Being a teenager isn’t easy. I know that sentence reads like a lame cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason: There’s typically some truth to be found inside of them. Are you a teen? If not, do you remember what it was like to be a teen? It sucks. Your brain and your body is being pounded on the daily by a wave after wave of chemical changes. If you’re on the younger end of the spectrum, you’re only just beginning to get a grasp on head-spinning, life-defining concepts like love, and sex, and heartache. If you’re older, you’re probably grappling with questions about identity, discovering who you are and what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Every choice, every experience, every relationship feels so damn consequential. That first love feels like something destined to last for eternity. That first break-up becomes the very end of existence itself. That first job can feel like a momentous step into adulthood. That first firing can feel like a failure you’ll never be able to recover from. The great thing about teenage emotions is their lack of artifice. You can put up a false front to parents, teachers, the world at large, and pose your way through adolescence, but the feelings under the surface are so raw, so fraught, and so powerful, that they’re bound to shine through. They can be overwhelming, both internally and to the outside observer, but there’s no doubting their authenticity. The same can be said about the debut album by Lil Yachty.
Teenage Emotions captures the thoughts, feelings, desires, masks, and truths of the adolescent experiences to an incredible, and most importantly, unjaded degree. This is a record detailing Yachty’s, admittedly remarkable experience — becoming a millionaire at 18 isn’t very typical — but that experience translates to a large swathe of teens who would call the red-braided rapper their King. This isn’t a jaundiced look back, but an insightful view from the inside.
The album opens with the song “Like A Star” that begins with a monologue from Yachty posing as one of his alter egos Darnell Boat, a character who’s ostensibly the Uncle to himself and his other alter ego Lil Boat. “We just wanna welcome ya’ll to Teenage Emotions,” Yachty as Darnell intones. “They both have lots to say, you know?” Boy do they. Across a Homeric 21 tracks — either he needed an editor or is copping a move from the Drake playbook to goose his streaming numbers to do better on the charts — Yachty crosses genres, adopts numerous postures and mines the depths of his own life to put together a work that’s as messy, dramatic, and ceaselessly optimistic as the persona at the heart of it all.
The peak of the Teenage Emotions comes during the four-song stretch near the end of the middle of the album — speaking in vinyl terms, you could call it the Side B of the first record — that contains the songs “All You Had To Say,” “Better,” “Forever Young,” and “Lady In Yellow.” There’s a sonic and thematic flow to these four songs that’s stunning. “All You Had To Say,” is a pained ballad where Yachty discovers that people aren’t all they seem to be: “If you wasn’t really there for me after all these years that’s all you had to say.” The next song “Better,” is a shift into a more buoyant vibe. The steel drums and bouncy guitar lines underlie his desire to “Lay on the hood and look at the stars / And name them whatever.” That theme is carried over into “Forever Young,” where Yachty has been, “Waiting my whole life to give you it all.” Then everything comes unglued on “Lady In Yellow,” where he becomes crass in his want of sexual conquest. “I just wanna get to know you / I just wanna get to fold ya / Truth be told, I just wanna tell all my friends that I told ya.”
My two favorite songs on the album are the ones that remind me the most of my own teenage years. I find myself relating tremendously to “Priorities,” and that incredible urge it relates to throw up a middle finger and go off the grid when you’re not in control of your own life. “I said f*ck school / And f*ck the rules / I’ma do whatever I want to / When I say so.” The yang to that yin is “Made Of Glass,” where Yachty pines after a girl who only has eyes for someone that isn’t him and feels totally invisible because of it. “I’m in love with the girl who loves somebody else / And she doesn’t pay attention to anybody else / I’m losing my mind / I’m losing myself / I keep cutting off girls cause I wanna be with you / But you don’t even see me.” Who hasn’t ever felt like that before?
Old school heads might gaze upon the melodic tapestries created out of Autotuned vocals, lithe synth lines and trap drums assembled here and stick up their noses. That’s fine. They might loudly ask if this album is “real hip-hop” or if it’s “bad for the culture?” Again, if that’s their prerogative, then they can go right ahead. In the immortal words of that acclaimed “millennial” Kanye West, “Listen to the kids bro!” You might like what you find; it might even be yourself.