Bells & Whistles, Vol. 8: Yeat is everywhere and nowhere

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Bells & Whistles, Vol. 8 is here. This edition features a brain dump on the rapper du jour, YEAT. Also, some housekeeping: This will be the final edition of Bells & Whistles that lands in your inbox. Going forward, Bells & Whistles will exist as a biweekly column on the blog alone. If you cherish these email updates, don’t worry! We’re converting this into a monthly newsletter that’ll go out on the first of the month and keep you in the loop on everything No Bells. As always, thanks for reading.- Mano

The Yeat awakening

Everyone is talking about Yeat—at least, everyone in my corner of the TL. If we’re tuned into the same internet frequency, you’ve seen his name, you’ve heard the lingo and the bells, and maybe you’ve even fired off a couple takes about his new album 2 Alivë, which debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard 200 last week.

Here’s the thing: I’ve maybe said Yeat’s name out loud 6 or 7 times total. I’ve heard his music “in the wild” twice. Others I’ve talked to that read this blog share a similar sentiment. At the ripe old age of 24, am I officially old? Why does this presumed star-in-the-making feel strangely distant? In this essay, I want to grapple with this strange everywhere-nowhere that I’ve experienced with Yeat, and I also want to explore how this fact of his stardom affects the discourse surrounding him.

Yeat first invaded a critical mass of brains in the middle of 2021 via TikTok. He had a song called “Sorry Bout That” go viral, then another called “Get Busy.” He got co-signs from Lil Yachty and Drake. Fans often noticed how his production drew from the sound of Whole Lotta Red

The beats might sound that way, but Yeat the rapper isn’t a Carti clone. To me, he sounds like what he is: a dude from Slayworld. This was a network of SoundCloud rappers in the late 2010s —Yeat, Summrs, Autumn, Izaya Tiji, etc etc—that enveloped the original Plugg sound in silk. A handful of Duwap Kaine flows, a dash of melodic polish and a proper mixing job gets you Slayworld music. There’s little to no journalism about this era (if you Google “Slayworld,” the first piece is from The Rocket, the student newspaper of Slippery Rock University) but these artists amassed millions of streams on SoundCloud.

There’s something a little different about Yeat, though. While the figureheads of his former entourage were writing soupy PluggnB records, Yeat would whip up these storms of linguistic muck. He raps like a swamp monster, splattering mud and lean out of his mouth to create new textures. He’s thrilling and funny and full of surprises, but he can also be weirdly emotionless. He sometimes reminds me of Cinnamon Bun from Adventure Time.

Anyway, TikTok is where Yeat began to climb last year. However, Google Trends data reveals that searches of his name really skyrocketed these last two months. In late January, his 2021 album Up 2 Më crept onto the Billboard 200. 

Around this time, I started to notice something: People outside my circle of SoundCloud-pilled minds had begun talking about Yeat like he was The One. When 2 Alivë came out a couple weeks ago, the discussion really boiled over. I haven’t seen people so divided on a rap record since DONDA.

This feels different to me, though. See, I don’t think the majority of people know how to talk about Yeat. Not that there’s ever a “right” way to appreciate art, or that we should expect listeners to know everything about an artist. But it seems like there’s a massive disconnect between Yeat’s SoundCloud lineage and the bells tolling in people’s feeds. This discourse has felt rushed, grounded in nothing, an engagement feedback loop. On a wide scale, a baseline understanding is missing. Remember the grating mumble rap discourse a few years ago? This has a similar flavor. Yeat exists in a cold vacuum stripped of context. If you’re coming at this totally blind, of course you’re gonna think everything sounds the same, or that he’s doing Thug pastiche, or that he’s “not lyrical;” your brain isn’t soaked in a vat of F1LTHY synths. (For what it’s worth, to my ears, 2 Alivë is much better than most shit coming out of the rage factory.)

Yeat to me is like internet rap’s NBA Youngboy: a singular regional star who caters to his diehard fans. Albums feel like markers in an endless churn of content that includes leaks, memes, speculation, and SoundCloud beef/lore (“Who really coined Twizzy???”). He rarely does interviews. While people were discovering Yeat a few weeks ago, LAPD shut down a 2 Alivë listening event that fans were trying to break into.

This all ties into that conversation about the death of the conventional, omnipresent rap star. Yeat isn’t setting out to reach everybody. There are no crossover attempts, no major differences between his last few projects. You’re either going to get it or you’re not. In some ways, this is a boon for discourse. It’s nice that people are slowly starting to retreat from big, cross-sectional forums like Twitter, where no one knows where anyone else is coming from. It’s nice to talk about Yeat with Yeat fans. In a world of empty, throw-everything-at-the-wall albums and TikTok-tailored drivel, Yeat’s tunnel vision is oddly refreshing.

The new stars also expose a structural problem within music journalism. History will now have to be written by the obsessives, and the current institutions of journalism do not nurture true obsessiveness. In all the Yeat reviews I’ve read, Slayworld is either not mentioned at all or reduced to a footnote. This context matters, so that Yeat isn’t understood merely as an outgrowth of Carti or Thug or whatever A-lister. There’s clearly a gap in the historical record between 2017 SoundCloud and 2022 SoundCloud, and the only way you can access information about this era is by having lived it, or by talking to people who lived it. 

Yeat signifies to me a new kind of star, everywhere and nowhere, and a new mode of discourse, wherein histories are siloed and broader conversation feels emptier than ever. He’s a reminder that coverage of internet rap was always a specialist’s game, and journalists rarely have the resources to be specialists. The death of the old-guard superstar means journalism will need more people like this, burrowing obsessively into regions of the country and the internet. Someone just has to pay them.

Some updates

Our next NTS set is March 17th at 7PM ET. V excited about this one…

We just launched a YouTube channel, and Srikar dropped a sick edit of the Babytron concert. Check it out on TikTok if you wanna see a bunch of people duking it out in the comments for no reason.

Thoughts? Let us know