Playboi Carti (Finally) Drops a Whole Lotta Meh

The impact of Playboi Carti’s 2018 trap opus “Die Lit” was more than a string of accolades and critical acclaim. It represented a cultural shift in the “mumble-rap” zeitgeist, a testament to the hidden genius of some of the world’s most simplistic, mindless music, making Jordan Carter an artist beloved by college frat boys and carhartt wearing indie kids alike. Teaming with producer Pi’erre Bourne for the majority of the project, Carter complimented his colorfully lo-fi beat choices with minimal hooks and eclectic vocals, trademarking his “baby-voice” like a DJ tag.

For all the popularity Carter has garnered over the past few years, he is clearly not as interested in making a viral trap banger as he is in pioneering a forward thinking sound, which he’s cited as a reason for constantly delaying this project. “I might make the hardest song ever tomorrow” he explained in a 2019 interview with The Fader. Announcing its name nearly two years before releasing it and constantly keeping fans with their mouths watering for it added an element of mythos to the project. Carti practically drove fans into starvation as countless legitimately fantastic tracks leaked (“Pissy Pamper/Kid Cudi,” “Molly”), causing further delays. Fabs eventually began treating a rare Carti feature as a big event, but after a string of fake rumored release dates and a mid-tier single “@ Meh,” fans became less excited about “Whole Lotta Red”  and more irritated, practically dooming it from the start.

Sure enough, “Whole Lotta Red” was immediately faced with backlash by fans and critics alike, largely for the project’s decidedly unkempt, wild direction. It sounds less like a long-delayed, highly anticipated big budget chart topper and more in line with a mixtape found on the darkest corners of SoundCloud. None of these songs will find themselves in playlists alongside tracks by Travis Scott, Young Thug or Lil Uzi Vert but rather the likes of SpaceGhostPurp, Lil Ugly Mane  and Black Kray. Carti has never sounded so ridiculous, for better or for worse. “Stop Breathing” is just one key example and it’s one of the most blood pumping performances of the whole year for any genre.

But this added darkness seems to have come at the cost of Carti’s understanding of how his music works. For one, the feature packed quality of “Die Lit” that kept several tracks from getting stale midway through, like “Poke It Out” and “Lean 4 Real,” is gone. What few features show up are almost useless, aside from Kanye West taking almost the entirety of “Go2DaMoon.” Future’s verse on “Teen X” sounds like Carti himself and Kid Cudi adds virtually nothing to “M3tamorphosis,” with his signature hums worked into the beat horrendously, but while the five minute runtime does the opposite of justify its length, Carti’s energy is so infectious it almost makes up for it.

Additionally, the carefully crafted distillment of viral energy found on his best tracks often comes across more like someone being weird for the sake of being different, loud for the sake of being “punk” and over-the-top for the sake of memorability. “JumpOutTheHouse” almost sounds like a parody of Carti himself, with the “baby-voice” so freaky it’s more akin to an impression than a new direction. Meanwhile, “No Sl33p” sounds like a parody of this album as a whole, with the hook “when I go to sleep I dream about murder” coming across with the same pretentiousness of a high school atheist who just has to let you know they listen to black metal. There is no justification for the vocals on “Control.”

Carti also made the on-paper wise decision of branching out from working almost exclusively with Pi’erre Bourne, but it’s a decision rendered useless as he instead enlists a string of collaborators that all seem to be mimicking Bourne’s sound. But with 22 different producers listed throughout the project, it’s still just one bass-heavy two bar loop after another for 24 tracks, so what’s really the point?

Lyrically, nothing here is out of the ordinary, there’s just an added presence of Satan. The one gem is the unintentionally funny “Die4Guy,” with the quotable “I’m so fuckin’ high, I might crash, the drugs kickin’ in real fast, if I die, it’s gon’ be real sad.” It really puts the “Punk Monk” bar, “I don’t rap I write poems,’ into perspective.

It’s easy to sympathize with both sides of the “Whole Lotta Red” debate because it’s so inconsistent that both sides seem to be equally right. On one hand, it’s so left of center, even for Carti, that it appeals to a different audience and reward center of the brain than those won over by “Die Lit.,” plus it ruined a lot of fans’ Christmas. On the other hand, it could become a misunderstood masterpiece, but only time will tell. Either way, as of right now, it’s a little bit of fire and a whole lotta meh.