You say it’s good
But it could be better
It always could always be better
Everything in life could always be better
‘Better‘ – Lil Yachty
Rap music these days is everywhere. Within the internet realm, SoundCloud boasts about being the biggest streaming service on the planet. But that’s because there is just so much content on the site, and anyone can add to it. I am fully appreciative of this in many respects – I myself have been an active member of SoundCloud for six years now, regularly uploading stuff and networking with other musicians on the site. However, I can’t deny that it also lets a lot of stuff leak through the cracks and into the mainstream. People who are simply at home making beats with their friends gain a wider audience than was ever before possible.
Take the infamous Yung Lean for example – Jonatan Leandoer Håstad, 21 years of age, very popular amongst Gen Y and Z. The boy has a natural talent for lyrics, having grown up with a Swedish mother tongue and fluency in English, and there’s no denying he’s also got wit (e.g. “Getting balls in your face like a free kick“). However, I do not believe that his talent is enough to propel him into a life-long career in popular music – his latest ambition is an EP released via his “jonatan leandoer127” SoundCloud account, and to be totally honest, it’s nothing incredible. He is singing in his mother tongue, heavily auto-tuned, on top of a very stripped back, ethereal instrumental. There’s really nothing here reminiscent of the old Yung Lean, and it’s devoid of any appeal for the new Yung Lean, too.
The biggest strength of the Yung Lean/Sad Boys catalogue is the production work – his producers Yung Gud, Yung Sherman and White Armour have grown immensely since their humble SoundCloud beginnings (check out the Gravity Boy’s White Amour April mix for マインドCTRL to hear their unique style and a less refined version of what we hear today) and this shows in their live performances too. By the second official (third unofficial) Yung Lean mixtape, Unknown Memory, their production is pretty much flawless. As for Yung Lean’s lyrics? Not so great…
She don’t want me, bitch I’m flustered
I’m an aristocrat without the progress
Roses all on her wedding dress
Blood from her mouth, I’m a mess
‘Yoshi City’ – Yung Lean
Now let’s turn to 19-year-old Miles Parks McCollum, A.K.A Lil Yachty, who busted onto the scene in 2015 with two amazing tracks – ‘One Night’ and ‘Minnesoda’. The tracks were catchy, racking up hundreds of millions of Youtube views, and catapulting Lil Yachty to stardom almost overnight.
You be calling all your homegirls like “I’m his wife”
Hell nah, you trippin‘, reevaluate your life
I can’t love no bitch, every single ho is trife
I sip dirty Sprite just to get me through the night
‘One Night’ – Lil Yachty
Lil Yachty’s nautical-themed persona, albeit being a little gimmicky, gives fans something to latch onto; his watermark and mixtapes share the phrase “Lil Boat”, and the visuals accompanying ‘One Night’ are fun and… water-y. Similar appeal is found in Yung Lean’s persona; the Sad Boys aesthetic is catchy in a cyber post-seapunk way, but most importantly, it’s fresh. SoundCloud was also not unhelpful when it came to Lil Yachty’s rise to fame as well – ‘One Night’ was first released via the website. Although there are many parallels between the two rappers, many would argue here that Lil Yachty has much more validity; whilst Lil Yachty is out here collaborating with artists such as Migos and Diplo, and even walking the runway for Yeezy, Yung Lean has unfortunately been reduced to somewhat of a joke, as the Sad Boy trend seems to be closing in whilst the aesthetic is being cashed in by major companies – without any credit to them.
However, there is no denying that the sheer momentum which brought these two rappers to fame draws many parallels. SoundCloud helped these two to become well-known pretty instantaneously, and at very young ages – Yung Lean being only 16 when he went on his first tour of Europe, and Lil Yachty embarking on a world tour at the age of 19. So, having previously seen two of the Yung Lean shows in Europe, I headed along to the Lil Yachty Perth show to see if he is really as charming as he seems to be on camera.
However, the Lil Yachty show held at Metro City on a Sunday night was nothing short of a total failure. I’m not sure this is anyone’s fault, really – the venue and the time it was held was not ideal – but it can’t all be blamed on circumstance. Lil Yachty’s stage presence is intriguing at best, and despite several requests for the audience to “turn up the energy”, it was never regarded as enough to really get Lil Yachty into a space where he could let go and actually enjoy himself. Halfway through the set he resorted to sitting down on stage and simply shaking his head as he sang along to the lyrics. During ‘One Night’, he didn’t even bother singing along – and as the backing track continued to play we all realized maybe he wasn’t ever really singing at all.
I can’t help but think that someone who was more dedicated to their music and passionate about what they were saying would have provided an energy regardless of what the crowd was like. Or, at the least, the producers could be there to provide some sort of focus point for spectators – but this was not the case. Although there were a few people on stage, many of them looked… bored. It just goes to show that this type of music isn’t meant to be ingested as something refined, intellectual or poignant – and I’m sure that the Lil Yachty collective wouldn’t claim it to be either. The music exists for the shows, and the shows exist for drinking, shouting, and Instagram. One guy’s main job on stage was just receiving people’s phones to film for their Instagram stories.
After this night, Lil Yachty’s tenure as a musician is something I don’t have much faith in. Will he go in the direction of Yung Lean, gaining more and more talented producers, but producing less and less inspiring lyrics? If the attitude brought to his live show is anything to go by – I would say, unfortunately, yes. Like Yung Lean, perhaps his sudden and immense rise to fame has brought him into a space where he is unable to really bring that much to the table – the best we are looking at will be a couple of mixtapes, a short-lived aesthetic, and a smattering of live shows that you can say you went to. And this is not to mention the major mental illness problems brought on by drug use and touring that affected Young Lean – which we can only hope doesn’t do the same to Lil Yachty (thanks goodness he still apparently lives with his Mum).
But there’s no denying that Lil Yachty is spearheading something, a movement and change in direction of the music and attitudes concerning young people, which has been brought about greatly with the help of internet culture. Youth-centered music (punk, ravers, etc.) always serves some other purpose than the music itself; subculture gives young people a space to explore identity and allows them to – in the words of Patrick Kindlon – “get the world on a different level”. I woefully point out that the level on which we are exploring when immersing ourselves in concerts such as Lil Yachty’s is one of nihilism, image, and dare I say – cultural appropriation (there was no shortage of language that, ahem, is not appropriate for white Golden Triangle kids to say). The ideas which are explored in his songs are ones that a teenage boy would rap about, and I would say that Lil Yachty’s music is the equivalent of candy – not really good for you, but a bit of fun, mostly liked by kids. There’s a reason it’s called “bubblegum rap.”
That being said, I appreciate that music is evolving, the world is changing, and music that is listened to by the youth will always be ridiculed as being insensitive and too extreme. For morals to change in this world, new ideas must be adopted and these ideas are currently being expressed in the music of today. But like, c’mon, we didn’t pay $70 to see this guy just sit down on stage and shake his head because the crowd wasn’t jumping up and down enough. Perhaps it is showing of Lil Yachty’s age, perhaps the disposable income of said Golden Triangle kids who are willing to pay money on total trash, perhaps my old age. But whatever it was, I am disappointed in this Allen’s lolly bag equivalent of a show.
Words by Tess Bury.