Respect My Conglomerate
Four years in the school of hard knocks has taught Lil Yachty that credit isn’t always given where it’s due. Now the Atlanta rapper is out to claim what he rightfully deserves.
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Based on the quarter-sized 10.5 carat diamond sailboat earrings dangling from Lil Yachty’s ears on this February morning in New York City, diamonds aren’t just a girl’s best friend. The $98,000 jewelry the Atlanta rapper copped from jeweler Wafi is certainly on brand for Yachty, who is at a yoga studio literally around the corner from the Big Apple’s famed Diamond District. But today, instead of dropping racks on racks on racks on another iced-out chain or bracelet, Yachty is sweating his ass off down the street. He’s inside an 80-degree heated room at AtthenaYoga learning how to be a yogi.
“I feel like I’m begging for mercy,” the 22-year-old artist exclaims while he’s positioned on a red (his favorite color) mat with his arms out in front of him on the floor, head down and legs tucked under his body. Atthena Breitton, his instructor for the private class, informs Yachty, dressed in black Nike Pro workout gear, that she’ll be getting him into “a lot of fun shapes that are different.”
The “One Night” rhymer’s commentary as he goes from sinking his belly (“You giving me arch lessons right now”) to engaging his core while lifting his knees (“I’m shaking, what the fuck?”) to trying a plank pose (“This some punishment shit”) is comical, yet endearing. Don’t underestimate Lil Boat’s abilities. For a guy who eats pizza daily and never consumes fruits or vegetables, hot yoga is pushing himself to the limit, but he’s holding it down. “You’re pulling me apart like pizza dough,” says Yachty, a fitting response as he likens his favorite food to Breitton maneuvering his limbs into yoga poses.
Downward-Facing Dog is up next. “Think of a dog making a little mountain pose with its body,” instructs Breitton. “Why would a dog do that?” Yachty utters, seemingly irked at the thought. The groans grow louder, the poses get more technical and the heat is stifling. “Are you stressed about your upcoming album?” the instructor inquires, to which Yachty can’t even concentrate to give a valid response. “I don’t know right now,” he replies. “It’s a lot.”
Two hours later after picking up $12,000 worth of Jean Paul Gaultier, Yohji Yamamoto and Walter Van Beirendonck clothing at Middleman Instagram boutique, Yachty is seated inside the lounge area at Capital Records Midtown Manhattan offices. Domino’s pizza, assistant Maddy, videographer Ari and manager Kevin “Coach K” Lee, cofounder of Quality Control Music to which Yachty is signed, surround him. He’s no longer sweaty from his hot yoga adventure, and confesses it did nothing to relax him.
Yachty’s about to play “Oprah’s Bank Account” featuring Drake and DaBaby, the official first single from his upcoming fourth studio album, Lil Boat 3, due this spring. The project’s cover will feature a black-and-white photo of a 2-year-old little Yachty that his father snapped. The album is scheduled to officially culminate the LB series.
Four years ago, Yachty, born Miles McCollum, was an 18-year-old neophyte just entering the rap game with his debut mixtape, Lil Boat. He crafted colorful, convivial bops like his platinum-selling “One Night” and gold-certified “Minnesota,” became a poster child for mumble rap—though he’ll argue against the designation when applied to him—introduced the masses to the motley crew known as the Sailing Team and reigned as the “King of Teens” with his succinct, monotonous delivery and straight-edge tendencies. Whether it was online, in a Sprite commercial or a Target ad on TV, his signature red hair and beaded braids were seemingly everywhere.
And the music kept flooding in, as constant as the crimson on his head. 2016 also welcomed Yachty’s Summer Songs 2 mixtape, plus projects Big Boat and The Lost Files with Digital Nas. The following year ushered in his debut album, Teenage Emotions, Yachty’s earnest attempt at a commercial project and highest-charting effort, coming in at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. In 2018, he was busy with his sophomore LP, Lil Boat 2, the Birthday Mix 3.0, his stellar writing credits on City Girls’ platinum-selling, Earl on the Beat-produced banger “Act Up” and his Nuthin’ 2 Prove opus, the latter of which kicked off with the minacious ode “Gimmie My Respect”: “Niggas gon’ keep forgetting about who goddamn started this muhfuckin’ new wave shit, bruh/Come on, man, gimme my respect, bitch.”
