He has been heralded as the future of rap, and also likened to the downfall of modern music. Playboi Carti is perhaps the most polarizing figure to come out of the SoundCloud universe. Over his 2017 self-titled mixtape and 2018’s “Die Lit,” Carti perfected his unique brand of hypnotic mumble rap. “Whole Lotta Red” was first announced just months after the release of “Die Lit.” In the two years since the album’s announcement, an enormous number of Playboi Carti songs have been leaked. These songs are in a constant state of being deleted and re-uploaded to YouTube and SoundCloud, but consistently get hundreds of thousands of plays. These leaks have only heightened the hype surrounding the artist and his next album. Then “Whole Lotta Red” dropped on Christmas day, annihilating any expectations and leaving only confusion in its wake.
“Whole Lotta Red” is rougher and more punk-indebted than many anticipated. Production is heavy and abrasive. Carti’s lyrics are aggressive at times and the delivery is often annoying. The sequencing between and within songs is frequently atypical. Together, these things made my first listen downright dreadful. That’s not to say that the music is bad. “Whole Lotta Red” is an album that almost requires multiple listenings to reveal itself. “Whole Lotta Red” marks a new era of punk influence in rap. Punk in its aesthetics, lyrical content, but most importantly in its sound. Songs do not follow typical structures, and once that is acknowledged, many of the songs reveal themselves as technically rich.
The essence of Carti’s music remains, just delivered through a new lens. Repetitive vocals, playful vocal delivery, and perhaps most importantly, the delivery of energy. Playboi Carti is not famous for his lyrics, he is known simply for being able to deliver a pure feeling that is compromised by the complexity of words. Carti’s voice is simply another instrument to be used, and he really pushes this idea to extremes. His now iconic “baby voice” is largely absent from the album, and instead, Playboi Carti plays with a variety of vocal inflections. He strains his voice, sometimes with notable autotune, to rise and fall in entirely unexpected ways. It makes for one of the most interesting, or annoying, albums in recent memory.
Carti has always been able to build worlds around his music based totally on the feeling of the sound and the energy he puts into it. While past releases have brought listeners into gravity-defying and trance-like sugar highs, “Whole Lotta Red” succeeds in pulling the listener down into the vampire cosplay trap-punk mosh pit. Carti has proven that he is not a one-note artist, and is capable of challenging contemporary rap in different ways.
Sometimes the sonic experimentation doesn’t quite work. The structuring in “Go2DaMoon” is utterly perplexing. On “Vamp Anthem” Carti raps over a Bach composition from 1704, and it comes off as cheesy. That being said, the experimentation usually pays off. “Slay3r” finds a perfect marriage between the dizzying loops of “Die Lit” and the grittier punk aesthetic. “On That Time” features immaculate and hard-hitting production that pairs perfectly with Carti’s spastic energy. With any big release that is this strange and experimental it is ultimately up to time to see if stylistic choices paid off, but given Playboi Carti’s track record of pushing his sound (and rap as a whole) into new and exciting directions, I think time will reward this record.