Artist To Watch: Yhapojj

Artist To Watch: Yhapojj

When most 20-year-old kids start making music, they do something that all young men can justifiably understand: They play girls their new songs. Some do it to impress; some do it because they are eager to get a woman’s read on things. The Alabama rapper Yhapojj does it because he is in love with someone. He calls her his baby mama, even though they have no children together. And, if you’re wondering, she seems to love Yhapojj’s stuff as much as the underground does. “She damn near always listening to it,” Yhapojj says, smiling. “Everything about her makes me fall in love. It’s the connection. We’re like twins.”

Just like most precocious kids who grew up on the soil-like beginnings of SoundCloud rap and prefer Twilight to Harry Potter, Yhapojj is rapping, hoping to accumulate and duplicate the swagger that ILOVEMAKONNEN once had. Yhapojj considers Makonnen, the South Los Angeles and Atlanta-bred rapper/singer, his biggest influence, and — beyond the dynamic and pioneering talent and status that Makonnen had as a subversive hook machine and a gay artist — it’s easy to see why. For starters, the production on Yhapojj’s music, particularly his new album P.S. Fuck You, sparkles with the same decorative constellations that Sonny Digital once laced Maknonnen’s records with. Yhapojj is also using similar vocal tricks as Makonnen; as repetition once helped Makonnen drill home his youthful debauchery and jubilance, Yhapojj’s reiteration and vignettes help him offset the charming immaturity in his music, for something more musically wise. “Don’t nobody had the swag like him,” Yhapojj says, over Zoom. “He was original.”

There is a fine line between having your influences, using those influences to form an artistry that is entirely yours, becoming a part of a hip-hop family tree, and being a biter. Drake is Drake, even if he comes from the tree of Kanye West. Young Thug is ruthlessly himself, even if he heard Dedication 2 and it changed his entire life. Yhapojj walks the line exceptionally well, just like those guys did. Although he might come from Makonnen, Yhapojj’s music is gothic, and more emotionally raw. At times, Yhapojj has used werewolf imagery, because of his aforementioned Twilight fandom, but also because it mirrors his personality within his music: a man ravaged by his pain and appetites.

P.S. Fuck You clocks in at just over 34 minutes and is better for it. The brevity makes Yhapojj’s preferred ghostly and brooding piano-based production style — an outgrowth of the piano his mom gifted him when he was six — feel economical as opposed to bloated. “U Again” is one of the best songs of the year so far, an angelic trap song that shivers with intensity. “Futuristic Nigga,” his favorite song, takes the horniness of Cash Cobain and turns it more inward and romantic. “Feelings” is where he wishes all of his friends will get married. (“I ain’t never been a hater,” Yhapojj says).

This record is the most controlled and focused he’s been in his short career so far. Most of the beats came in via the laptop from an array of producers, but the chemistry is authentic. Many songs breeze past in less than two minutes, typical of an artist who dropped albums of 27, 25, and 15 minutes last year. Although Yhapojj is not immune from the indulgences that plague mainstream rappers — his 2023 record YhapEndofYearClassic is 71 minutes long — he deserves recognition for how meticulous and patient this latest project is. “A few of them are too long,” Yhapojj says, when discussing other rappers’ albums. “Fifteen-song albums when all of them are damn near three minutes are tough to listen to.”

It feels unfathomable that anyone becomes a rap star now. The internet has made the rap game a regional thing, and an insular world. We don’t grow up with the artists; songs hit out of nowhere from outside apps or YouTube. You can be famous on the internet, and even pile up enormous streaming numbers, and not be able to charm Funk Flex or Charlamagne Tha God. It’s no longer about being interpersonal. It’s becoming more reserved and underwater, despite the fact that it is still the most popular genre in the world, and the most interesting.

It’s also the fastest-moving. Kendrick was able to drop three disses in two days towards Drake, whereas “Ether” came out two months after “Takeover.” That immediacy, plus white flight, gentrification, even the pandemic — it all changed the way people thought about socializing and stars’ ability to do it. Growing up, I would see all my favorite rappers on talk shows that were nationally syndicated. Now we’re living in a pop world, or a place where Jack Harlow can wink at Black women from the red carpet. People can go viral, sure, but it may never happen again after that one fleeting hit, and some semblance of everyday magnetism has to become the prevailing attribute in some of these artists. Where’s the young drill stars? Some of them are in jail, or in Pop Smoke’s case, die too soon. Where’s the Makonnens?

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“It’s a fine line because the internet has gifted us with the ability to find artists we love and wouldn’t have found otherwise without it,” says Yashar Zadeh, the Vice President of Media at Warner Records, who used to rap under the name Yak Ballz as part of the Y2K-era underground rap supergroup the Weathermen alongside El-P, Aesop Rock, Camu Tao, and others. “To me, the problem lies in the idea or thought that something must go viral in order for someone to become a star. Chasing virality has become the focus, and to the detriment of the quality of their output.” Streams don’t always equal stardom, Zadeh says. It’s a different decade now.

Yhapojj is conscious of the choices you have to make to become a rap star now. He believes that if you have the right intentions, it will all come together and make sense. “You can’t be tripping,” Yhapojj says. The kids, usually the most important judge of this, seem to agree that he is the next star. After a canceled show at the the Lower East Side Manhattan venue Mercury Lounge — not long after doors opened, the venue was quickly over its maximum capacity — fans followed Yhapojj to the skate park where the party continued. “I didn’t know New York fucked with me like that,” he says. “Everyone was saying that they thought that my label [Simple Stupid Records] did this on purpose. Nah man, it just happened that way.”

His good instincts are so recognizable the minute you speak to him, that you can be shocked at some of his less-than-stellar tendencies. He says his temper can be explosive, and a moodiness creeps into his daily routine. His personality is one of multitudes, full of sudden changes in emotional state. “Motherfuckers say that I am bipolar,” Yhapojj says. “I don’t think that I am, but someone might say a joke, and I stop laughing. Nothing is ever that funny.”

Don’t fret about this: He’s young, he’s hungry, and he is still 20. He’s listening to the label and the A&Rs, and while the industry can be corny, he appreciates his managers and PR people that are giving him advice and helping him out. “I feel like a superhero and a supervillain bro,” Yhapojj explains. “Listen to the music, and the fans know the difference.”

P.S. Fuck You is out now via Simple Stupid/Capitol.

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