In 2016, calling someone an “internet” anything hardly holds weight when nearly everything we do and experience is touched or influenced by digital. In the 10 or so weeks since he’s been rapping full-time and amassing press attention in response to his debut mixtape, Lil Boat, Atlanta’s Lil Yachty has been categorized by publications and message board commenters as a “fascinating” product of a culture that lives online, a copy-paste collage of sounds hidden in SoundCloud’s weirdest corners.
Granted, on Lil Yachty’s rise to relevance, the internet was his co-pilot. He can really credit some of his initial spikes in listenership to three things: a viral sketch YouTube video that used his song as a soundtrack, a Twitter cosign from Ian Connor and a spin on Drake’s Apple Music radio show. But in an age when it’s nearly impossible for musicians to promote themselves via any other medium, pegging a successful artist as an “internet” anything is virtually meaningless.
In less than several months, the millions of SoundCloud listens have given way to a management partnership with one of Atlanta’s most notorious A&Rs, Coach K, a newfound friendship with industry legend Rick Rubin and guest features from Young Thug and Quavo from Migos. This where it starts in the modern process of music distribution—not where it ends. Lil Yachty is not a rapper trapped in the internet, but rather a resourceful 18-year-old who took advantage of his digitalized culture to rack up clout and attention.
Yachty’s music appeals to the open-minded listener who, while understanding that the rapper’s technical methods and lyrical skills may be rough around the edges, is simply refreshed by his creation of something different. One listen to Lil Boat and you’ll find blissfully charming, positivity-preaching bubblegum trap a la Lil B and iLoveMakonnen. In a sense, Yachty is pioneering a new chapter in hip-hop wherein fans are foregoing the methodological details of music criticism to praise artists who aren’t afraid to be different—and that’s beyond what any so-called “internet rapper” is capable of.
We called Yachty at the end of his SXSW run last week and talked about labels, positivity in hip-hop and lessons learned from Soulja Boy.
How do you feel about the way publications have been writing about you since the release of Lil Boat?
I don’t like it. I just feel like I have so much more to bring to the table. I don’t like being called an “internet rapper.” It makes me feel boxed in. It’s not even that it’s corny or that it’s necessarily a negative thing. I just don’t like being labeled.
A lot of people seem to be labeling you, especially ones trying to understand you and your music. Are you concerned at all with appealing to those people?
I got them melodies regardless. If you’re choosing to go on my SoundCloud and listen to my music, that was your choice. When it’s on the radio, you don’t have a choice, it’s planned. My shit’s fire, so whether you choose to listen or not, that’s on you. I just don’t like being called an internet rapper because I’m so much more than that. If they don’t know now, they’ll know soon. I’m not stressed.
Do you have any goals or visions for your music?
I want to do something bigger, something deeper than me and deeper than rap. I want to act, I want to do voiceovers for cartoons…lots of stuff outside of music.
You get a lot of comparisons to Soulja Boy…
Would you one day hope to be as impactful as him?
Most definitely, if not bigger. I don’t want to copy anybody.
Why do you think he lost most of his success?
I just feel like he lost connection with his fans. Maybe he got too busy. I don’t know what it is. But he lost that connection.
And you’re learning from that?
I can say he taught me the importance of connection. Connecting and having a relationship with your fans is everything. I learned that from Soulja Boy. He used to make “Day in the Life” YouTube videos. He was one of the first rappers to take you on the road with him. I feel like one of the reasons I blew up so quickly is the way I connect with my fans.
How would you like to be remembered?
Motivational, positive. I’m not sure, this is only the beginning. I have so much more in store, other than just music.
Where does that positivity come from? Have you always been that way?
I just realized I’m not a trapper or a hardcore rapper. I don’t like drugs and I’m not going to be something that I’m not. Me and [producer] Burberry Perry worked together to make my sound, and when we did that it just was a happy sound.
Do you think that’s refreshing for traditional hip-hop fans?
Yeah, in a way. People like to hear something new. My music isn’t just all weed, killing, guns.
Are you letting Lil Boat breathe a bit before making new music, or is it right back to work?
I got back in the studio right after I dropped that! I’m in the studio every day. Always working.
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