The ground began to shake as bodies lifted from the floor moments after “Minnesota” boomed from the speakers. The DJ had played “International Players Anthem” and the crowd came to life, but not even Pimp C’s magical verse received this kind of reaction. There was an energy, a jubilant electricity that surged through the venue full of young adults who came out to see Raury and Joey Bada$$.
Lil Yachty wasn’t on the bill to perform, but just seeing what happens when a crowd hears his animated voice gave me a glimpse at what would happen if he was onstage. Even if his music wasn’t for me, there was no denying he had won over the youth and his movement went deeper than being an ironic, internet sensation. Now, even though I don’t quite understand the vision, and I’m not a big fan of his music, I find myself rooting for Lil Yachty.
The revelation came to me as I watched his latest documentary, Keep Sailing. Directed by Petra Collins and presented by The Fader, the short doc does an excellent job of capturing a side of Lil Yachty that doesn’t necessarily shine through in his interviews. It gives viewers insight into someone who always knew he was different and embraced his uniqueness even when it made him nothing but a joke.
People laughing at Yachty on the internet is nothing compared to being the joke on the Alabama State campus. The same red hair that has become his trademark made him the target for bullying, a laughing stock, popular for all the wrong reasons. He could’ve easily cut his hair, dyed it and removed the beads. Conforming is easy, adjusting to the desires of others is easy, but being yourself when it’s the furthest thing from accepted is hard. Even after he left, he never forgot their laughs, and decided that he would turn the very thing that made his college experience a nightmare, his hair and what that represented about him, into what would help make him famous.
In the documentary, he said that his friends laughed when he recorded “Minnesota.” They found humor in the way his voice sounded, they called the song trash while he believed it was fire. Once again, he’s staring down the same barrel - non acceptance. Instead of scrapping the song, trying to change his voice, he saw something in it. He believed in himself when no one else did. In the very beginning of the doc he talks about always wanting to be a celebrity, wanting to be famous, a traditional life was never the one he envisioned. Hearing him talk about his refusal to cut his hair, change the color, stay in school - he’s another dropout who wasn’t going to waste his time at Gap waiting for a spaceship, he was going to make it happen. His boat is more of a rebellious pirate ship than luxurious yacht. It’s impossible to be a creative person and not cheer for another outcast who refused to change so he could fit in.
Yachty just happens to be perfect for 2016. He understands visual branding, he truly gets the importance of everything from his hair to artwork. The characters he’s creating, the video he’s shooting, he understands the internet and is using that to his advantage. Even the whole boat concept has made for some interesting marketing. The fact he has had a song go viral on Twitter/Vine because of a parody video is proof that he’s an artist for this very age. This is someone who wanted to be a celebrity, in a time where anyone can be famous. He’s a shy kid, lacking any real media training, but outside of interviews, his brand building has been impeccable. Plus his songs are painfully catchy, showing his potential to make singles that can easily catch fire.
Teaming up with Coach K and Quality Control will only help take him higher. His Summer Songs 2 mixtape feels like the label is further pushing the fact he’s for the kids. On the intro, he sings in Auto-Tune, “We are the youth." The third track, “King Of The Teens,” solidify he’s here for the kids and releasing a mixtape right before summer vacation ends is genius. There’s some potential bangers - the 808 Mafia-produced “Up Next 3,” “Shoot Out The Roof” has a chance of causing some splashes in Lil Boat’s waters, and the Burberry Perry feature “Pretty” could be in a Disney original movie.
From Lil Yachty I get this vibe that he’s a genuine kid doing exactly what he wants to do, making the music he wants to make, and being embraced for it. In this big crazy world, being different is only accepted when it becomes cool. His red hair reminds me of Fetty Wap’s eye and how he inspired a little boy to remove his prosthetic eye. I’m pretty sure there’s a few kids who always wanted to dress outside the norm but were too afraid to - they may now have the courage to because of Lil Boat. No different than Kanye giving kids the courage to dropout of school and follow their dreams. His music is far from my favorite at the moment, but knowing his story and seeing how far he’s come is inspiring. I can only imagine how his success is giving kids confidence to be different.
Just like Wu-Tang before him, Lil Yachty is for the kids and I’m for Lil Yachty. May his boat continue to conquer the seas.
By Yoh, aka Lil Yohchty, aka @Yoh31
Illustration Credit: Sakutaro