“Let’s Start Here.” Review — Lil Yachty takes us to the Dark Side of the Moon with a delightful genre shift.

by Niklas Walker

One of the biggest artists to come out of the Soundcloud era, Lil Yachty has spent the last half decade attempting to find the success he once had coming out of the 2016 XXL Freshman Class. While his first album, Lil Boat, garnered a decent enough response, the rapper has plateaued in both commercial and critical success, and his discography ranges from absolute misfires like Teenage Emotion and decent-yet-bloated releases like Lil Boat 3.

Yachty calls Let’s Start Here “chapter 2” of his career. Coming off the heels of his 2021 mixtape Michigan Boy Boat, the artist has completely reinvented himself, joining the ranks of artists like Childish Gambino and Tyler, the Creator who had also decided to make a hard 180 degree turn in musical style. And like Gambino and Tyler before him, the ambitious change pays off.

Let’s Start Here is a Pink Floyd homage — and a good one at that — that never lets it’s foot off the gas pedal. From the first track, “the BLACK seminole.”, Yachty throws you into a world of psychedelic rock complete with a three minute long instrumental outro of warbling synths and wildly distorted guitar licks. For every laid back track like “running out of time” or “sAy sOMETHINg”, there are vicious rock anthems like “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSiON!!!!” and high energy vibes like “sHouLd i B?”. The record is meticulously balanced, with a tight tracklist that wastes very little time and keeps the listener engaged and entertained all throughout.

The production — handled mainly by the team of Patrick Wimberly (of Chairlift fame), Justin and Jeremiah Raisen, common collaborator SADPONY, and Yachty himself — is immaculate. The drums on each track are incredibly lively and dynamic and — unlike most of Yachty’s discography — they’re totally off the grid. Bubbly synths are omnipotent on Let’s Start Here, with some sonically similar to Tyler, the Creator’s genre shifting IGOR. Others feel ripped out of Kevin Parker’s personal synthesizer collection, especially on the synth-pop love song “paint THE sky”. Guitars with shoegaze-style production are another important foundational instrument: phasers, delays, and filters all dominate the sonics of the album. The instrumentals are warm, engulfing the listener in a colorful pool of LSD where your skin absorbs every molecule of psychedelia in its pores. Nostalgic and saturated, bold and energetic, Let’s Start Here stays true to its influences.

While the record’s production is enough to stand on, it’s important to remember that Yachty has a job to do as the lead vocalist. Yachty’s singing is okay. There are moments, such as the hook on “the ride-” where Yachty uses his unique timbre to his advantage, adding to the psychedelic aura of the entire record. However, the opposite does exist at times. On “THE zone~”, Yachty’s crooning is especially sleepy, bringing down what would be a great song to just a good one. The effort is appreciated, but not always successful in execution. Lyrically, Yachty is raw and vulnerable. There are a few songs where Yachty reaches out to a partner, one that assumedly is not willing to reach back. On the anthemic “sHouLd i B?”, Yachty asks a question that every young couple asks themselves in the heat of the moment: “Am I mad at what you did? I don't think so. But should I be?” Yachty is also admirably self aware, and pieces together a spoken word interlude on the track “:(failure(:” where he speaks on his place in the industry and reminisces on his career: “I’ve seen failure a few times. More recently than before actually”.

There are three songs where everything — namely vocals and production — gels together perfectly. The aforementioned opening track, “the BLACK seminole.” could be one of the strongest opening songs of the last couple years. The laid back guitar beat on the first half of the song has effortless groove, and the buildup to the instrumental outro consisting of a guitar solo and haunting female vocals is perfectly paced. Every Pink Floyd/Funkadelic-ism is incredibly well executed. It’s just an absolute monster of a song.

