“Lil Boat 2”
March 18, 2019
2018 was a fantastic year for both new and traditional hip hop. Established artists such as Kanye West, Nas, and Royce da 5’9” released albums. Although these older artists did release great albums, most notably 2018 was a great year for the subgenre—“new wave”—giving a platform for upcoming artist Lil Yachty to release two of his biggest records.
Lil Yachty’s “Lil Boat 2” debuted on March 6th, reaching 2nd on the Billboard 200. In an emerging subgenre, it was enormously influential, whether by bringing superstar Lil Baby to the spotlight or proving the longevity of one of the “founding fathers” of the subgenre. Partly due to its influence, Lil Boat 2 is should have been the Album of the Year because it provided a substance to the nebula of new wave, and showed that the youthful subgenre was capable of artistry.
New wave really started forming as a popular genre in early 2016, with the release of MADEINTYO’s Uber Everywhere. It’s commercial success was a sign of times to come. 2017 would help expand on “new waves” commercial viability, and 2018 was a year that saw its most put together artistic albums as of yet.
In the subgenre’s infancy, artists often forget that it is the album as a whole rather than individual, ignoring the effort to make albums concise and woven together. Rather, the projects become collections of singles, choosing quantity of tracks over the quality of the album. This causes the album to lack a single “concept”. The “concept album” treats each song as a piece of telling a narrative, and helps create artistic expression over the listening.
Lil Boat 2 was the put-together concept album new wave needed. There are 17 tracks, and each brings something unique to the record. The intro track, SELF MADE, is a 2 minute song bragging about his rise from living in the projects of Atlanta to fame in Hollywood. The first half of the album consists of tried-and-true hip hop raps. After a 2 song interlude, they morph into songs that at first seem under-instrumented, but are just incredibly moody pieces. The reversed sounds of harps on DAS CAP make it uncomfortable to listen to.
Lil Boat 2 maintains the hallmarks of new wave without relying on them too much, avoiding losing the art to clichés. Although it has plenty of featuring artists, they add to the song, not simply rounding them out for extra streams.
Playboi Carti released the most interesting album of 2018. He made a unique album that offered a completely new idea of what new wave rap can be. Carti’s newest album, Die Lit (2018), has drawn in more listeners due to his ear-catching and experimental production.
Carti is not trying to achieve commercial success, instead he is striving to create a unique sound for himself. Take the song R.I.P;Carti creates an otherworldly sound by combining normal elements of hip hop/rap music, 808s, hi-hats, kicks and synth sounds, and organizes them all in a perfectly meticulous yet messy way. Carti chose his art over critic success and made an album that new wave fans would love.
The album is harshly criticized, Riley Wallace of HipHopdx went as far as to label it a “dumpster fire” of poorly thought-out songs. Yet each song is so intricately produced and assembled and there are undeniably millions of fans who love this album and believe it to be the epitome of the new wave sound.
Die Lit is representative of the next generation of music. Each generation wants to do things differently and Playboi Carti is taking it further than anyone has. Carti isn’t attempting to follow the musical conventions that critics base their judgements upon, such as song structure, clear choruses and time signatures. He’s experimental and messy and new which draws a crowd and people enjoy. While some may complain about the length of the album, each song is obviously well thought out and clearly had a lot of time spent on the production.
The reason the album is so controversial is that the elements that are criticized as bad are actually what make the album fantastic. The album is 56 minutes long –whereas other trap albums tend to hover around 45 minutes– and this length is thought of as a negative when in reality the length is there to prove a point. Carti is showing the world that he can fill an entire hour with new wave music that is both unique and substantive. Furthermore, Playboi Carti’s songs are often criticized for lacking clear hooks and varying instrumentals. What many critics fail to recognize is he’s using that lack of structure to let his vocals vary the song structure which helps create a unique experience with each song.
If the Grammy’s are supposedly rewarding new, unique sounds, then Die Lit should have been a top contender. The Grammy’s are supposed to award music for being great and original, not just how well it sells. This year, that was clearly not achieved with the award of Album of the Year going to Cardi B, who offered nothing new or interesting to the music scene. Playboi Carti’s Die Lit has contributed new flows, production style –thank god for Pierre Bourne who produced 15 out of 19 songs on this album– and sounds to the genre.
Should Cardi B have won album of the year?
This year’s Grammy’s winner for the Best Rap Album of the Year was Cardi B. And with her competing against the late Mac Miller, hip hop listeners were surprised to see her succeed. If the Academy judges on streams per album, its true that Cardi B beat out even Travis Sott’s ASTROWORLD. However, her 2018 album “Invasion of Privacy” was just simply not good enough to win.
While Invasion of Privacy is certainly not a bad album, but in a year of both mold breakers and fantastic “traditional” albums, it falls to the wayside as predictable. The album is composed of easily forgotten tracks; “Bickenhead” is a generic 3 minute replica of the 2000’s “boom bap” style mixed with pop, like Britney Spears and Jay-Z had a baby 10 years too late. It’s often carried by its features, whether the Migos ensemble helping her out on “Drip”, or SZA bringing dimension to her flat rapping on “I Do.”
It’s much more of a pop album than a hip hop album. Cardi’s breakthrough hit “Bodak Yellow” skyrocketed her to sudden international fame in 2017, and it’s clear that she saw pop as the best way to make sales. By far the biggest song on the record, “I Like It”, features latin pop superstars Bad Bunny and J Balvin in a thinly veiled reggaeton song. At 750 million streams, it seems that perhaps the Academy chose streams over quality.
Despite this, it’s not all bad. She displays a nice flow and a well put together track with “Be Careful”, a warning to those in love with the unfaithful. She put together a brand of a “Gangster Bitch”, but largely abandoned this brand for her album. However, her more aggressive, braggadocious side comes out on “Bartier Cardi”, as she is joined by 21 Savage to deliver back to back bars. It was a glimpse into a more personal album, as Cardi shows herself.
That being said, the album is not an award winner. Her sound ultimately falls back on classic hip hop methods, changing little from previous songs other than her voice.
It’s clear there’s a split between the critics and the fans. 2018 featured releases from everyone in hip hop. 19 albums debuted at #1 on Billboard Top 200. Even as hip hop fans were arguing all over the internet on what the best record was, they weren’t pointing to Cardi B.
Travis Scott’s Astroworld was nominated, and loved by pop and rap fans. Mac Miller’s recent death made Swimming’s discussion of drug dependency even more heartbreaking. Pusha T’s Daytona was a rock hard example of how good hip hop could be. Fans loved these albums, yet the Academy chose an ultimately forgettable one.