Feature by Andrew Novoa
Meet Miles McCollum, better known as Lil Yachty, the nineteen-year-old Atlanta musician who has recently taken hip hop by storm. His credentials: headlining member of XXL’s freshman class, Yeezy Season 3 model, and one of the brightest stars of an otherwise over-saturated Atlanta music scene. But despite his immense success, his rise has not come without controversy, reigniting a debate between fans of “traditional” hip hop and followers of the new sound, one that often values catchy melodies and glossy production over hard-hitting bars. Despite this controversy, Yachty has thrived, carving out his own niche in hip hop’s new wave.
Yachty is the quintessential American success story--a boy from humble beginnings who made it without selling out. Everything he’s done and everything he’s achieved has been on his own terms. He’s always been the same kid, with the same bright red hair, rolling with the same crew, wearing his signature retro Nautica.
Since his breakout single “1 Night” broke the internet (37 million plays on SoundCloud and 28 million hits on YouTube), there has been much debate regarding his legitimacy and talent. But there’s a reason why America loves this kid so much: he has so much fucking fun.
Yachty’s music perfectly encapsulates the experience of being young and carefree; epitomizing the joyous carelessness, devastating heartbreak, and brazen invincibility that comes with being a teenager. He tells his own story and although not everyone can relate, he’s so genuine that no one can stop themselves from smiling and singing along. Furthermore, his music is aggressively straightforward, but not in a bad way. Its simplicity lends itself to efficacy in a way that is rare in hip hop.
In an industry where everyone is trying to stick out by trying new sounds and riding new waves, sometimes the most effective approach is a plain, stripped-back one. On Yachty’s track “I’m Sorry,” for instance, almost all of the song revolves around a couple disarmingly straightforward lines. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know, baby, I didn’t know.” He doesn’t try to be poetic; he knows he’s not Kendrick or Isaiah Rashad, but it works for him. He manages to plumb the depths of those emotions without becoming verbose or pretentious. His lack of gimmicks leaves him vulnerable and more accessible. Yachty knows that emotions are not always a complex vortex of conflicting sentiments. Sometimes things just suck.
And at only nineteen-years-old, he is able to lend a voice to a younger generation that isn’t always taken super seriously. The overwhelming sentiment about teenagers and America’s youth is that they’re hot-tempered, irrational, and incapable of doing anything noteworthy. And that can be argued to a certain extent. But Yachty is taking the recklessness and impulsiveness of youth and turning it into a positive. He’s running more on emotion than reason, and he’s showing us that that’s ok.
He encapsulates everything about the internet age that he grew up in. He does not want to be compared to old school rappers, his idols are Soulja Boy and Lil B, and he classifies his music as “bubble-gum trap.” He doesn’t wow with his freestyles, he cannot name five songs by Biggie or Tupac, and he cultivates his popularity mainly through social media. The kid doesn’t even consider himself a rapper. His focus appears to be more on creating a vibe than it is on making traditionally “good” music.
Nowhere is this more abundantly clear than on the intro to his newest project, Summer Songs 2. He opens the track warmly, welcoming all to listen, which is good start—it’s fun because he himself is fun. Perry, Yachty’s main producer and best friend, keeps the fun going with a bouncy, light instrumental. But when Yachty starts to rap the song gets a little dicey. His bars come in consistently offbeat, forcing the rhymes to hang onto the track for dear life. His lack of rhythm and subpar lyricism thus become quickly apparent. But when Yachty breaks into the joyous chorus—“We are the youth! We are the youth!”--you feel it. The murky rapping subsides, the sun breaks from behind the clouds, and there is Yachty, elated and singing his damn heart out.
And perhaps the best thing about Yachty is that in a world of jaded rappers, this young man hasn’t lost his optimism. While Drake stares icily over the Six from the heights of the CN tower and Kanye makes songs about being surrounded by “fucking wolves,” Yachty is singing gleefully about how good his day is, “Cause I’m rich rich rich rich / and these diamonds on my wrist wrist wrist wrist / man today’s a good day.”
Even when respected figures in the music industry tell him his music isn’t good, he refuses to give up. Recently, Ebro of Hot 97 roasted the young MC on the show for his “high school” bars; and in response, Yachty devoted a song on Summer Songs 2 to prove that his rapping was up to snuff. That song didn’t get the reception he thought it deserved, so he phoned into the radio to take the issue head on. “That shit is hard, bro!” he pled. On one hand, his call showed that he was out here to compete, that he wasn’t going to take anything lying down. But even better was the fact that you could hear him smiling through the phone the entire time. Lil Boat!