Towards the middle of the tracklist is the eccentric and grungy “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSiON!!!!”, where Yachty’s eerie title chant bangs around your skull. The nightmare acid trip pauses about halfway through the track, where Diana Gordon’s gorgeous vocals finally give you a breather. Not even a minute later, however, Yachty returns to throw you back into the nightmare. Will you ever escape the roller coaster? Yachty doesn’t want to let you.

The final track, “REACH THE SUNSHINE”, is a perfect closer with a Daniel Caesar feature that feels ripped out of a Western. The low energy of the beginning of the track transitions cleanly into fat analog synths that threaten to knock the air out of your lungs. Caesar returns for a verse before Yachty sends you to the wolves with another haunting three-and-a-half minute instrumental outro. The listener’s journey ends the same way it began both conceptually and sonically with the addition of the same delayed synths found in the intro track. It suggests that finally, after this arduous voyage, you can breathe — but perhaps taking a trip around Yachty’s musical sun isn’t a bad idea.

These three songs feel like the thesis for the record, all of which are six to seven minutes that lack traditional song structure. The songs have hills and valleys, moments for listeners to decompress and digest, and other moments that demand attention and throw you into the back of your seat. It’s a proper album experience, a roller coaster even, with cohesion and intent, which — in the streaming era especially — feels like it has been thrown away in favor of the “playlist album”: a tactic to increase charting and sales numbers. Putting together a project like this when — just a few months ago — Yachty had the keys to the virality kingdom with “Poland” is extremely admirable. He could’ve easily just asked for a few more rage beats, a couple high profile features, and walked away with an album that probably would’ve done fairly well commercially and critically. Instead, releasing the psych rock album that he had been sitting on for two years felt more aligned with his artistic vision, and regardless of the way people feel about this record, the decision to flip the script on his own terms is praiseworthy.

Lil Yachty has been on the path to revitalizing his brand for the last few years. Lil Boat 3 officially put his bubblegum trap image in a coffin. Michigan Boat Boy was well received and it seemed like Yachty was on the upswing. He executive produced Drake and 21 Savage’s collaborative Her Loss, widely considered a return to form for the Canadian rapper. Before his New Jersey listening party, Yachty claimed that all he’s ever wanted was to be taken seriously as an artist. For an artist who has been considered lesser than many of his peers in the hip hop space, this record officially puts him in a league of his own, joined by other genre-jumpers who might as well be considered pure artisans in their space. This seems to be par for the course. Childish Gambino was considered an immature punchline rapper before the release of the funk revival Awaken, My Love. Tyler, the Creator was more famous for eating a cockroach on camera than he was for any sort of cultural impact before the genre-bent IGOR propelled him into superstardom. Yachty’s image was already on the turnaround, but with Let’s Start Here, Yachty has given us a perfect jumping on point to the next chapter of his artistry. 


Honestly, Nevermind” Review – a sudden genre shift makes for a fun (although shallow) experiment in an artist’s discography that has begged for a refresh over the last half decade.

by Niklas Walker

The last time Drake was connected to a surprise drop, we got the Canadian MC’s most “hip-hop” album to date, “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”, filled with nasty lyricism and grungy beats. This time around, we got arguably the exact opposite. When Drake announced his seventh studio album late Thursday evening, no one knew what to expect. There had been rumblings of a “summer mixtape”, along with a leak sounding akin to Drake’s dancehall/afrobeat excursions like “One Dance” and “Get It Together”. There was also mention of a single feature in 21 Savage, leading many to believe this would be a stellar hip hop project like the aforementioned “If You’re Reading This”.

While the 21 Savage feature was accurate, nothing about the sound of the album was. At midnight, fans were greeted with an album that was categorized under “Dance” on Apple Music, and as soon as the swirly, Blade Runner inspired saxophone intro had finished, OVO fans everywhere realized they were listening to a house album.

Executive produced by longtime collaborator Noah “40” Shebib, as well as legendary South African house producer Black Coffee, “Honestly, Nevermind” is a strange left turn in Drake’s discography – although a welcome one considering the mixed reception of his previous album, the highly anticipated “Certified Lover Boy”. “Honestly, Nevermind” takes deep inspiration from club music of all kinds, including tech house, Jersey club, and the contemporary RnB that Drake has been making for years now, all coming together for an interesting collection of hopeful club hits.

