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Lil Yachty is music’s ‘Secret Recipe’ — and this year’s MVP

When Lil Yachty announced the final dates for his “Field Trip Tour” in September, it felt like the cherry on top to an already incredible year.

On opening night (Sept. 21), which commanded a crowd of 3,000-plus fans at Echostage in Washington D.C., the 25-year-old Atlanta artist seemed to realize the massive impact the past year has had on his career — stepping back and admiring the crowd in one of the most electric concert videos since his iconic walkout to “Coffin” at Summer Smash.

Stemming from Let’s Start Here‘s release in January, Boat has refused to let up — proving his worth as a generational creative. Whether that be through alt-features, impressive singles or festival slots at Lollapalooza and Rolling Loud, it’s clear Lil Yachty is having the best year of his career.

Boat sets sail…

In 2016, Lil Yachty burst onto the scene when tracks like “One Night” and “Minnesota” gained immense traction during the height of the SoundCloud era. Capitalizing on this momentum, he lent his “bubblegum trap” sound to KYLE‘s “iSpy” and DRAM’s “Broccoli” later that year, which led to him earning a spot on XXL’s coveted Freshman List, sharing the honor with fellow artists like Lil Uzi Vert, 21 Savage and Kodak Black among others. In one of the most iconic freshman freestyles of the past decade, this moment not only cemented Lil Yachty as a defining voice of the future, but a bona fide trendsetter.

However, Yachty’s distinct style — marked by his red hair, vibrant jewelry and unique voice — labeled by some as “mumble rap,” made him stand out, but opened the doors for criticism. Prominent figures like Ebro Darden and Joe Budden were vocal about their reservations regarding Lil Yachty’s approach to hip-hop, with Budden going as far as to say that he was having a negative influence on rap. During this time, Yachty divulged his feelings on being so much more than a rapper, to which industry leaders and commentators frowned upon. In other words, faith in him was fallacy. Records like Lil Boat 2, Nuthin 2 prove and Lil Boat 3 acted as a direct antithesis of Boat’s own feelings about his artistry. Fans got a taste of his eclectic, melody-heavy sound (surprisingly) on his debut album, Teenage Emotions, in 2017.

So ‘Let’s Start Here’…

Forged from criticism, resilience ultimately defines artists like Lil Yachty. In a testament to his adaptability, his artistic evolution these past few years was ushered in by his assertion of rapping prowess, which came in the form of Michigan Boy Boat — propping up the then-budding Detroit rap scene led by artists like BabyTron, Veeze, BabyFace Ray and more. He wanted to be taken seriously as an artist, achieving respect and credibility through the fast-flowing D beats that have had hip-hop in a chokehold.

October 2022 saw the most significant example of Boat’s evolution with the release of “Poland” — a collaboration with F1LTHY, renowned for his work with Playboi Carti. This single, distinguished by Yachty’s inventive vocal style and intuitive inflections, quickly became an internet sensation (as a leak nonetheless). Weeks later, he made his mark on Drake and 21 Savage‘s joint project, Her Loss, enhancing “Jumbotron Shit Poppin” and “BackOutsideBoyz” with his whimsical, characteristic ad-libs. By January 2023, Lil Yachty unveiled his fifth studio album, Let’s Start Here, which not only drew inspiration from psychedelic rock overtones, but completely changed how people viewed Yachty as an artist.

In an interview with Zane Lowe, Boat spoke on the situation surrounding the creation of “Poland,” illustrating how focused he was on fine-tuning LSH. “That was irritating,” said Lil Yachty. “I was pissed because I made ‘Poland’ while making this album on a day when they were mixing and I was in the other room just bored with the homies. I would’ve never dropped ‘Poland’ — ever — because I wanted to pivot myself into [Let’s Start Here].”

Did Boat’s new sound stick..?

While many wondered if this new psych-rock sound could coexist with Lil Yachty’s trademark style, he’s overwhelmingly proved his versatility in the months following LSH. With tracks like the infectious “Strike (Holster)” and “One of Those Days” — a nostalgia-filled alt-pop feature on Zack Bia’s debut EP Learn to Fly — an indie-pop feature on Current Joys‘ “Gatsby” was further evidence of Yachty’s foray into genre fluidity.

In a departure from his usual bag in luxury rap, 2023 has revealed a Lil Yachty that’s more introspective and intent on proving his lyrical, vocal and production talent — perfecting a sound that is distinctly his. “I’m not a mumble rapper,” he declared in an interview with Complex. “I’m not a one-hit wonder… I’m just an artist. I love to rap. I love to sing. I love to write. I love to produce. I’m just an artist, and you should never expect anything because I will always do something unexpected.”

What’s most unexpected was his friendship with Tame Impala‘s Kevin Parker, who brought Boat on for “Breathe Deeper” off the deluxe to The Slow Rush in February 2022. Admittedly, this was an inkling to direction he was going to take on LSH (which took five years to finish), flowing over one of Parker’s signature psychedelic hypno-melodic rock tracks; Lil Yachty seems right at home. Even with his heightened vocal refinement, Yachty’s atypical voice, especially for this genre, continues to be a driving factor of his popularity, leading to performing “drive ME crazy!” and ‘the BLACK seminole” in front of national audience on Saturday Night Live.

Hop out that ‘Tesla’…

More recently, Lil Yachty’s opted for a waterfall release of tracks in the form of a seemingly living, breathing and evolving EP. An effort to contrast his latest album, the project is entirely rap at its core, clad with hard-hitting beats and trap production from producer duo MitchGoneMad and WessGoneMad.

Its most colorful and personable effort, “Tesla,” serves as a reminder that Yachty has not abandoned hip-hop for the calmer, alternative psych-rock, but has doubled down on flair for fun. Sounding like a little brother of “Strike,” “Tesla” features many of the same inflections and dialed autotune that made Yachty a star as teenager. “Tesla” followed previous viral hits such as “Strike,” “Solo Steppin Crete Boy” and “Slide,” as Boat’s relationship with Cole Bennett and Lyrical Lemonade allowed greater visibility for his newfound sonic lane; Visuals in “Poland,” “Strike” and “Tesla” act as a trilogy for this renaissance of sorts.

His ‘Secret Recipe’ revealed…

The latest in this waterfall pack was “The Secret Recipe” with J. Cole (Sept. 29) — a wandering, laid-back jazz-influenced cut produced by Yachty himself, alongside Rawbone and 98k. This not only offers further proof of Yachty’s versatility and commitment to not be confined to a single genre or style, but displays Boat’s immaculate production chops, yet again. Dripped in the swagger fans initially fell for, Boat’s 2023 has been defined by inescapability and unequivocal hunger of an up-and-coming artist. He’s proved so much yet still chases respect, evident on “The Secret Recipe,” where he raps about how authority figures in hip-hop discounted him early in his career (i.e Ebro, Joe Budden).

The standards have collapsed, they wrote me in with lames

They treat me like I’m them, they hate I overcame

Refuse to pat my back, refuse to shake my hand

Refuse to give me props when I am not around

Refuse to act like I ain’t shift the sound, like I ain’t push the culture

Lil Yachty – “The Secret Recipe”

For Yachty, there doesn’t seem to be a plan for what’s next. He doesn’t follow the typical two-year album rotation many artists do; A new album, project, or single could be announced at any point. Whether that’s another look into the world of Let’s Start Here, a true Atlanta trap project or anything in between, well, that’s up to Boat. If you’re betting on 2023’s MVP, Lil Yachty has already claimed the crown.

Words by Evan Heiges and Jon Barlas

Check out ‘The Secret Recipe’ below!