Lil Yachty Is Not a Kid Anymore

  • Words: Danny Schwartz
  • Photography: Josiah Rundles

On this week’s FRONTPAGE we catch up with the inimitable Lil Yachty. Mere days away from the surprise release of ‘Lil Boat 3,’ the rapper formerly known as the ‘King of the Teens’ shows how much he’s grown since we last heard from him.

Lil Yachty lives in one of those idyllic, retiree-friendly suburban enclaves in Atlanta where the number of Scotts Turf Builder bags per capita is disturbingly high. The median age in this neighborhood hovers around 50 — though once the 2020 Census gets wind of the fact that Yachty (and nine other 20-somethings) recently moved into a house here, that figure may drop.

Yachty may have retired his King of the Teens title, but he’s still only 22-years-old. As such, domestic life for him and his housemates — an assortment of friends and affiliated artists — revolves around activities like playing Call of Duty, Fortnite, and giant Jenga, inviting girls over, smoking out back at Yachty’s behest, blasting music (lately, from Yachty’s forthcoming album Lil Boat 3) at obscene volumes, and cooking frozen food to perfection in their air fryer. “Niggas do not eat in this house,” says house manager Darius Martin. “Niggas don’t really cook. [Yachty] don’t eat nothing but waffles, chicken nuggets, and pepperoni pizza.”

Beef Jones, Yachty’s TV and content producer, compares the house’s suburban setting and incorrigible youthful energy to something out of a John Hughes film. “I’m a 42-year-old man, and I have kids and mortgages and responsibilities. I come here and I’m instantly transported to my 20s — on steroids,” Jones says as he watches guys from the house drive off in three luxury vehicles to shoot paintball. “For the last seven days, I’ve been in a stately manor house with about a million dollars in the driveway. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maybachs, Benzes, Beamers. You walk in, and it is a fucking playground. It’s literally my vacation home. I would go without my kids. Me and Tony, this kid that [Yachty] met in China and now just lives with him, we played Grand Theft Auto for six hours, until eight in the morning.”

Highsnobiety / Josiah Rundles

“It’s fun,” Yachty says of the house during a phone call last week. “It can be annoying sometimes.” During the last couple of months, Yachty has headed into the studio nearly every day to put the finishing touches on Lil Boat 3, which he’s recorded four times from scratch since starting work on it in late 2018. “I literally haven’t had time to do anything else. I be chilling, bro,” he says. “My life is really boring.”

To be clear, Yachty’s life isn’t boring. He wrapped up 2019 by flying 20 friends to Vegas to tool around in the Nevadan desert on dune buggies. He’s already been in two music videos with Drake this year. Tyler, the Creator greets him as “my husband.”

“When you come from living in a dorm room with no clothes, no girls, no cars, and then you go to having three cars, girls, and money, you can’t help but be genuinely happy that things are moving in a positive direction.”

Lil Yachty

Even since quarantine began in March, he’s led a whimsical, charmed existence that flows directly from his youth, wealth, and fame. He bought a blood red Lamborghini truck on the fourth day of lockdown. He got his ass kicked by DeAndre Hopkins in the first round of a celebrity Madden tournament. He hosted a handful of Instagram Live “talent shows” that involved him paying fans lump CashApp sums and egging them on as they accepted dares like eating deodorant and shaving their eyebrows. One enterprising fan drank a glass of piss for $500 in front of a captivated live audience of 22,000. “This nigga look like a backwood,” Tierra Whack commented, in regards to the fan who had just swallowed a condom on Yachty’s Live.

In early 2016, Yachty made a quantum leap from unknown 18-year-old Alabama State dropout to rap sensation in a matter of weeks. Before the year was out, he had his own Sprite commercial with LeBron James. The same thing that made brands love him made rap traditionalists abhor him: he was adorable. He sounded — and looked — like the patron saint of recess. He sang with a nasal, auto-tuned warble with the uncynical glee of a kid who had just spent a full hour eating his own boogers in the McDonald’s PlayPlace ball pit. Like Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, and 21 Savage (the other three horsemen of the 2016 SoundCloud rapocalyspe), Yachty used his voice rather than his pen as his primary instrument.