The opening track “Falling Back” fills its sonic space with lush synth chords along with a bouncy synth line. The four-on-the-floor drum beat and eclectic hi hats immediately bring you into a nightclub, begging you to let loose. After a short intro, Drake comes in with heavily processed and autotuned vocals, leading us to probably the biggest elephant in the room. 

Drake does not have the singing chops for this type of sound. On “Falling Back” specifically, Drake makes sure to kill the vibe with harsh, autotuned falsetto singing that sounds – even with software assistance – out of key. Thankfully, Drake’s singing gets more and more bearable as the album goes on, but there is always a singular thought in the back of your mind while listening to this: why didn’t Drake get some actual features? The single feature on this record – 21 Savage on “Jimmy Cooks” – hops on a southern trap song that essentially serves as a bonus track with great production and two very serviceable verses from the two stars. Drake has thrown his longtime fans a bone here, saying “look, I didn’t forget about you guys”, but vocal features on the actual dance songs – which comprise 90% of the album – would have gone a long way.

Although he can barely handle the brunt of the melodic work he has cut out for him on this record, Drake does have his moments. The sentimental hook on “Flight’s Booked” is infectious, catchy, and easily repeatable, perfect for the club. Drake’s explicit chant on the back half of “Calling My Name” is dumb fun that anyone could enjoy with a shot or two in them. For fans of slowed and reverb versions of their favorite songs, Drake created “Liability”, a track closer in sound to his previous projects that infuses toxic lyrics (Calling me daddy/I taught you things that a father can’t teach) with his tried-and-true lo-fi RnB production. The pulsing movement of the kicks on “Overdrive” allow Drake’s “I hope we can make it” pleads to become an earworm. The conclusion Drake makes on “Texts Go Green” – “You’re dealing with me rough” – is a great melodic payoff on a song dedicated to how much better off Drake is compared to the woman he’s referring to.

It would have been helpful, however, if there was less singing and a little more rapping on this album. While the house beats – and the sonic vibe in general – that are found on this project don’t lend too much room for intense lyricism, there are plenty of moments where Drake could have started flowing. The first verse to the late-night toxic anthem that is “A Keeper” is a good example. Drake can find pockets in four-on-the-floor drum lines yet chooses not to in most of these songs. The Jersey club inspired “Sticky” also features something that much closer resembles a traditional Drake verse, and the track is touted by many as an album highlight.

The argument can be made that many of the vocal performances are simple with intent – perhaps to allow guests at an Ibiza nightclub to belt the lyrics out in drunken fashion – but a stronger rhythmic performance from Drake could have enhanced the experience to those listening in their car on the way to their 9-to-5 instead.

It would also have helped with his lyricism. Drake is best when he paints pictures in your mind through dense lyrics, as seen on his verse on Jack Harlow’s “Churchill Downs”. The limited space Drake has on tracks due to his drawn-out singing hinders this, and instead Aubrey goes for vague lyrics that are directed to a random partner. These lyrics read out more like loose text message conversation than storytelling, and while lyricism isn’t usually the focus of house and dance music, infusing Drake’s proven lyrical ability with these house beats would have made for a more engaging listening experience.

With Drake’s vocal performance and lyricism lacking throughout, much of the work is carried out by the production on the album. The album is filled with minimalist, yet rich, production. The low end of each song is crafted to perfection for a club environment, with powerful kicks and basslines that make it difficult to sit still. While this album fits the bill for a house album, there’s an interesting amount of “Drake-isms” found in each instrumental. The Gordo-produced “Calling My Name” falls into a deep, moving bassline in the second half, with dark and lonely chords filling the sound space that feel right off Take Care. The flamenco inspired guitar licks in “Tie That Binds” feel unique but perfectly in line with someone who might consider themselves a “Certified Lover Boy”.

