Lil Yachty spent the early part of 2018 trying to right the wrongs of his debut album Teenage Emotions, a not-so-convincing attempt to enter the pop sphere. His answer to the project was March’s Lil Boat 2, which found Yachty on the defensive about criticism that he’d faced for the blunder but, in all, was a much more natural-feeling piece of work. On that project, the Atlanta star prioritized showing his sharpened rap skills (“Get Money Bros.” and “NBAYOUNGBOAT”) while maintaining his reputation for nailing dreamy, melodic deep cuts (“love me forever”). But assessing Lil Boat 2 was a trying task because while Yachty improved on his mainstream introduction, there were signs that, in order to deflect ridicule, he was also attempting to mask the eccentricities that made him special from the start.
Last week, Yachty released his second album of the year, Nuthin 2 Prove, a 15-track project that, by title, suggested that he was done trying to win the favor of naysayers. The album came just a week after his labelmate Quavo’s forgettable solo debut Quavo Huncho, which entered at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, but, overall, effectively quelled pleas for him to make a full-time pivot from the Migos. Lil Yachty releasing two albums within the span of seven months — when considering bloated albums like Culture II and Quavo Huncho — raises questions about the aim of dominant Atlanta label Quality Control. With arguably the strongest, and hottest, roster of any imprint in the whole of hip-hop right now, which is more important: capitalizing on the all-but-guaranteed fickleness of rap relevance, or having artists take more time out to craft their best content possible? The former seems to be Yachty and QC’s approach with Nuthin 2 Prove, but it’s a solid offering nonetheless.
On Lil Boat 2, Yachty seemed fixed on dissociating himself from the mumble rap categorization by showing that he was a formidable emcee. On tracks with the likes of Tee Grizzley, NBA YoungBoy, and Offset, he carried his own weight in a way that didn’t seem probable to people who were introduced to him as an animated teenager rapping about the joys of youth over playful beats. Another development was that Yachty began to unconvincingly adopt the lyrical content of his QC counterparts by rapping about his access to women, money, and weapons. In the process, the joy of hearing his otherworldly Auto-Tune harmonies about love was condensed to just a few songs on the album.
Nuthin 2 Prove finds a more firm middleground. On “Riley from the Boondocks,” he squeezes in an impressive amount of words into tight bars for the majority of the track, getting off some playful lines in the process (“The pump got the laser, the Uzi, a laser / The AR, a laser, I'm strapped, don't do tasers / Yeah, turn you to a tater”). ChaseTheMoney’s beat on “We Outta Here!” is one of the more adventurous on the album, and it allows the now seldom-seen falsetto Yachty to come out and play for a bit. “Who Want The Smoke?” feels like the album’s only real shot at an actual single but, more than Yachty’s own contributions, its success is mainly due to the wonders of hearing Cardi B over a Tay Keith beat.
Yachty’s range, at times, feels like a self-made trap in which he fights against his own gift for being of one the genre’s most genuinely experimental artists. Like LB2, many of the best moments on Nuthin 2 Prove come when he opts to let his singing voice shine instead of weightless lines about gunplay and his finances. He and rising Chicago star JuiceWRLD join forces for a catchy, smooth one with “Yacht Club.” “Worth It” finds Yachty pulling at heartstrings to ensure a love interest that she’s perfectly beautiful with or without plastic surgery. In sound and intent, the song feels like a continuation of LB2 standout “love me forever.” Producer OZ flipped Faith Evans’s 1996 hit, “Soon As I Get Home” for Nuthin 2 Prove’s sexiest track, “Forever World.”
But still, question left on the table after listening to Nuthin 2 Prove is, how crucial was it for Yachty to release another album with such a short window of time between projects? Though it achieves balance with much more success than his other studio albums, a case could be made for taking the better halves of both LB2 and Nuthin 2 Prove to make the best album possible. But, even if that was the case, you’d still have a solid Yachty album that does very little to create dialogue that extends beyond a few days — or even the same day — of its release. Lucky for him and Quality Control, none of this matters if people still care about the next album. QC has spent the past couple years building a force field from which their artists are emboldened by their chart dominance and brand sponsorships, even when the music is just average; After campaigns with Sprite and Target last year, Yachty did an unsuspecting Chef Boyardee jingle with Donny Osmond. As a label, QC in the most advantageous spot one could be in right now. But if memorable projects aren’t being created in the process, is it a true win for their artists or listeners?