Despite the work put in and the accolades, there are still people that think Lil Yachty can’t rap. His personal statement for the last two years has been apparent across social media: he’s been vocal about his ability to out-rap 75 percent of the new generation, feels slept-on but has nothing to prove. For his own benefit, last year, he took a step back from the spotlight and releasing music except for the SoundCloud freestyle “Go Krazy, Go Stupid” and his collaborative work on the Quality Control: Control the Streets, Vol. 2 compilation. Caliginous Boat, as he describes himself, was in full effect. “I didn’t put any music out,” recalls Yachty, who cites Lil B, Kid Cudi, Soulja Boy and Kanye West as artists who made him want to rap on the come up while Coldplay is his favorite band. “I just was real low-key. So, it’s just like being real low-key, just under the radar, you know what I mean? That’s what I meant by that.” Like a senior in high school preparing to head into his first year of college, Yachty hunkered down.
The last year was the longest stretch of time he’s gone without dropping consistent music, an occurrence he promises won’t happen again. Relevancy is key. Though time spent out of the public eye didn’t mean he was sitting idle. For roughly two years, Yachty was perfecting Lil Boat 3, an album he recorded four times over before submitting the final effort to the label in early 2020. “I kept going through so many different phases of creativity,” Yachty admits. Black Hair Boat being one of them. Gone is the bright-red head full of hair he was once synonymous with; now bloodshot tips are all that remain.
The new ’do is reflective of taking it back to the basics. No so-called gimmicks, so the focus is strictly on the bars. His recent feature run is indicative of this: Sada Baby’s 30 Roc-produced “SB5,” Duke Deuce’s “Crunk Ain’t Dead Mob” with Lil Thad, Tadoe’s “Get It Bussin” and “Speed Me Up” with Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign and Sueco The Child, to name a few. Each track reflects Yachty’s punchy brand of lyrical wizardry, clever couplets included.
“Give me my credit,” demands Yachty, referring to both his rhymes and his ’fits. “I feel like I’m slept-on in general, just period. I’m not saying I’m the best, you know, I never can say I’m the best rapper, or even if I was best-dressed. But I do this shit. For real. It don’t break me. I’m still here… That’s ’cause I’m really a fly nigga. I don’t get enough credit for it. I feel like I’m one of the best-dressed rappers in the rap game. And no one gives me any credit. And it upsets me. Not even upsetting, but it upsets me. It’s like, yeah, y’all just playing with me right now. I don’t have no stylist for real.”
As he leans back on the couch in the Capitol Records lounge, (Capitol is QC’s parent company) dressed in a vintage hunter green and mustard Nike letterman jacket decorated with The Beverly Hillbillies logo, vintage Evisu denim jeans stitched with dice, chocolate brown Air Force 2s and a green-and-white trucker hat, it’s clear Yachty’s style is fresh, but his new music is what’s on the agenda right now. Yachty’s new single “Oprah’s Bank Account,” produced by his childhood friend Earl on the Beat, is bittersweet as it signals the beginning of the end of the Lil Boat series. Once Yachty presses play on the melodic, uptempo track, it’s apparent how the song got its title. “Diamond in the rough, you look as good as Oprah’s bank account,” he raps.
Drake hopped on the beat after Yachty previewed the song on his Finsta page (Boat's secondary private Instagram account) late last year. DaBaby linked with Lil Boat in an Atlanta studio last October to add his signature sound. “It was fire,” Earl on the Beat remembers of DaBaby’s studio session. “They got in. We were there, we was chillin’. DaBaby came in, he was cool. Had a blunt. The blunt started going, started recording.”
