How Lil Yachty Became Michigan Boy Boat

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Eric Skelton
·10 min read
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Photo by Gunner Stahl

Lil Yachty has been spending a lot of time in Michigan lately.

Midway through one low-budget music video for a song called “Flintana,” he shows up in a parking lot with a crew of up-and-coming rappers from Flint: RMC Mike, YN Jay, and Louie Ray. At the beginning of the clip, there’s a disclaimer that says, “This song was made the night before, therefore nobody knew the lyrics,” and everything about it has the raw, spontaneous feeling of a collaboration that came to life on a whim at 2 a.m. In other words, it’s in a completely different universe from the glossy sheen of a song like “Oprah’s Bank Account.”

As Yachty lowers himself on the concrete and does push-ups at the end of Mike’s verse, you can’t help but wonder how the hell he ended up in a random Flint parking lot with a bunch of underground rappers in the first place. But he does such a good job matching the spirit of the song, context doesn’t really matter here. It’s all energy. After a few quick bars about pussy and a mouth full of gold, Yachty circles back with a couple Snoh Aalegra and Kevin Federline references to punctuate his second verse. And when he’s not rapping, he laughs along with punchlines from Mike, Jay, and Ray, hyping up his collaborators. “They have fun,” he says now. “They talk about all kinds of crazy shit.”

Later, there’s a Lil Yachty sighting at a Detroit studio with Rio Da Yung OG, and he materializes on two more songs with YN Jay. As the year progresses, Yachty’s Michigan collaborations keep popping up online, and each time he tries out self-described “unorthodox” flows, pushing himself to wild new lyrical territory. On all of them, he sounds more energized than we’ve heard him in years. Before long, it’s clear Yachty has become an honorary member of the Michigan rap scene, home to some of the most exciting (and quotable) new artists on the planet.

“They’re mad fucking lyrical in a weird way,” he points out. “The schemes and the cadences and the flows are so unorthodox.”

Yachty says these collaborations have taught him “how to have fun with it” again. He’s having so much fun, in fact, that he decided to make a whole mixtape and call it Michigan Boy Boat. The project will arrive on April 23, and judging by the tags on the announcement Instagram post, it will feature everyone from Veeze to Babyface Ray to Sada Baby to Icewear Vezzo. As Yachty puts it, the project is an opportunity to show love to the scene he’s grown to care about so much.

As the release date nears, the 23-year-old rapper hopped on the phone with Complex to talk about Michigan Boy Boat, three other projects he’s working on, a night in the studio with Freddie Gibbs, and more. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.

Lil Yachty
Photo by Gunner Stahl

How did you first get plugged in with the Michigan rap scene?
I’ve always loved Detroit rap. I used to work with Pablo Skywalkin back in 2016. And I always loved Tee Grizzley. “First Day Out” was such an insane song, and I thought he was so lyrical. So I was working with him, and then my best friend Mitch started putting me on to other rappers locally who were on the rise, and I just loved their beats and their rapping schemes. I thought they were so dope. So that’s how I got into it originally.

A lot of people were surprised to see you show up in so many music videos with underground rappers in Flint and Detroit last year. How did the collaborations start happening?
I was reaching out to them, bro. I was just coming to them. I wasn’t afraid to show love, and I wanted to work with all of them. So I would just hit them up.

What is it about their music that made you want to work with them?
They don’t care. They want to have fun. And it’s funny. They’re mad fucking lyrical in a weird way. The schemes and the cadences and the flows are so unorthodox. And the style of Michigan beats just forced me into this really weird scheme. You’ll see when this mixtape comes out. I just rap really unorthodox on it. A lot of people won’t like it. A lot of people think it’s offbeat.

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Do you think these beats have pushed you to grow as a rapper?
Yeah, I learned new schemes and cadences. And I learned to have fun with it. They have fun. They talk about all kinds of crazy shit.

Michigan Boy Boat is on the way. What made you want to do a full tape with songs like this?
I just wanted to show love. That’s it. I just wanted to show love to all of those guys and their talent. And I feel like I rap my best on those types of beats.

You sound really energized lately. I remember a few months ago, you jumped in Cardo’s room on Clubhouse and told everyone how excited you were about a verse you had just written.
Yeah. That verse was so fucking crazy. I was sitting on the toilet.

Overall, it seems like you’re having a lot of fun making music right now.
Oh, yeah. And I’m about to drop so much shit, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m definitely having fun.

