Musically, Yachty was still working it out, but his energy made the night about him.

lil yachty photo
Lil Yachty

[This review from The Republic last week is the first from new contributor Raphael Helfand.]

In Atlanta, 23-year-old Young Thug (aka Thugger or just Thug) sits atop the trap world, competing with 32-year-old Future for the throne. He started rapping when he was young and was discovered early on, signing with “Trap God” Gucci Mane’s label 1017 Brick Squad at age 20. He experienced massive success shortly afterwards and has embraced his role as a rebel against the hip-hop status quo.

On Monday, Young Thug put on an energetic show for a sell-out crowd at Republic, a stop on the tour to promote his upcoming album Hy!£UN35 (pronounced “High-Tunes”). While the first opener—Dae Dae—performed, the air felt almost electrified, but the tension broke long before Thugger ever stepped on stage.  

Lil Yachty, the 18-year-old up-and-comer from Atlanta, first brought the crowd to life Monday night. Yachty exploded onto the trap scene in March, seemingly out of nowhere, with his debut mixtape, Lil Boat. Other than breakout track “1Night,” the most hyped-up song on the tape is “Minnesota Remix,” which features Young Thug, Quavo, and Skippa Da Flippa. But Yachty’s best songs are solo efforts such as “Intro (Just Keep Swimming)” and “Not My Bro,” where he is given room to breathe. 

Young Thug’s influence is apparent in Yachty’s sound, but it’s almost a caricature of Thugger, with melismatic vocals drowned in Auto-Tune chemtrail effects to a point where he sounds barely human.  

In terms of content, Yachty owes more to Internet rap pioneers Soulja Boy and Lil B than to Thugger.  His songs are gimmicky and repetitive, but with the same irresistible charm and positivity that gained Soulja Boy a brief period of major crossover success, and Lil B a massive cult following. Yachty is easier to hate than Thugger is as he challenges the notion that rappers need to be hardcore, lyrically sophisticated, or anything but fun when he calls what he does “bubblegum trap.”

His sound is made possible in part by his friend/producer, Burberry Perry, who joined him on stage Monday.  Perry’s upbeat, kitschy production is featured heavily on Yachty’s mixtape. He also raps on a few tracks, and is credited with helping to create many of the vocal melodies, which stands to reason, as Yachty tends to ride the melody of the beat pretty closely. The pair danced through snippets of most of the songs on Lil Boat, repeating bits and pieces of “INight” several times and skipping over others like “I’m Sorry” entirely. They also played a few of Yachty’s recent featured verses on other rappers’ tracks, the best one being “Broccoli” by D.R.A.M.—an upbeat, incredibly catchy song that came out last month.  “Beautiful Day,” the Perry/Yachty collab featuring Kylie Jenner in her musical debut, called the worst song of all time by many a blogger (mostly due to Jenner’s unlistenable verse), was notably absent from the set.

Thugger’s performance was far from low energy. Like Yachty, he appeared onstage with his partner in crime, Duke, who acted as a hype man, pumping up the crowd and often diving into it, as well as rapping on the tracks where he was featured. They opened with “Dome” from Barter 6, an interesting choice considering its somber, minimalist production.  

From there, they went on to play songs from all of Thug’s major projects. Highlights of the show were early hits “Stoner” and “Danny Glover” (the latter produced by TM-88 who joined them onstage), Barter 6 standouts “Halftime” and Check,” and Slime Season 3 opener “With Them.” He closed the show with “Best Friend,” probably his most popular song at the moment.

The crowd came to see Young Thug, but Lil Yachty somehow stole the show, and it had nothing to do with the quality of his music. While Thugger rapped most of his lyrics and even went on a few uncharacteristic a cappella runs, Yachty probably only actually sang about 20 to 30 percent of his own music, allowing his full tracks (not just the instrumentals) to play out in the background, and letting his recorded vocals do most of the work—a practice as common as it is criticized.   When he did rap/sing, his live Auto-Tuned voice sounded somewhat out of place.

But Yachty made up with charisma and energy for other shortcomings. Yachty and his crew bounced around the stage and crowd surfed through their entire set, while his new manager, legendary Atlanta veteran Coach K of Quality Control, stood in the background, bearded and menacing.  By the time Thugger arrived on stage, the crowd was already tired out, and the overall energy was more of a frantic clamor towards the front than the carefree mosh that characterized Yachty’s set.

Yachty even managed to upstage Thug’s look.  Surprisingly, Thugger came out looking relatively normal, with a tan suit covering his graphic tee and a Bulls hat covering his dirty blonde dreads.  Yachty, on the other hand, showed off his signature beaded, bright red braids, and went shirtless almost immediately, exposing a slightly pudgy belly, a teenage body as underdeveloped as his fledgling sound.  While Thugger appeared dapper and confident, Yachty looked full of nervous energy and sounded raw, unpolished.

Lil Yachty’s takeover of the night was epitomized when—after Thugger left the stage for good—he and Perry came back on to perform “1Night” for what must have been the fourth or fifth time.  The crowd, which had started to filter slowly out of the overstuffed, sweat-drenched club, rushed back to the stage and moshed enthusiastically until the song was over.