According to Earl, he has roughly nine songs he produced on Yachty’s new album, which will feature throwback 2016 melodies the rapper built his career on. Overall, Yachty describes Lil Boat 3 as an uptempo experience featuring further production from Pi’erre Bourne, 30 Roc and MitchGoneMad. “I just hope it provides good tunes for the youth,” Yachty says. After the album's spring release, Yachty already has another project lined up to release around his birthday, Aug. 23. “End of the Summer,” he reveals of the tentative title. “And just make it a summer feel.” And then there’s a string of collab projects he has hopes for with three producers he knows all too well: 30 Roc, Earl and Pi’erre, the latter of whom Yachty would like to join forces with as an artist, too. “I’m a big fan of his music,” Yachty affirms.
2020 isn’t just solely about witnessing Lil Yachty on the mic either. He’s got goals outside the booth. “I love acting,” he admits. “It’s really cool.” With six official projects ranging from mixtapes to albums currently under his belt, Yachty sees a future in which he graduates from hip-hop. “I don’t plan on being a rapper forever.” He’s already landed roles as the voice of Green Lantern in the 2018 animated film Teen Titans! Go to the Movies and the 2019 comedy How High 2, in which he plays a teen stoner named Roger who discovers a secret strain of weed. Now he has two more movies and a spot in a television show on the way; one of the three is based on his life story. He’s hush on any further details. Yachty’s dream role? To play a killer similar to the character Rico in Paid in Full. Rappers-turned-actors like Will Smith also inspire him and prove making the jump to a successful acting career is possible.
Watching Yachty land TV and movie gigs in real time motivates Earl, who’s known the Grammy Award-nominated artist since they were 7 years old growing up in ATL. “This nigga’s a star,” Earl maintains. “When you see somebody that you actually grew up with, that you actually go to school with, that you actually be doing day to day shit with go and do this shit… you just be like, damn, that’s fire. And you get inspired. Man, my nigga is a businessman, bro. This nigga is a jack of all trades. This nigga really do this shit.”
Coach K has also seen Yachty’s progression firsthand, having signed the rapper at the age of 18, shortly after Yachty left Alabama State University, where he attended for two months. “It’s crazy, we signed Yachty in 2016,” Coach K reflects. “In school, it’s like four years of high school and then you graduate and go to college. This last year, he’s taking the time, it’s like his senior year in high school. And it’s like he’s been preparing himself to get ready for college, you know? When you get ready to go to college, it’s like you’re on your own, a lot of things start changing, you’re kinda in between from here to there. I think it’s when he took this year out, you know, in really just discovering [himself]. There’s a lot of things he did in the film industry and now I think that’s what brung everything back to completion. We worked this [Lil Boat 3] album for the last year-and-a-half. I’ve seen him turn me in four albums… You never want to get in the way of the artist and their process… I think it’s in those four years, he’s had time to grow up and figure out who he is. He was the ‘King of the Teens’ when we first signed him, he’s still young as hell, you know? It’s that transition. He’s come into himself.”
And moved up in tax brackets, too. Just three years shy of hitting 25, Lil Yachty is a self-proclaimed millionaire. Buying a $400 Denim Tears Black Jesus blanket as he randomly scrolls through Instagram is as standard as eating pizza every day. In Yachty’s world, both are the norm. More money may bring more problems depending on who you ask, but when you’ve been able to keep the same circle of friends since kindergarten like Yachty has, life is good. His reality will be even better once Lil Boat 3 arrives. “It’s a heavy-hitting album,” he promises. “I’m ready to drop. My god. I want to put it out so bad.” Coach K believes this project will further solidify Lil Yachty as not only a trendsetter who breaks barriers, but an artist deserving of his credit. “I’ma get my respect before I’m done,” Yachty adds. “I’ma get it.”
See Exclusive Photos From Lil Yachty's XXL Magazine Spring Issue