Highsnobiety / Josiah Rundles

Detractors who trotted out arguments about the shortcomings of “mumble rap” seemed to take particular umbrage with Yachty — even worse than his indifference towards Tupac and Biggie, apparently, was his unflaggingly sunny demeanor. During an electric 2017 episode of Everyday Struggle, Joe Budden, ventricles bulging, interrogated Yachty about his decision to include “two dudes kissing” on the cover of his album Teenage Emotions. He accused Yachty of “lying” about being happy all the time. Yachty explained: “When you come from living in a dorm room with no clothes, no girls, no cars, and then you go to having three cars, girls, and money, you can’t help but be genuinely happy that things are moving in a positive direction.”

The year before, during the 2016 XXL Freshman cover shoot, Yachty remarked: “I make positivity music — the opposite of 21,” to which 21 said, stone-faced: “Yeah — I make murder music.” Yachty has largely lost interest in positivity music, at least as it existed then, when he packaged his flexes in earnest melodies over exuberant, major-key trap beats. Though he still can tap into that wavelength when he wants — see “Oprah’s Bank Account” and his verse on “Speed Me Up,” from the recent Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack — he’s gravitated in the direction of 21’s dead-eyed raps. Impressively hard collabs with Sada Baby, Duke Deuce, and Tadoe that he’s notched under his belt this year seem indicative of his instinct to make increasingly greyscale, hard-edged music. There are “no singing songs” on Lil Boat 3, he says.

Yachty doesn’t want people to read into this evolution too much. Central to his appeal is the fact that he has always made music without pretension or any real intention beyond having a good time. A recurring theme of his interview for this profile was his refusal to assign meaning to anything at all. When asked what connects the three albums of the Lil Boat trilogy, he replies: “Nothing, bro. I don’t even think that deep. It’s not that deep.”

Highsnobiety / Josiah Rundles

A few months ago, Yachty replaced his signature red braids, which he’s had since 10th grade, with black ones. “Honestly, it was hard to maintain,” he says. “The bleach was literally killing my hair. My hair was just dying. It’s growing now. That’s all. It’s just hair. I just kept it red because I loved it. But it kept falling out. It never would grow. I think sometimes people just assume things are a lot more complex. In my world, it’s just not that deep, bro. It’s just music. It’s all fun to me. There’s no strategy behind it, like, ‘oh, his hair was red, it’s black now. [He’s] making evil rap music.’ It’s not like that.”

“They been hating on me since I came in. I don’t care no more. F*ck that shit.”

Lil Yachty

To be fair, Yachty can lead an eventful and wealthy life and still experience frequent boredom. Boredom is what led him to impulsively buy that Lambo truck. Boredom is what led him, earlier this month, to tweet out a Tekashi-themed porn clip about an informant wearing a wire. “Aye porn is crazy,” he wrote. “And don’t ask why I’m watching it.” Boredom is what leads him to hit up Grailed. “Any time I’m bored, I start online shopping,” he says. “I get a package literally every day.” Boredom seems to suit Yachty. It’s inherently isolating, a mode where he can reap the fruits of his career without having to deal with any of the associated baggage that comes with fame.

“His bubble is very comfortable,” Beef Jones says. “He can basically do what he wants, pretty much forever. He’s a rapper, so he’s under scrutiny at all times. Any video he posts is under all scrutiny. Everybody got him under a fucking looking glass. I just think that he fights, just like every 22-year-old guy fights, [to answer the question,] ‘How do I become a man?’ And at the core, that’s really what it’s about.”

Highsnobiety / Josiah Rundles

On the phone, Yachty somehow comes across as gracious and thoughtful even while giving terse replies. At one point, towards the end of the call, he has a moment of exasperation, where he seems to question whether he should field another interview, or answer to anyone on Earth, ever again.

“I’mma be real, bro. Niggas hate on me,” he says. “They been hating on me since I came in, they been doubting me. I’ve always been this artist that was out there trying to explain everything, trying to explain myself, always trying to make sure people understood me. I don’t care no more. I don’t got nothing to say. It is what it is. Fuck that shit.”

“I’m in great spirits,” he insists. “I’m just not the same kid I used to be.”

  • Words: Danny Schwartz
  • Photography: Josiah Rundles
  • Photography Assistants: Johnathon Hudson & Prime Williams
  • Clothing: Talent's Own
Words by Danny Schwartz