There are plenty of songs that have an extreme lack of “Drake-isms” as well, and these tend to be the most interesting on the album. “Massive”, another Gordo-produced cut from the back half of the album, pairs Drake’s vocals with a Swedish House Mafia-esque instrumental, fit with a drop comprised of vocal samples and classic techno piano chords in a triplet flow that feel rave worthy. The vintage MIDI keys on the Black Coffee-produced “Texts Go Green”, along with the simple electronic drums feel right at home with the album’s goal. The warm production on each song swallows you whole and spits you out into Drake’s curated universe of failed romance, blocked numbers, and regrettable texts. It’s a world that Drake has crafted many times before, but with a new skin: dance production. Some might love it; some might hate it.

The one miss in production that’s been talked about frequently is the bed-squeak within “Currents”, an overpowering sample that urges the listener to focus on that and only that instead of the rising synth chords and fun vocal chops. Despite the history of the sample (it comes from the Trillville song “Some Cut” and is a mainstay in Jersey Club music) – a version of this song without the bed squeaking would allow listeners to hop into the vibe Drake has attempted to create much easier because let’s face it: people won’t take this one seriously, even if it is a tribute to Jersey club.

Drake gives these production elements room to breathe – for better or for worse, in relation to the bed squeak – and showcases a level of restraint that hasn’t appeared in previous albums. There’s few “yuhs” to fill in the space before a verse. There isn’t one occurrence of his famed “Six” tag. Thankfully, Drake did not take house music and slap his trademark sonics and tropes all over it. It’s this restraint that makes “Honestly, Nevermind” feel so fresh while also feeding the brain a level of the familiar club experience that makes traditional house music so much fun to listen to.

Is it groundbreaking house music? Absolutely not. If anything, it’s quite surface level and isn’t house enough to be house, but also isn’t pop enough to be pop. Regardless, it’s hard to not respect a stylistic switch up for one of the biggest music acts on the planet especially when fans and critics alike have been clamoring for something different for a long time. This one won’t please people who wanted the Drake we had in 2015, but it’s an commendable attempt at a discography refresh.

After fifteen years of toxic-lite lyricism about the hundreds of girls Aubrey can’t choose between over big drums and filtered vocal melodies, it’s incredibly stimulating to hear some fresh artistic expression from Champagne Papi. In those years, Drake shaped hip hop to his mold, and became the biggest rapper on the planet, so it’s admirable that Drake has decided to shed the familiar skin that kept him on top to find a new artistic outlet. For most of his career, Drake seems to have had a formula, and while it isn’t necessarily a bad formula, it became difficult to get excited for a Drake release when you could fill out a bingo sheet of tropes on first listen faster than an AARP meeting on a Friday night.

No one expected a sound like this, and the elation from that fact alone will give this album points for a lot of people. It will also alienate longtime fans, but there’s little reason to believe Drake is worried about that, as we’ve seen in his recent merch.

At the end of the day, it’s always interesting to track the reception to switch ups like these. Will the album inspire a new wave of house-infused pop music? Beyoncé’s most recent single suggests that the industry is moving towards it. Will this kill Drake’s career? Unlikely. At the same time, will we see another house album by Aubrey Graham? The Magic 8 Ball does not foresee it.

While there was no doubt Drake is, and will continue to be, a powerhouse commercially, its undeniable that his last few albums have not been critical darlings. Will this change that? It’s too early to tell, but it is already Drake’s most critically beloved album since 2016’s “Views”. All in all, the novelty of a house album by the biggest popstar in the world – releasing at the height of the first summer where most of the world has escaped lockdowns and COVID restrictions – is fun and exciting, and worth listening to at least once. It won’t win Grammys or change genre rules forever, but, after years of seemingly going through the motions, it seems like Drake is finally having fun. How could we hate? 

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