Like adolescence itself, Teenage Emotions, the latest release from 19-year-old hip-hop wunderkind Lil Yachty, is a muddled blend of half-baked ideas and contrasting moods.
While often capable of decent flow and earnest delivery, Yachty spends most of the album’s twenty-one tracks reveling in mediocrity, falling back on smart-ass similes (“you stinky and dirty like farts”) and overly long auto-tuned warbles.
The strong suit of this record is certainly its production, which hop scotches gleefully through a wide spectrum of sounds and disparate influences. From the straight-forward Atlanta trap of album highlight “Dirty Mouth” to the pop-rap bounce of “All Around Me”, Teenage Emotions comes replete with a diverse set of joyfully-crafted backdrops courtesy of up-and-coming producers (Ricky Racks, K-Swisha) and established names (Lex Luger, Diplo).
However, as often is the case, Yachty himself is a mixed bag whose charm comes through in direct simplicity. On “Priorities”, he adapts an iLoveMakonnen-esque plaintive delivery for his carefree mission statement (“Imma do whatever I want to when I say so.”) Yet the album feels bogged down in fillers as his desire to test the boundaries between creative playfulness and absurdity lead him to self-indulgence. (Was that minute of auto-tuned wailing on “All You Had to Say” really necessary?)
The occasional nuggets of wordplay wear thin quickly, a grab-bag of grade-school humor and otherwise puzzling imagery. But he manages to come around every so often with heartwarming sentiment, such as on the bubbly “Better” where he croons “I love you because you be making me better,” in a manner that evokes the naive sweetness of bubblegum teen pop over a crisp, calypso summertime beat. These fleeting moments in Teenage Emotions make one realize that his sense of pop song-craft is certainly present, a component of his character that has yet to be honed.
The surprisingly few big-name features sprinkled throughout offer mostly sideline commentary and a few sung choruses. Fellow Atlanta natives Migos are possibly the only exception as they certainly anchor the album’s lead single “Peek-A-Boo.” You can practically feel Quavo, Offset and Takeoff egging Yachty on as he takes on the chorus they so gamely handed him. On “All Around Me”, YG feels like a wasted opportunity as he spends most of his verse repeating “I f*ck with Lil Yachty” in a manner that seems to betray his insecurity on being associated with this record.
Nonetheless, it’s certainly not an embarrassment to be a Lil Yachty fan. Yachty and his peers come from a generation of kids who idolized Gucci Mane and Kid Cudi in equal measure, consistently blurring the lines between emo and trap music. By contrast, it would seem that Yachty is often too focused on banalities to match his contemporaries’ occasionally excellent breakthroughs. (One is better off with Lil Uzi Vert’s sadism or Playboi Carti’s minimalism.) Regardless, his adventurous spirit might be the justification we need to keep him under our watch and scrutiny.
-By Christopher Rodriguez