Say what you want about his music — which is at times criminally underappreciated — but Lil Yachty also boasts one of the best business résumés in all of hip-hop, all of while still being the age of a college senior. At the top of the month, Lil Boat added Axe to his decorated list of partnerships, which already includes lucrative deals with Sprite, Target, Disney, and Nautica, to name a few.
The 21-year-old and the Unilever brand are giving fans the chance to join him on an unfinished track titled “Anarchy,” where the Quality Control artist has left the hook open for aspiring rappers to fill in with their own submissions, as part of AXE The LABEL’s first venture. The contest has already received over 20,000 submissions for Yachty to comb through.
The Atlanta native has been one of the rappers at the forefront of paving the way in having major brands embrace the youth and deal with emerging hip-hop artists. “When I came in, is when it really started. I need the recognition,” Lil Yachty tells Billboard. “We got to figure it out. I’ve been trying to pave the way. It’s just not being done like this. It’s the biggest hip-hop has ever been.”
On the heels of Nuthin’ 2 Prove‘s release, Billboard caught up with the rapper on a seasonably warm Saturday (Oct. 20) in Brooklyn, as he enjoyed some Marshmallow Fruity Pebbles for breakfast. Earlier in the morning, Drake shot Yachty a direct message complimenting his album opener “Gimme My Respect” and melodic flows on the second half of the project.
Check out the rest of our interview with Lil Yachty where we touch on his new album, teaming with AXE, prepping joint projects with Juice WRLD and Trippie Redd, Kanye West studio sessions and much more.
Billboard: How did you get involved with Axe to add another partnership to your decorated business resume?
Lil Yachty: It started earlier this year. Technically, I’ve been wearing Axe since the middle-school days. I had the chocolate Axe. So when the company reached out, I was all the way with it. It took me back to my childhood. Then they came up with the cool idea of doing a song where I leave the hook open for a fan. It went big. There’s been about 20,000 submissions already. I try to listen to a few.
What do you think about brands embracing hip-hop and the younger generation of artists? I think you’re paving the way in that aspect.
Yep, you took the words right out of my mouth. I was going to say that. Of course, it’s been done before, but it hasn’t happened as much. When I came in, is when it really started. I need the recognition. We got to figure it out. I’ve been trying to pave the way. It’s just not being done like this. It’s the biggest hip-hop has ever been. People want to be where it’s at and where it’s popping. It’s like playing video games. They’re selling out arenas too.
Why did you title your album Nuthin’ 2 Prove?
It had another name at first. I always felt like people judge me and they always have opinions and shit. They’ll say, “He can’t rap,” or “He can’t do this,” or “He fell off.” I always felt like I had something to prove. It’s always been, “I gotta show them that I can still rap. I gotta show them I can still make a hit or sell out a show.” I’ve been doing music for three years now, and at this point, I’m like, “Fuck them. I don’t give a fuck and I don’t have to prove anything.”
What made you want to split the album up into rap and the other half tapping into your R&B melodic sound?
I can do both. I did Teenage Emotion, which was all melodic, and they hated it. Outside my fan base and inside, I kind of lost a lot of fans for that. Lil Boat 2 people liked, but it was all rap. Some thought it was too much. This time, I just did half and half. People said I was trying to copy Drake. I didn’t do two sides, this is one tape.
Why did you want to come back with your second album of 2018, less than seven months after Lil Boat 2?
Shit, I feel like I got another album. I might come back again. I’m going to drop a collab tape in December. I got one done with Juice WRLD, and me and Trippie Redd got one. Both tapes are done.
That’s dope. Both of them appeared on Nuthin’ 2 Prove. Walk me through “Yacht Club” with Juice WRLD, first.
We got a bunch of songs just like that. We just be in the studio recording. We got hella songs together. This song was actually supposed to go on our tape. It’s crazy, the first song I had for my album was called “Knuck If You Buck” and it’s hard. We just couldn’t find a session. My engineer was listening to my shit and told me, “I ain’t going to lie bro, ‘Yacht Club’ is hard.” I trusted him and switched it.
What did you think about him jabbing at Drake for knocking up a porn star?
At the time, we were in the booth together actually. He said it and I was like, “Wow, okay.” [Sighs.] I talked to Drake about it and he said it was all good. He felt there was really no harm. I told Drake before, because I fuck with Drake. Then it came out and he laughed at it.
I saw Drake posted your album to his Instagram story saying he was proud of you. How did it feel when you saw that? Did he hit you about it as well?
Yeah. Shit made me so happy, bro. This was the first album I’ve done where I felt so much love. I felt love on Lil Boat 2. People say my first project, Lil Boat, was my best project, but I didn’t feel it because I was so new and it took a minute to grow. This is the first project I’m feeling people are really fucking with. Like, Drake hit me about my album. I never asked him to post that for me, he did that on his own. For him to do that, that shit is crazy. I fuck with Drake. It was last night and I was still awake.
— WHERE IS YANDHI? (@LordTreeSap) October 22, 2018
You teamed up with Trippie Redd on “Forever World” again.
“Forever World” was originally his song. He played it for me and I was almost scared to ask him to get on it because it was so good. His assistant CJ was actually singing the background vocals on it. He had put his album out and I knew he was going to use it on there. We were actually supposed to put that song on our project but he was bullshitting. So I said, “Let me get it.” He’s like, “Man, you can get whatever you want from me.” I put a second verse on it and then dropped that bitch.
Would you want to release the joint tape before the year’s out?
If he don’t bullshit.
What happened with the Glacier Boyz project’s release?
That was done too. It wasn’t ready. The songs were there but it wouldn’t have been good. We didn’t want to risk it. Control the Streets 2 is coming though. It’s coming before the end of the year.
So I came across this Kanye West leak titled “Face Down” with you and Quavo. What’s the origin of that track?
That’s funny. That song is from 2016. It was at Kanye’s studio in Los Angeles. I went to his studio one time with A$AP Rocky early 2016 before Lil Boat came out and I did Yeezy Season 3. I was quiet and I had to sign an NDA. This was when Kanye was working on The Life of Pablo.
There was so many artists there, and I was so new and unknown that I was sitting outside in the lobby with the groupies when Rocky would take me around. I couldn’t even go in the room. I was just watching Kid Cudi, Big Sean, Tyler, The Creator all walk in. I was just sitting on the ground. A couple months went by and Kanye invited me in. He played me all these records and had me put verses on all this stuff, and we did “Face Down” a long time ago. I still love Kanye.
I feel like you’re gearing up to eventually pivot out of music and into film and entertainment. I know you have a plan.
I’m on the way to take over acting.
Word, I can see that. It reminds me of following the blueprint of another Atlanta artist in Ludacris.
I fuck with Ludacris, heavy. He’s a smart guy. I met him a couple times and I’m glad you said that — I’m about to hit him up. I love music, but this is a lot.
I saw you tweet about making leaving big tips a priority, what made you want to make sure you properly give back?
My mother always taught me a lot of important life lessons and she would always tell me how important it was to tip. We didn’t have much money, so we would tip what we could. Now, it’s at the point I’m financially stable. When I’m out eating, I hope I have the cash, but if I write it on the receipt, I’ll leave a big tip. What’s big to them is probably small to me. It doesn’t hurt to leave 100 dollars or 150 dollars extra. Because I would do that at the strip club, where I’m gonna be throwing money.
I respect waiters and waitress.. big tips every time!!!
— Underdog (@lilyachty) October 14, 2018