Playboi Carti is a 24-year-old rapper from Atlanta Georgia. After almost three years of waiting, he’s finally released his highly anticipated second studio album, Whole Lotta Red. With executive production from Kanye West and features from Kid Cudi and Future, will Carti be able to create his best record to date?
Going into this LP, it’s essential to distinguish the two polar opposite sections. Within its 24 tracks and hour-long running time, the first half will send listeners into shock with its bold production and abrasive vocals, while the second takes a more safe approach. Knowing the stylistic direction being taken, the album’s cover art makes much more sense as it was designed to pay homage to 1970s underground punk magazine, Opium. On the note of punk music, its gritty roots and breathtaking flare seem to have made some sort of comeback here on tracks like the tone-setting “Rockstar Made” and the traumatizing “Stop Breathing”. It’s certainly commendable for a leader of hip hop’s most dense subgenre to step this far out of his comfort zone, but the risks don’t always pay off. The problem is not that the 24-year-old trap star ditched his signature baby voice and robotic flow, it’s his inability to commit to either sound on cuts like “JumpOutTheHouse” and “NoSl33p”. Out of all these struggles, the worst of the bunch is hands down the Future collaboration “Teen X,” as between its lousy structure and a wretched appearance from Hndrxx, its only redeemable quality comes from Carti utilizing his flagship style. Aside from this, the other features are two of the album’s most memorable moments as Kanye West’s intense verse on “Go2DaMoon” and possibly Kid Cudi’s best guest appearance to date on “M3tamorphosis” flow with the already established aesthetic seamlessly. When it comes to the performance of Playboi Carti, a definite strongpoint came from his punchlines, which was highlighted by witty bars like “I just hit a lick with a mask, MF DOOM” and “I done made a mil’ in a white tee, but I ain’t Franchize”. Another standout in this section was “New Tank,” which does a fantastic job at embodying the best of Playboi’s styles, new and old, as his classic nursery rhymes are spiced up with his raw delivery and experimental demonic flow. When it comes to cuts like “Beno!” and “Slay3r”, the prevalent issue stemming from the poorly placed tracklist is thrown to the forefront. There’s really no cohesion, which makes each moment feel utterly disjointed from the next. After the painfully generic “Meh” concludes, this messy experience finally starts to focus down, and things only get better from here.
Honing in on his experimental skills at the halfway point, “Vampire”, Playboi Carti finally finds his creative niche in the playfully spooky ballad. From here, the trapper slowly reverts back to the style he is known and loved for, but this is definitely not a bad thing. While it would have been more appreciated if he stuck in one lane, the fact that there’s actually a focused core here makes a considerable difference. Moments like “New N3on” and “Contro” embody this with their mind-numbing atmospheres and careless songwriting. In all this fun, the surefire gem is “Punk Munk,” whose flagrant lyrics make for an unusual moment of introspectiveness for Carti. Covering everything from missing out on singing guys like Trippie Redd, Lil Keed, and Pi’erre Bourne to reflecting on meeting Offest and Lil Uzi Vert for the first time, this display of storytelling is peak artistic evolution. Past these moments, the rest of the project safely builds on the structure Die Lit created up two years ago. “King Vamp,” “Place,” and “Over” are at the pinnacle of this as Carti fully falls back to the baby voice and uses an array of cadences to throw the listener in a trance. “Sky” is undoubtedly one of the most joyful tracks he’s made to date as its glamorous coating gels with his memorizing delivery masterfully. Although the quality of this portion has certainly improved, hearing nearly twelve songs of this leaves room for a fair amount of filler like “F33l Lik3 Dyin”, “Not PLaying”, and “ILoveUIHateU”. With the only riskier cuts, “Die4Guy” and “King Vamp”, playing it safe in the grand scheme of things, the second half of Whole Lotta Red is more enjoyable but slightly less engaging.
The proficiently crafted soundtrack remains a consistent force behind the boards through this collision course of an experience. On the entire first half, each song comes with its own crazed feel, and it honestly rips up the traditional sound trap records like Carti’s tend to be accompanied with in exchange for some of the most fearmongering soundscapes the mainstreams ever seen. From the opener “Rockstar Made” to “New Tank,” the word best suited to describe the instrumental layering is chaotic. Best summarized by the Outtatown and Wheezy produced “Go2DaMoon”, the frequent tone changes and constant feeling of urgency are bound to keep the listener on their feet. This is far from the only top tier moment of sheer musical uncertainty as cuts like “New Tank” and “JumpOutTheHouse”s electro-rock crossover makes for a commercial project like no other. Out of the entire LP, “Vamp Anthem”s sample of the classic Dracula theme makes for one of the most intuitive song flips ever, as it perfectly matches the energy Carti’s bringing to the table. Shifting towards the second half, the sonic patterns ease-out, which is evident by frequent collaborators Art Dealer and Pi’erre Bourne jumping on board. As previously stated, the stylistic discrepancies indeed break the flow of things, but for those who expected something more traditional, this is the section to go to. The glossiness of cuts like “Sky” and “Not Playing” feels like a direct continuation of his 2018 sound, which rubs off some of the most vibrant melodies seen throughout the entire year. Although this will send you on a trip down memory lane, things are not all perfect as there are still instrumental flaws at moments like the awkward silence in “Place” and the straightforward lack of originality seen in its closing numbers. As a whole, these minor complaints are too much to destroy the entire soundscape presented, which keeps Playboi Carti’s reputation of having some of the best production in the game alive.
In conclusion, Whole Lotta Red may not be the trap classic everyone expected, but it’s a formidable experimental piece of art. While Playboi Carti’s performance certainly comes with its flaws, the groundwork for a game-breaking style is there, and it was indeed interesting to watch play out. On the other hand, his go-to sound is still present, and if he wants to expand on the second halves framework further, we can still receive another traditional masterpiece. As it stands, Carti’s second studio album definitely subverted our expectations, and for that reason, it’s already one of the most polarizing albums that hip hop has ever seen. In the days, months, and even years to follow, I’m sure this will either be hated or loved by the culture, but once putting aside its reputation and judging the project for what it is, it’s super messy but still an overall positive experience
- Production masterfully equips the experimental first half and traditional closing leg
- The second half is good overall
- Lays a solid framework for a new style/sound
- Kanye and Kid Cudi further prove how great they are
- Punk/trap sound makes for a fun/unlikely experience
- For every improvement Carti makes, he takes two steps back
- A fair amount of filler
- A lot of the vocal renditions utilized come off overbearing and bad
- First half is either hit or miss
- Second half gets a little dragged out/stale