A couple months ago, you dropped “Hit Bout It” with Kodak Black, which was a crazy moment. What was that experience like?
We didn’t record it in person, but I did take a trip out there to shoot the video. When I recorded the song, I was on my Detroit shit. What happened was, I posted a snippet on my Instagram. And he was originally supposed to do a verse for “Pardon Me.” You know, because he was just pardoned by Donald Trump. Then he was like, “Man, I ain’t going to lie. I really want to get on this.” I was super excited, and we made it happen.

In the behind-the-scenes video, it looked like you guys have a tight bond together. What’s your relationship like, and how did that all go down?
I don’t know how or why. It just kinda happened. I hit him when he was in jail, and I wanted to show support and that I was fucking with him. And he would call me every now and then. We’d chop it up and just talk. I think he really supported that and respected that. And when he got out, it was just love.

Speaking of collaborations, you were just tweeting about Freddie Gibbs assembling the Avengers for his next album.
Yeah, I was with him last night. I put him on some Detroit shit. [Laughs.]

How did you guys link up?
After I tweeted that, he DM’d me, like, “Let’s link.” And I was out here and I pulled right the fuck up.

What was that session like?
I was super excited. He’s really fire. He’s like a legend. He was super cool. He’s like a gangster. He was super dope, and he’s older. The session was really chill. I didn’t stay long, unfortunately, because I had to go to a session with Mac DeMarco, so I did the song and left. But it was dope as fuck. He’s funny as shit.

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You recently tweeted, “I be sittin back watching y’all assumptions on situations and y’all be so off. The internet just be making up shit.” Do you think people have misconceptions about you at this point? What do people get wrong?
Yeah, [some people] think I’m gay as fuck. But I have a beautiful girlfriend. And before her, I had plenty of bitches. You know? So that’s a misconception. But I don’t give a fuck.

You’ve been writing songs for other artists a little lately, like “Act Up” for City Girls, which I think opened some people’s minds to how talented you really are. Is that part of the appeal?
I love gaining my respect.

As a songwriter for other artists, you have to put yourself in someone else’s point of view, and you’ve pulled it off really well so far. Why do you think it’s come naturally for you?
Honestly, I was just bored, bro. One day I was in the studio, bored as fuck. And I was like, “Let me see if I can do this.” I did it.

Is that something you want to do more?
I’ve done it a few times. I’ve done it. I stopped speaking on it.

I see. I was going to ask if you’d explore that more and ever write songs for pop artists or anything.
Yeah, I’ve done some shit. I don’t want to get into it, but I’ve done some shit.

“Just listen to the f*cking bars because I promise I’m rapping my f*cking a** off.”


I know you’ve been in the studio with Taz Taylor and the Internet Money guys. Can you talk about that?
We’re doing an album. I’m about to go see Taz right now. He’s a fucking king. He’s a fucking GOAT. I have respect for him, 100%.

What have the sessions been like so far?
I’ve been in LA three days, and we’ve already made 24 songs. We’re working hard, bro. It’s fun. It’s melodic. It’s fully melodic.

Oh, shit. So a totally different sound from this next Michigan Boy Boat project…
Yeah, I got projects, man. I’ve got my project with Internet Money. I’m doing my project with Lil Tecca. I got my project with Working On Dying. And then I’ll start my album fourth quarter of the year.

So there’s lots of shit going on.
I’m dropping a shit ton this year.

Lil Yachty
Photo by Gunner Stahl

What made you want to make a bunch of different projects that show all your different styles, instead of just holding off and doing one big album?
It didn’t start off that way. It honestly started off with me just fucking with all these guys that I fuck with. And they all love me for different things. Taz, he wanted to bring out my melodic side. You know, with Working On Dying, it’s just all types of heat.

Before you go, I wanted to ask about cryptocurrency. You created your YachtyCoin and then made an NFT. And I know you were an early investor in Dogecoin and SafeMoon and all this shit. How did you get into all of this?
Well, my manager put me onto the whole YachtyCoin thing. This year and last year, I just took it and ran with it.

There are stories of people who invested early making ridiculous amounts of money. I know you were early, too. Have you seen crazy profits already?
Oh, yeah. Ohhhh yeah. Mm-hmm.

What should people know before they press play on Michigan Boy Boat when it drops?
Just listen to the fucking bars because I promise I’m rapping my fucking ass off.