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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

‘Let’s Start Here.’: A revolutionary twice over

The first generation of SoundCloud rappers, the revolutionaries who defined rap for a generation in the mid-2010s, is growing up now. 21 Savage has discovered a unique macabre humor and a powerful poeticism; Denzel Curry achieved mastery of the mic on last year’s “Melt My Eyez, See Your Future”, which is an album defying genres and eras in its soundscape. Lil Yachty stood among them, once, though such an ascent seemed unlikely at his peak of popularity. There did not seem to be an undercover philosopher on “iSpy,” “Minnesota” or “Broccoli.” Few would have assumed he would remain musically relevant in 2023. Certainly, no one could have guessed that he would release an instantly classic prog rock song to set off the year.

“Let’s Start Here.” is an almost incomprehensible artistic reinvention and an extremely impressive body of work. The opening track, “the BLACK seminole.,” is a seven-minute epic featuring multiple movements. Yachty’s auto-tuned singing is blurry, dripping all over the track, yet still transportive, drawing the listener into this odyssey. The song turns from a chugging rock piece with sparkling synthesizer passages to an ethereal sea of sound, synths whirring and shooting off into space, before, at about the five-minute mark, vocalist Diana Gordon parts the mist with an ecstatic, wordless solo, moving between tempos and modulating from a soft coo to an incensed scream. It is the best song of the album and an utterly fantastic piece of music that should remain in rotation through the decade’s end.

The album’s greatest strength is its songwriting and production, which eclipses Lil Yachty’s faults as a singer. “sHouLd i B?” sets a chorus fit for the Weeknd over crushing drums and gorgeous synths that compose a slightly grittier soundscape. Over this bright yet yearning beat, Yachty finds a vulnerability in his computerized tones. He makes similar magic on “sAy sOMETHINg,” his earnestness and passion meet his description of “feeling like a teen again.” He calls out from the right of the stereo as a crunched, twinkling beat processes on, and the whole piece coalesces as an ode to innocent and overwhelming emotions. The bliss and transience produced by the swooning synthesizers of “WE SAW THE SUN!” brings the listener into the psychedelic love story of the lyrics, capturing the bittersweet experience of enjoying a relationship that will not last. The album envelops its listeners, bringing them along for Yachty’s high, which is intrinsically bound to a fresh-eyed experience of love. Of course, there is some fun to be had; “pRETTy” is the closest song to Yachty’s older, nonchalant trap, reprising the warbly Auto-Tune of his 2022 viral hit “Poland.” There are weaker songs, mostly within the album’s first half, and these are the tracks that lack the songwriting spark of the highlights.

Yachty also shows excellent taste in his placement of guest vocalists. Diana Gordon returns on “drive ME crazy!” for an incredible performance of the first verse, haunting, playful and enticing all throughout. Fousheé plays along with Yachty on “pRETTy,” adopting a trap-influenced melody, and performs perhaps the album’s best lyrics on the melancholy second part of “The Alchemist.,” conveying a yearning that is hard to contain in just one wordless burst of unresolved melody. And Daniel Caesar slinks through the nightmarish first half of “REACH THE SUNSHINE.,” another ambitious highlight, his crinkled voice is beautiful and searching.

The kids who turned rap on its head have grown up now. Lil Yachty says as much in the intro: “The kid is now a man.” The simple joy of his earlier work has now matured into the paranoid euphoria of his romantic experiences, which are simultaneously uplifting and haunting. There’s truly no telling what’s next for the revolutionary. “Let’s Start Here.” indeed.

Album: “Let’s Start Here.” Artist: Lil Yachty Favoritetracks: “the BLACK seminole.,” “sHouLd i B?,” “REACH THE SUNSHINE.” Shamrocks: 3.5/5