I half-remember that Quality Control compilation record from last year called Control the Streets Volume 1. It featured Lil Yachty, Nicki Minaj, Travis Scott, Cardi B, each and every Migo, Young Thug, City Girls, Gucci Mane, and Lil Baby. But if you put a gun to my head and confiscated my laptop, I couldn't say, on pain of death, whether or not it included a song called "Blow Like a Whistle" featuring Quavo and YRN Lingo. Was Ty Dolla $ign hanging around? Did Tee Grizzley show up? Who knows? It passed through me like water.
Quality Control Music, Migos' label, is the most influential rap label of the last half-decade, but it's never been keen on quantity control. That collective groan you heard from the music media when Migos' Culture II turned out to be a 24-song, 105-minute, algorithm-friendly opus was just an acknowledgement of the inevitable. And we'll hear it again soon. Culture III is apparently due for an early 2019 release, but, before that drops, Takeoff and Offset are supposed to follow the monotonous QUAVO HUNCHO with solo records of their own. QC is either hell-bent on flooding the market, terrified of telling its artists that some of their songs are filler, or fascinated by seeing what sticks when they hurl things at the wall.
This may be a decent-enough business model in the streaming era, but in the case of Lil Yachty, whose third LP, Nuthin' 2 Prove, is out via Quality Control/Colombia/Motown today, it might be stifling some potential. In the 18 months since we called him the "future of music," Yachty has released two full-length albums—the 21-song Teenage Emotions and the 17-track Lil Boat 2. The former showed flashes of the exuberance and inventiveness that made him such an exciting presence on his early mixtapes, but for every unique, pop-rap experiment he cooked up, there was a hunk of cookie cutter trap. Lil Boat 2 merely took those dull moments and stretched them out into something seemingly interminable.
In that context, Nuthin' 2 Prove is something of a relief. For the first time since his uneven second mixtape, Summer Songs 2, Yachty hits more often than he misses, loading over half of the record with either hyper-glitchy trap beats or woozy, ambient dissociations. The star features don't weigh him down too much, either. "Who Want the Smoke" with Cardi B and Offset is so lazy that it could have been a Control the Streets cut, but Yachty bubbles away nicely on the tracks with Juice WRLD, Lil Baby, Gunna, and Playboi Carti.
There's a lot of padding around those songs, though. I've advocated for Yachty's return to the major-key technicolor of his debut EP, Summer Songs, in the past, but it’s not because I want things chirpy and carefree. It's just that when he reaches over ominous beats for puffy-chested machismo, he sounds neither comfortable nor convincing. Opener "Gimme My Respect" is supposed to be a warning shot, but it dips into Comic Con references and quickly goes limp; "Riley From the Boondocks" would read like a statement of sorts if Yachty didn't seem to be sleep-talking through it. The sparse "I'm The Mac" opens with him rapping with all the energy of a stoner slurring into his phone. He rhymes "pussies" with "pussy."
Why does he bother with these throwaways? Skippable tracks are understandable when they’re just three-minute vanity projects, but Yachty doesn't even sound like he's enjoying himself when he tries to sound boisterous and intense. Instead, he postures and squirms and struggles to come up with anything novel to say. On the narcoleptic Young Nudy collaboration "We Outta Here," he raps: "Your boyfriend a maggot / Prolly is a…" A tired homophobic slur is replaced by a sitcom bleep. Who's having fun there?
These faux-gritty moments on Nuthin' 2 Prove seem particularly strange because business is booming for Yachty these days, and much of his commercial success appears to have come as a result of his breeziness. He was the face of Sprite in 2016; he covered "It Takes Two" with Carly Rae Jepsen and Mike Will Made-It for a Target campaign last year; in what seemed to be a Mad Libs-generated snapshot of music in 2018, he collaborated with Donny Osmond for a goddamned Chef Boyardee commercial. I'm assuming that the execs behind those deals didn't put contracts in front of Yachty because they were looking for the next-best thing after 21 Savage turned them down. I imagine they wanted the guy who could convincingly rap the line "positivity is what made us famous" while standing next to a Canadian pop star.
If he doesn't seem to be having a good time and there's no apparent big-picture commercial reason for the second-rate songs that clutter up Nuthin' 2 Prove, then it seems fair to assume that Yachty's still stuck in the rut that his early critics dug for him. Maybe he's trying to impress the old heads, the four-hour podcasters, the guys who got pissed off with his come-up because he sounded as though—shock, horror—he was having a good time while making music. Perhaps these songs exist to appease the Joe Buddens of the world.
Let's imagine for a minute, then, that Yachty really isn't interested in proving anything to anyone anymore. In that alternate universe, Nuthin' 2 Prove would be a nine-song album that centers on a Faith Evans-sampling Trippie Redd collaboration and a clumsy but endearing "Nice for What"-on-sherbert called "Worth It." It would include the surprisingly seamless "SAINTLAURENTYSL" with Lil Baby and the smoldering "Fallin' in Luv" with Gunna. "Everything Good, Everything Right," "Next Up," and the oddly melancholy Juice WRLD collab "Yacht Club" would stay. "Get Dripped" with Playboi Carti—all 8-bit twitches and staccato flows—would cut through the sugar. "Stoney"—a tender, ambient pop song produced by ISOBeats in which Yachty sing-raps about love without saying much at all —sticks at the end.
That cut-down LP wouldn't be perfect, of course. Lil Yachty's still a 21-year-old kid feeling things out. He'd still be unhealthily obsessed with oral sex (receiving it, almost always); his jokes would be childish from time to time; some of his lines would lack bite. But when Yachty realizes that the tuff-guy schtick isn't for him, he'll have the chance to fully grow into the artist we all know he can be—one who gleefully upends rap conventions, toys with sugar-pop, blissfully lazes off into hazy ambient interludes, and only collaborates with other artists on his own terms. Nuthin' 2 Prove, as it is, offers brilliant glimpses of that Lil Yachty. But mostly, it tells us that he needs an editor if he's going to put out the sort of landmark album he's always been capable of creating.
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This article originally appeared on Noisey US.