?

Well…I guess if pressed, I would say I truly feel about Lil Yachty the way I feel about all polarizing figures: polarized. When torn between the personal and the political, I do think it’s best to choose neither rather than arbitrarily side with a reductive opinion for the sake of your own identity (as Budden does). What I guess I’m saying is: Lil Yachty, you’re an interesting guy.

-mcoe