The infamous rapper’s sophomore record, Whole Lotta Red, is like nothing Carti (or any mainstream artist) has ever done before.
Westchester, NY– On December 22nd of last year, Playboi Carti, the infamous rapper known for his wild outfits and eccentric hairstyles, dropped a bombshell onto his fans and hip hop heads in general: his long-awaited second album, Whole Lotta Red, was coming that Christmas, after Carti teased the project since August 2018, off the coattails of his megahit debut, Die Lit.
Fans were shocked and overjoyed, ready for the new Carti to emerge years after the previous one. But few were anticipating the new direction Whole Lotta Red would go in. Rather than using reverb-heavy, soft, and psychedelic beats made by longtime collaborator Pierre Bourne, Carti used hard-hitting, reverb-less beats with vicious lyrics and extremely short track lengths.
This heavily divided Carti’s fans and critics, ranging from Pitchfork saying that the album “transposes that thrill of hearing an inspired work-in-progress and builds it out into a fully realized style” to Beats Per Minute claiming that, “He puts on vapid personas like ‘rock star’ and ‘vampire’ like he’s at Halloween Express. Tracks are Seinfeldian in their nothingness.”
But Carti is no stranger to outrage. When he first emerged as a protege/accomplice of fellow rapper Lil Uzi Vert, both were chastised for their basic, auto-tuned flows, and lack of substantial lyrics. For example, here is Uzi on the song “Pop”:
Pradas and Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’.
Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’
Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’
Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’
However, within two years, they had become two of the most beloved figures of modern-day hip hop, with their exciting deliveries and production from well-established hit-maker Pierre Bourne making them the biggest names in the genre.
Carti, born Jordan Terrel Carter, was born September 13, 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia, coincidentally the same day Tupac Shakur died. Growing up, he had big hoop dreams, and usually flunked classes, but after getting into arguments with teachers and coaches, he instead turned to rapping.
First naming himself Sir Cartier, he later switched to Playboi Carti and soon began making waves in the rap scene. He got his big break after becoming friends with rapper A$AP Rocky. They became so affiliated that Carti later moved to Texas with Rocky and got signed to his label, a subsidiary of Interscope Records.
Carti began collaborating with rappers such as Lil Yachty and Rocky’s hip hop collective, the A$AP Mob, as well touring with newfound friend Lil Uzi Vert, featuring on his mixtape, The Perfect LUV Tape.
Fresh off a few hit features and a newfound partnership with producer Pierre Bourne, he released his self-titled debut mixtape. Generally well received, it proved to be his big break, producing two of the biggest hits of the year.
“Magnolia,” the psychedelic and vibe-heavy track featured hypnotic production and the catchy refrain, “In New York I milly rock.” It proved to be the biggest hit of his career, appearing on year-end lists for various publications.
“wokeuplikethis*,” a track featuring Lil Uzi Vert also charted very high, with its music video attracting millions of views very quickly.
Afterwards, Carti became a XXL Freshman, joining a list of promising rappers whose past alumni include Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper, and J. Cole. Of the rappers Carti was with, he and late rapper XXXTENTACION would show the most potential, as he and “X” ultimately became two of the most influential artists from their generation, let alone from that year’s list.
The stage was set, and now it was time to see: would Carti be a one-hit-wonder? And what direction would he go in after the smash success of his mixtape?
The answer would come in the form of Die Lit, his debut album, which received critical acclaim. Many were enamoured with Carti’s use of minimal, reverb-y beats that were hypnotic in their simplicity, as well as his big redefinition of his persona. With Die Lit, Carti decided to bring out more features such as Travis Scott, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj, and Lil Uzi. He also decided to make a more diverse array of songs, from the filthiness of the hard-hitting “R.I.P” to the more playful adlib-heavy tracks like “Choppa Won’t Miss,” as well as putting his ad libs into the beat.
But perhaps the most famous of Carti’s switch-ups during this time was his change in vocal style. Instead of using his regular voice, he decided to push himself to put his voice into a “baby voice.” Instantly becoming a meme, it became one of his trademark vocal styles, which separated him from his growing number of copycats.
Source:@playboicarti /via Twitter
Carti’s debut album Die Lit, a critic and fan favorite for it’s minimal production, and the first display of Carti’s helium-esque “baby voice.”
However, after Die Lit, Carti decided to slow down on making music in 2018. After a few features, (including one for Lil Yachty’s Nuthin 2 Prove), he released no solo material (although he did make headlines with his relationship with rapper Iggy Azalea).
In fact, the most we saw of Carti that year were a few fantastic features. After appearing in the fantastic Solange song “Amelda” from her album, When I Get Home, he laid down one of his best, most joyful, and most unintelligible verses ever on Tyler, the Creator’s “Earfquake” from his monumental album, Igor.
But by the end of the summer, his features became few and far between, particularly after appearing on fellow rapper Trippie Redd’s debut album, !.
But Carti would still play festivals, and during one, he announced that his long-awaited album, Whole Lotta Red, would be released in the coming weeks. But it wouldn’t come, and Carti fans soon became anxious for its arrival.
As 2020 arrived, there was still no Whole Lotta Red in sight. Multiple release dates had been evaded, and there had been multiple leaks, including the hugely successful “Kid Cudi,” named after the influential artist who set the groundwork for the emo-trap crossover of the next decade. Yet still, no album seemed to be coming soon. In fact, Carti, who usually would connect with his fanbase via social media, had even forgone that. He was out of sight for months.
