There has never been a bag Lil Yachty won’t shamelessly chase. Since the Atlanta rapper arrived in 2016 with his melodic mixtape Lil Boat, he has been equally known for brand shilling as his music. He hit a two-step with Carly Rae Jepsen in a Target ad. He reworked the lyrics for his grating breakout single “Minnesota” for a Sprite commercial. He devised a cursed Chef Boyardee jingle with Donny Osmond. He might have recorded the worst television theme song of all time. Currently he’s working on a movie based around the card game Uno. It’s a reflection of the current climate, where almost any rapper eligible to appear on the top three lines of a Rolling Loud bill is a brand.
It’s because of all this that I was initially skeptical of his longtime intermingling with the shit-talking characters of Michigan’s thriving street rap scene. Was he using them to make his music cool again? Or was this a genuine connection with a fast-growing movement that has long been underappreciated? Likely it was a bit of both. Songs like last year’s “Flintana” (with the animated Flint rappers RMC Mike, YN Jay, and Louie Ray) and “Not Regular” (with Detroit’s robot-dancing Sada Baby) not only revived Yachty as a rapper but also raised the profile of Michigan rap.
Yachty’s new mixtape, Michigan Boy Boat, is an earned celebration of this fruitful relationship. Though it’s important not to position Yachty as Michigan’s rap savior—the music in both Detroit and Flint is so singular that it would have ended up in Atlanta anyway—Yachty has undeniably helped speed up the process. The chemistry Yachty has built with many of the scene’s rappers is real. Yachty sounds comfortable on the posse cut “This That One,” among the patented darkly funny punchlines, grim piano melody, booming drums, and ominous church bells, but he is not the center of attention. He’s more like a host that paves the way for his compelling guests: KrispyLife Kidd beat a dude so bad he thought he got jumped, and YN Jay is selling dope to a customer who has a bald head like Bobby Lashley. Similarly on “Plastic,” Yachty takes a backseat to Eastside Detroit’s Icewear Vezzo and Flint’s Rio Da Yung OG: “My shooter got ADHD, he’ll kill you for a script of Addys/I was finna fuck my bitch mom, but I can hit the granny,” raps Rio, maybe the most unnecesarily batshit consecutive lines on a mixtape full of them.
But the mixtape struggles when the focus shifts to Yachty. He doesn’t have Mike’s commanding voice or Rio’s recklessness, the laid-back swag of Babyface Ray or the out-of-pocket insanity of YN Jay. It’s less noticeable when he’s bouncing off of them, but glaring on solo songs like “Final Form” and “Concrete Goonies,” which are tolerable only because of dynamic beats from mainstays of the scene Helluva and Enrgy. When Yachty invites Swae Lee into this world on “Never Did Coke,” it goes about as badly as when a melodic teenage rapper shows up on a radio freestyle show and they play a DJ Premier beat.
Sprinkled across the 14 tracks are moments where Yachty sounds at home: “How the hell is niggas gangsters graduatin’ from St. John’s?” he asks on “Hybrid,” and on “Dynamic Duo,” he raps “My old bitch was really old, born in ’86,” sending all the ’80s babies into an early mid-life crisis. His best performance of all is on “G.I. Joe,” which coincidentally is the only track on the tape not rooted in the Michigan style.
If you’re already familiar with the state’s street rap movement, Michigan Boy Boat doesn’t add anything new. It’ll be a real success if it leads new fans toward superior modern mixtapes like Babyface Ray’s MIA Season 2, Rio Da Yung OG’s City on my Back, Drego and Beno’s Sorry For the Get Off, Los’ G Shit Vol. 1, BandGang Lonnie Bands’ KOD, and more. But for anyone searching for an entry point, it’s a fun introduction to the fast-paced instrumentals, unpredictable flows, and demented punchlines synyonmous with Detroit and Flint.
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