Artist: Lil Yachty | Album: Let’s Start Here. | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Neo-psychedelia | Year: 2023
From: Mableton, (GA,) USA | Label: Concrete, Quality Control, Motown
For fans of: Tame Impala, Pink Floyd, Kids See Ghosts
Lil Yachty is now the most-unexpected artist I’ve ever covered. I could have feasibly seen myself covering other hip-hop artists at some point. Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition is a masterpiece that extensively samples progressive, psychedelic, and krautrock; and his experimental spirit made him someone I thought could have shown up on this site eventually. Lil Yachty’s usual trap stylings made this album a complete left-field surprise, though. (I can’t say I’m exceedingly familiar with his previous work, nor do I know much about hip-hop, more broadly speaking. But I’d heard a few of his songs, and in general I don’t like trap. So please excuse my illiteracy of his other work.)
Let’s Start Here. is fairly comparable to the Kanye West-Kid Cudi collaboration, Kids See Ghosts. But where that duo was still firmly rooted in hip-hop, Yachty’s new release is primarily rock-focused. There are also ample soul and Motown flavors, and hip-hop crops up on occasion. The whole record is dense and lush, and it’s got an engrossing, enveloping quality to it. Autotune is used as an instrument unto itself here. The robotic tones are slathered in reverb, and it complements the dreamy, Afrofuturist tone of this record perfectly.
The album opens with “the BLACK seminole.” (The song titles here have lots of non-standard capitalization and punctuation; I’ll do my best to convey that accurately, but I and/or Google Docs’ autocorrect may slip up.) Lil Yachty said this album features all-live instrumentation, so the guitar line here isn’t a sample, but it’s strongly evocative of some of David Gilmour’s lines on “Dogs” and “Pigs”. There’s an insistent, rolling momentum to this, and there’s some fuzzed-out “Maggot Brain”-inspired soloing near the song’s midpoint. The song’s second half features powerful wordless vocals amid an ascendant, interstellar instrumental backing. This is the best song on the album, but that’s hardly a knock on the album as a whole. This is simply a spectacular cut.
Next comes “the ride~”, and it’s got a lighter, poppier feel to it. The synths glimmer and slither, and the rhythm has a laid-back funkiness to it. This cut also features one of the few rap verses on the record around its midpoint. “running out of time” continues with this relaxed feel, though the overall mood is a bit sunnier here. Dashes of indie rock, a la Unknown Mortal Orchestra, are present, and it works really well.
My least-favorite track on the album comes next. “pRETTy” has some nice, soulful backing, but I’m not crazy about the co-vocalist here. The lyrics are insipid, and it’s a bit of a challenge to finish. Thankfully it’s short, and it leads into “: (failure) (:)”. It’s a spoken-word piece, but the hopeful tone of it works surprisingly well against its spare, spacey backing.
“THE zone~” opens with Yachty’s robotic singing over jazzy synths, and the track does a great job at cultivating a warm, astral atmosphere. The vocal effects are especially successful here, and I love the way the distortion subtly increases with the intensity. The closing minute or so features a beautiful, hopeful, fuzzed-out instrumental passage, where Yachty’s voice acts as another instrument. This leads into the complementary “WE SAW THE SUN!”, which continues to float along with an unhurried sense of purpose.
A jazzy groove kicks off “drive ME crazy!”, with a guest vocalist channeling a soulful, funky feel straight out of 1978. Modern hip-hop influences show up near the track’s end, making this a fairly internally-diverse cut.
After a slow, drawn-out intro, “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSiON!!!!!” features some of the album’s most driving music. The guitars, while murky and low in the mix, are nearly metallic; and the drums are muscular and propulsive. The bombast momentarily cuts out, and a female vocalist sings over simple piano backing. This erupts into an ecstatic climax. It’s a raging whirlpool of heavily-affected instrumentation and vocals that leaves quite the impression. The outro is quiet and features some instrumental meditations that sound like they’re off Pink Floyd’s The Man and the Journey.
“sAy sOMETHINg” is one of the weaker cuts on the album, but it’s fine. Its outro channels ‘80s pop acts like Hall & Oates in some interesting ways. Meanwhile, some Kate Bush flavors show up on “paint THE sky”. The beat on “sHouLd i B?” is more danceable, and is enjoyable overall. This is probably the weakest stretch on the album, and it hasn’t held up amazingly over repeated listens.
“The Alchemist.” has a driving and attention-grabbing intro that resolves into a mellower, soul-influenced verse. This track is drenched in effects, and the production is the real star.
Let’s Start Here. closes on “REACH THE SUNSHINE.” This introduction nearly sounds like Zeal & Ardor, with its hummed backing vocals and spiritual-inspired melody. Creepy guitar lines build in the background, along with moody synth pads. A sudden, brilliant wall of synths erupts for a moment, casting aside the previous quietude, though just for a moment. The track remains mostly-understated in its first half, though there’s an underlying sense of tension. As the song enters its second half, that powerful synth passage takes the lead for a moment, only to gradually dissolve once more. This constant ebb and flow does a great job at maintaining interest. The final two minutes, meanwhile, are a quiet, mournful instrumental passage consisting of piano, synth strings, and other keyboard effects. It’s a beautiful way to wrap up the record.
I’ve called a lot of records “pleasant surprises” on this site, but this is far and away the biggest surprise I’ve encountered. Never would I have thought I’d be covering a Lil Yachty release here, and it’s really good, too! It’s not perfect, mind you. There is a bit of bloat, and some tracks just don’t land. I also think people have been over-praising this on sites like RYM, due in large part to it being a well-known pop-rap artist taking a more artistic turn. But it’s overall a fun, thoughtful, and artful release. Tracks like “the BLACK seminole.” and “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSiON” make me excited for what he might do next. The former, in particular, could easily wind up being one of the best songs of the year.