Earlier this week, the Atlanta producer Digital Nas opened his vaults — or rather, his hard drive — to release four previously unheard Lil Yachty tracks. On the introduction to The Lost Files EP, Digital Nas said that with no apparent hope of a proper release for these songs, he decided to share them with fans instead of letting them collect digital dust. While he has no connection to the Queensbridge legend Nas aside from his name, this collection of B-sides brings to mind Nas’s own 2002 album The Lost Tapes, a scraped-together set that built on the artist’s storied legend as a major figure within hip-hop. A decade and a half later, the fact that a producer felt the need to unearth a handful of Lil Yachty loosies that were only recorded a year ago speaks to just how sudden and definitive the rise of the self-proclaimed “King of Teens” has been. After a months-long blur of sold-out shows, rave reviews, and controversy, Yachty is already an artist who merits that kind of retrospective chronicling.
As one of the more experimental up-and-coming producers in Atlanta, Digital Nas is well-suited to the task. Back in January, he produced Playboi Carti and Lil Yachty’s “Run It,” whose main takeaway was just how many times Carti could say the title phrase in under three minutes. (Answer: Far too many.) That song typified Digital Nas’s style — his sonically murky production can recall the music from a Nintendo 64 game, but it retains a menacing buzz that harder-edged artists like Migos or 21 Savage could easily rap over. The Lost Files EP highlights “Where Did I Go Wrong” and “When I Get On” feature production with a similar impact: Digital Nas swaps out the 808-heavy trap template of onetime cutting-edge producers Lex Luger and Shawty Redd in favor of chipper synths and faux-woodwind instruments for a sound that’s closer to The Legend of Zelda than Young Jeezy. This style fits Yachty’s own adjacency to trap music — he’s an artist who can comfortably rap next to Migos or Rich the Kid, but he’s just as happy to jump into another lane for a brief, joyful lark, like the bubbly “King of Teens” from earlier this summer.
The left-field sounds that Digital Nas leans toward aren’t without precedent — seven years ago, Lil B and his frequent production collaborator Clams Casino were stretching Imogen Heap samples into new-age rap, and more recently Makonnen meshed that floaty head-in-the-clouds style with the street rap of his then-home of Atlanta. But Digital Nas and the other producers Lil Yachty has brought up, like The Good Perry, are busy discovering even stranger lanes for rap production to explore. Where trap music is often thought of as best heard through car speakers, this new style is designed for earbuds and laptops. If Yachty’s songs on The Lost Files EP aren’t quite lost radio hits, they’re buried treasure in the world of SoundCloud rap.