Considering how AI art is mostly created through massive theft, it’s hard to stare at any AI concoction and not feel a little soulless. As Jaron Lanier recently wrote in these pages, “there is no reason to hide which artists were the primary sources when a program synthesizes new art,” yet that is precisely what AI art does. It cynically uses Arthur C. Clarke’s maxim—that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic—to make it seem like there is actually an artificial intelligence at work behind the generated pictures, as opposed to thousands and thousands of data sets.
The first piece of truly moving AI art I’ve seen has not been from “Jodorowsky’s Tron” or “beautiful redhead in the snow,” but rather the cover art for Lil Yachty’s stunning new album, Let’s Start Here. Yachty’s first psychedelic rock-rap project, the nearly hourlong album is a major breakthrough for the 25-year-old from Georgia.
The cover art works because it plays into the soulless nature of AI art. The faces of corporate America are disfigured, ugly, melting. It looks like you’re about to have a very bad trip. But putting on “the BLACK seminole.”—the album’s seven-minute opener—removes all doubt. The listener is thrust into a wavy world of guitars and reverb. There’s not just a light-hearted feeling of “let’s make it trippy,” but a sound that cuts deep as Yachty declares himself the Black Seminole and the African Rambo. Most importantly, he has no time to joke around, because “the kid is now a man.”
A musician’s collaborators can be just as important as the name headlining the project. Yachty has chosen wisely, with a who’s who of indie rock in the liner notes: Alex G, Mac DeMarco, Patrick Wimberly of Chairlift, Ben Goldwasser of MGMT, and Jacob Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. On the regrettable side of the ledger, Tory Lanez, most recently convicted of shooting Meghan Thee Stallion, also has a writing credit.
There’s a funkiness that moves throughout the album, like on “running out of time,” where a bassline is front and center as almost-mumbling lyrics talk about staying up ’til the sun. It sounds like a party, and it is, but not a rager. This is not an album for clubs, but for late nights.
It’s also, as the next track, “pRETTy” shows, an album for the bedroom. Let’s Start is a sexy album, slowing down and speeding up like a good lover should. But Yachty never gets completely lost in it, with spoken word tracks guiding the listener through their journey. “The most important moments in life aren’t when you’re born and when you die But when you met me, when we became us,” featured singer Foushée says at the end of “pRETTy,” leading right in to Yachty’s own spoken word track, “:(failure(:”
“:(failure(:” is not the bummer that its emojis would suggest, with Yachty riding very posi vibes. “Say like I lost a finger, okay, well, I still have nine. When someone broke into my house I felt like, well, someone certainly needed more than I did, these things are replaceable, you know?” It’s not mind-shattering advice, but Yachty speaks with such earnestness that it’s hard for a listener not to nod along, contemplating their own failures that could be successes in disguise.
There are a few ragers near the end, like “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSION!!!!!” and “sHouLd i B?” the latter of which transitions brilliantly into “The Alchemist,” where Yachty declares to rapid-fire drumbeat that “I knew that I was built for this / I know now that most men would kill for this / Seamlessly, I walk around infamous / Probably ’cause I am the alchemist / Learned to love, I’m not like the tin man” before sweeping that aside into Foushée’s dreamy, hazy vocals.
Yachty has leveled up with Let’s Start Here, earning comparisons to the hipster party anthems of Kid Cudi and the funk-punk of Fishbone, both Black psychedelics who wanted to use every tool available to create sounds that felt completely fresh. This is an album with staying power, one you’ll likely be hearing about for a long time to come.
David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.