My high school guidance counselor wasn’t very good at guiding or counseling. In her defense, I lacked direction and wasn’t sure where I wanted life to take me.
She wanted me to have all the answers, I just wanted time to figure out the questions.
Teenagers believe they have their whole lives to live, so for them, it’s natural only to live within the moment. Adults are different. Age changes the lens through which you see the world, a world where answers and reasons are requirements. Watching Joe Budden and Lil Yachty’s recent back-and-forth on Everyday Struggle reminded me of the conversations between counselor and student, between teenager and adult.
Joe’s approach was to ask Yachty questions about his art and purpose, digging deeper into who the young man is. The problem with their exchange was how little Joe believed what came from his young guest's mouth. Yachty explained how his artwork embodied being an outcast and acknowledged kids who aren’t represented in hip-hop, and yet Joe dismissed it. Yachty said he’s a positive person and wants to make positive music, and Joe disregarded it as media training.
Joe was very passionate about inquiring about Lil Boat’s motives in hip-hop and, of course, he wasn’t happy with Yachty's passion for making happy music and having fun. Budden represents the side of hip-hop that wants Yachty to understand the culture, respect history, and live up to certain traditional standards of an emcee. While his approach was aggressive and takes the stance of an older hip-hop head, giving Yachty a platform to remind the world of what it means to be a teenager was a great (unintended) decision.
Growing up doesn’t happen overnight, and hip-hop tends to forget this at times. Especially when it comes to new artists, who the culture expects to be fully developed in a way that isn’t realistic. When Yachty talks about regretting the comment he made about Biggie, there’s a sincerity in the way he admits the wrongdoing. DJ Akademiks brings up Yachty's lyricism and how he prefers the more melodic approach, and surprisingly, Yachty admits how at times, “There’s a part of my brain that wants to please everyone,” a comment I’ve never heard him say. It shows that he hears the whispers and is aware of what is being said about him. Even the most positive teen rapper is dealing with the burns of scorching criticism.
Imagine how hard it is to live when everyone is voicing what you should do and how you should act. It wouldn’t surprise me if Yachty sees the old hip-hop guard as the parent who wants to control his future, to push him in the direction they see fit. That’s a lot of pressure for a kid at 19 years old who is still figuring out who he is and the kind of art he wants to make.
A hit song doesn’t mean you grow up, it just means the world gets to watch your every move and heed your every comment.
When Ice-T came at Soulja Boy it was because he felt that Big Soulja was going to burn hip-hop down to the ground. Soulja wasn’t making the kind of rap he felt was fitting of the culture, the kind of bubble-gum music that was going to kill what he loved so much. He didn’t have empathy for a kid who made a hit song and was becoming a rising star; he only saw a public enemy that needed to be taken down. It’s easy to forget what being a teenager feels like, especially when you grew up in an age predating YouTube, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and every other form of social media. Kids can go from college to Coachella and from McDonalds to the Met Gala just by uploading a few songs they made in their basement.
Having a hit song doesn’t mean you've grown up, it just means the world gets to watch your every move and dissect your every comment. Lil Boat is a pure, creative teenager with a platform in rap. He’s starting to understand what this means, but it’s important for the hip-hop audience to be aware of this as well. You can hate the music he makes and his lack of knowledge, but he isn’t going to bring the destruction of hip-hop. It's not fair to try and control his vision or expect him to evolve into an all-knowing rapper overnight. He could be here for 10 months or 10 years, but he should be given room to grow up. Look at Odd Future, whose collective transformation didn't happen until years after they first appeared. Look at Audio Push, who went from jerking to finding their voices as serious rap artists. There's a lot of strain placed on the present, and not enough room to allow artists to enter the future.
The conversation around Yachty shouldn’t be why he’s bad for hip-hop, but what’s the best way to guide and counsel the youth. It’s more important for someone to make sure he understands his record deal than making sure he knows Tupac’s discography. He should be admired for embracing the role of an outcast and using the platform to make other kids feel less alone in this often cruel world, not facing accusations of being a label puppet.
Ultimately, the kid has to grow at his own pace. It’s fine he doesn’t know his purpose and finds delight in nice clothes, money and girls―isn’t that what teenagers are supposed to be enamored by? He may not be a great rapper but he isn’t a bad kid. The hip-hop community can criticize and counsel but Lil Yachty has to be allowed the chance to become an adult boat. He’s learning, he’s aware, and he's growing little by little.
Even if he doesn't embody what an emcee "should" look or sound like, the fact that Yachty is helping kids embrace themselves, love themselves, be happy and dare to follow their creative visions is a beautiful contribution to hip-hop.
View Yachty as who he is, not the artist you want him to become.