That was, until soon after quarantine, when out of the blue, just a month into our home confinement, he dropped “@Meh”, a track which seemed slightly less minimal than his Die Lit days, due to its busier beat. And while the song did climb into the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, its reception was heavily mixed. While some were just happy that Carti was dropping new music, and that Whole Lotta Red would probably be on the way, others were upset at how Carti had doubled down on his style to a fault. And instead of giving verses, he seemed to mainly repeat a refrain into the ground with his “baby voice”.
And it didn’t stop there. As Drake surprise-dropped a mixtape, Dark Lane Demo Tapes, consisting of demos, internet songs, and leaks that were never officially released. And one of the songs was “Pain 1993”, a song he first teased in April, featuring Carti.
The song dropped at the beginning of May alongside the demo tapes, quickly becoming the most popular song from the mixtape and climbing to number 7 on the Hot 100. As for the song itself, Pierre has fingerprints all over the production, with Drake attempting to adapt to the generation Carti came up in. And Drake does reasonably well on this song, encapsulating the vibe and hypnotic refrains of the songs he’s trying to emulate. It’s Carti however, who spoils the song, using his “baby voice” to a point where it sounds less like Carti and more like a toddler who just learned how to say cuss words and is learning the hip hop lifestyle.
And after this, Carti once again remained silent. And from this time forward, he would barely be seen at all. It had seemed that he had almost become reclusive.
That was until a GQ profile in November revealed Carti’s plans for the future and showed off a new look for Carti, one with black clothing and gothic red hair.
Carti showing off his new red-haired look after having been blonde for 18 months. As for Whole Lotta Red’s release date, he declined to comment.
However, later that month, we finally got some clarification on Whole Lotta Red. After appearing once again on a track with Lil Yachty (“Flex Up”), Carti announced that he had submitted his album to his label. He began a Twitter-spree, variously putting out oddly worded phrases like “No Sl33p”, and “i hAv3 a gift 4 u :0.” And finally, after years of hype and speculation, it was leaked that the album would come out on the Christmas Day of a trying 2020. Carti would confirm this in a tweet the Tuesday before its release.
Excited, fans devoured the album in its first week, streaming it over 100 million times the world over, and making it his first number one album. However, that didn’t stop a rift in his fanbase.
As said earlier, people were incredibly divided over the album and its harsh, gothic, horror-film-esque style. People were also shocked at how none other than Kanye West produced it, just a year after his Christian record, Jesus Is King. There was also a scant list of features (West, Kid Cudi, and Future), as well as a lack of production from Pierre, who only produced two of the 24 tracks on the album. However, I realized I couldn’t form my own opinion on the album until I listened to it. So, I did, and here’s what I think:
When you enter Whole Lotta Red, you can’t expect to hear anything on there that you previously conceived in your head. It doesn’t matter if you’re Carti’s biggest fan, if you never listened to hip hop, or anything in between. The first thing you hear is reverb-less and clunky synth-lead with a producer tag, which leads into one of his most raspy and crisp refrains, “Never too much.” And that’s what we get from Carti’s album, as for the next hour, we’re shown a vivid picture of a man paranoid, antisocial, and goth-obsessed, reminiscing over past glories and failures.
After Kanye West takes over the second track, we’re fully off in Carti’s world. On “Stop Breathing”, he talks about how since his brother passed, he’s had some disturbing revenge thoughts, all in a voice that sounds less like Carti and more like a man in the midst of transforming into a wolf on a full moon.
And the stories keep coming, with tracks like “Jumpouthehouse,” a track in which he worriedly tells you to do exactly that, showing how his anxieties lead into his excess thoughts, which is what a lot of songs use as overarching motifs.
Although the next track, “M3tamorphosis,” does the exact opposite. He only talks about his excess, talking about victories and being able to run anything he wants. All this is to the backdrop of Kid Cudi gloriously humming away before rapping an exhilarating verse that reminds us of what seems to be his current direction ever since his last album.
And from here, the album begins to get overtaken by track lengths that are ninety seconds, like “No Sl33p,” which sounds like the experience of seeing Batman enter the Batcave with one of his mobiles.
A lot of the next few tracks sound like this, which are in general good songs, but ones that are somewhat forgettable within the lengthy track listing. “Punk Monk” is the first track that switches this up, reflecting on how Carti’s label manipulated his business deals, like trying to sign artists like Trippie Redd. At one point, Carti almost sounds like Chris Rock during his wildest moments.
The next track, “On That Time,” feels like the breakdown right after. It feels like a nightmare packed with demons and ghouls while Carti narrates your terror. While it’s only a hundred seconds, it is one of the best on the album.
However, it is really in the final third of Whole Lotta Red where Carti falters. With more atypical beats that even sound redundant in comparison to his earliest days in the limelight, it’s only in the last three tracks where the album gets back on track. He finally begins to succumb to his isolation and depression, as shown on the closer, “F33l Like Dyin,” with a prominent Bon Iver sample. Carti finishes off in a broken and tired voice, fully making you believe what he is telling you.
Overall, while the album nearly falls off in the last leg, Whole Lotta Red is actually one of the most forward thinking hip hop albums of the last five years. Its experimental production, grisly vocal style, and gruesome lyrics will likely inspire many future rappers, and maybe some from the modern day. Although it can at points seem slightly repetitive and Carti will sometimes get on your nerves with his voice, the innovative sounds help it succeed in spades.
All in all, Carti is a game-changer, a mover, and an innovator. His visual style and reinventions for each project will prove to be influential for rappers to come, and his albums will go down in history as some of the defining moments of a generation. And this was all from a 24-year-old who came into the rap world chastised for having little talent. Boy did he prove them wrong.