Lil Yachty at SXSW is what happens when fame meets a lack of skill

If you went to an at all socially diverse college or university in the ‘90s then there’s a decent chance you attended or were aware of an open-mic hip hop cypher, where hopeful MCs would gather and trade verses.

And almost as a rule, there’d be at least one participant with close to zero charisma or presence, an almost nonexistent grasp of how to stay on the beat, and no sense that there were miles behind their peers in all phases of being an entertainer. Every time the microphone would circle back around to that participant, the group energy would vanish.

Lil Yachty is joined by others on stage during a performance at the Quality Control Showcase at the Youtube Coppertank venue during the 2017 SXSW Convention March 17. ( Tom McCarthy Jr./For American-Statesman)

Lil Yachty is what happens when those runt-of-the-litter MCs manage to find large-scale fame but take no interest in developing the skills to justify it.

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As one of the featured performers for the YouTube-sponsored takeover of the Coppper Tank event facility, the Georgia rapper found himself in front of several hundred fans, who lined up in the late afternoon to see the Migos/Lil Yachty pairing live.

It’s hard to describe the almost anti-charisma Yachty displayed from the moment he stepped on stage with his sizable entourage and gang of hype men. Standing stock still while awkwardly holding his microphone in the manner of someone who isn’t terribly familiar with an MC’s most necessary tool, the young rapper lost his cadence repeatedly beginning with his opening track.

Takeoff and Quavo from the group Migos performs at the Quality Control Showcase at the Youtube Coppertank venue during the 2017 SXSW Convention March 17. ( Tom McCarthy Jr./For American-Statesman)

It didn’t get any better for the bulk of Yachty’s 40 minutes, showing energy and confidence only when counting off a “1-2-3-4!” preceding a dramatic shift in volume or tempo. The sole exception came when he ventured into the crowd for set-closer “Minnesota,” showing a rare enthusiasm and engagement if not lyrical sophistication on the rap-by-numbers hit that hand the crowd bobbing with him en mass.

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Things got markedly better by comparison when the Atlanta trio Migos followed, showing at least a respect for word craft and crowd engagement during their 45 minutes on stage. Given the geographic specificity of the trap music movement Migos has come to embody – thanks in large part to their musical contribution to the FX series “Atlanta – it doesn’t feel like a stretch to look at the hyphy movement out of Oakland as analog.

That scene and sound were propelled more by the stylistic trappings of the genre than by the musical and creative accomplishments of its artists – the exception being Lil B emerging from skate crew The Pack, whose song “Vans” was one of the genre’s biggest hits.

It’s hard to tell if Migos will evolve creatively, or if the undeniable hooks of “Bad And Boujee” – the send-‘em-home-happy set closer on Friday – will be the high-water mark of this cohort of trap artists.


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