One of hip-hop’s most divisive figures of the past five years, Lil Yachty, is back with a new mixtape that highlights the same style-mashing weirdness that led to his breakout in 2016. “Michigan Boy Boat” is Lil Yachty’s first full-length project since 2020’s “Lil Boat 3” and its deluxe edition rerelease a few months later. “Lil Boat 3” was the latest of a series of Lil Yachty projects, including 2017’s “Teenage Emotions” and 2018’s “Nuthin’ 2 Prove” which were ripped apart by critics and fans alike. Fans will be happy to hear that though “Michigan Boy Boat” is not a return to 2016 Lil Yachty’s self-proclaimed “bubblegum trap” sound, it’s his most focused project in years that finds him reinventing his sound and style for a totally new purpose.
While his most recent releases have seemingly aimed at crossover mainstream success, “Michigan Boy Boat” instead finds Lil Yachty looking toward the bubbling underground scenes in Flint and Detroit, Michigan for inspiration, and it brings many of these local figures along for the ride. Though Lil Yachty himself is from the same Atlanta trap scene that led to the discovery of many of his contemporaries like Young Thug, 21 Savage and Migos, he’s had relationships with Michigan rappers for most of his career. One of his biggest early hits was “From the D to the A” with labelmate and Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley. Grizzley shows up on “Michigan Boy Boat,” too, along with other Detroit and Flint figures like Louie Ray, Babyface Ray, Sada Baby and Rio Da Yung Og — many of whom Lil Yachty has collaborated with in the past on various loosies, freestyles and features.
The Michigan sound, as it’s been called, is a little jarring to casual rap fans who might be thrown off by the abrasive bass and drums, and the way that rappers seem to rap off-rhythm. Though the rapper Blueface gained some mainstream attention a few years back with a similar type of flow, the sound hasn’t really clicked in the mainstream yet as other regional scenes have. The music is loud, aggressive and in a lot of ways, the exact opposite of the feel-good pop-rap that made Lil Yachty’s “One Night” and “Broccoli” into hits. Still, Lil Yachty wholeheartedly jumps into his new friends’ soundscape, and the new style brings out some of his best music in years.
“Dynamic Duo” reunites Lil Yachty with Tee Grizzley, and though the Michigan rap rhythms are present, the flows are a little more digestible, and it serves as an intro into the underground sound present on the rest of the tape. “Never Did Coke” featuring Swae Lee (the only non-Michigan scene feature on the mixtape) is another go at a crossover-type song, but while Lil Yachty’s stop-and-go flow and Swae Lee’s work on the hook are successful independently, bringing them together on the same song comes off as awkward.
The mixtape’s highlights, then, are when Lil Yachty and his producers give themselves up completely to the underground sound. Sada Baby is one of the most popular rappers from the Michigan scene, and both of his appearances on the mixtape, “SB 2021” and “SB5,” find him and Lil Yachty going back and forth on some of the grittiest beats on the project. A track with possible mainstream appeal is “G.I. Joe” with Louie Ray, in which Lil Yachty actually manages to blend his older sing-song voice with the stop-and-go flow in a really interesting way. Another great track is the mixtape’s closer, “This That One,” a posse cut with Lil Yachty, Louie Ray, Krispy Life Kidd, Slap Savage, Veeze and YN Jay that features some of the best “rap-rapping” on the whole project.
Lil Yachty, though he’s been regarded as a bit of a joke in the hip-hop world for the past few years, has always stood out above his so-called “mumble rap” contemporaries in terms of his creativity, marketability and flow. Though “Michigan Boy Boat” may be Lil Yachty signaling that he’s giving up on his pop-star dreams, the reinvention of his sound makes it his best project since 2016. His lyricism and wordplay have improved drastically over the years and ditching the “bubblegum trap” for this new sound is giving him the perfect opportunity to show off his new chops. Lil Yachty is still hilarious, and his punchlines and goofy bars still shine throughout the album. In a lot of ways, he’s injecting a dynamic personality into this Michigan rap scene in the same way that these underground artists are breathing new life into him.
If someone were to say in 2018 that Lil Yachty — who used to be known as the butt of so many jokes in hip-hop — would eventually be one of the first rappers to transcend his Soundcloud rap scene and reinvent himself with a successful new sound, they would be labeled absurd. But now, three years later, Lil Yachty is back, sounding as weird and creative as ever, and proving that even someone like him — though he may lack technical ability — will be able to stay an important figure in rap moving forward, thanks to his great personality and willingness to experiment.