Emerging from Atlanta's underground hip-hop scene in 2016, it's fair to declare Playboi Carti as one of the most divisive trap artists in recent memory. His fans are devoted, his haters committed, but you simply cannot argue with how undeniably distinct Carti’s music is. From odd flows to collaborations with injustry heavyweights, Carti stands out in a heavily saturated trap scene. His 2018 LP Die Lit received near universal praise from fans and critics alike, and for good reason. The beats were hard, with songs decorated by impressive features and melodic craft.
So considering how effective Carti's musical combinations were on Die Lit, it's unsurprising to see just how eagerly anticipated his follow-up would be. After 2018, the bar was set high, but I feel as though it is fair to say that this Christmas present did not reach that bar of expectations. It instantly falls into the trap that so many hip-hop projects succumb to: it's bloated, and with little justification.
Opener ‘Rockstar Made’ sets the tone very well, however, with heavy 808s and buzzy keys setting the foundation for Carti’s energetic performances. ‘Stop Breathing’ and ‘JumpOutTheHouse’ share similar production, with booming basses and exquisite trap snares.
Carti is hardly one for lyrical ingenuity, but his flows on these tracks remain energetic and fun, if a little underwhelming. ‘Go2DaMoon’ (featuring none other than Kanye West), is easily one of the strongest tracks on this project. West’s verse is arguably his best feature in recent times. The constant stops and changes are awkward, but fit in perfectly to Carti’s horror aesthetic. The string samples are menacing and cinematic, and while the beat itself is hardly ground-breaking, it works.
Playboi Carti’s obsession with the occult shines through brilliantly on ‘Vamp Anthem', and with an organ loop straight out of Transylvania, it goes hard. At the record's halfway mark, it's great to be able to say that many of the album's stronger tracks present themselves in its second half. ‘Control’ opens with a spoken passage before wicked sound design absorbs your attention with a stuttering synth riff. It also boasts ad-libs galore, and Carti returns to his roots with repeated lyrical phrases. Personally, I think ‘Control’ has one of Carti’s best performances on
the entire project. The flows are focused, rather than frantic, and his tone of voice really
blends nicely with the instrumental, but these highs are disappointingly infrequent on a project as long as this is.
During the lead up to WLR, Carti announced an intimidating feature list that had EVERYONE turning heads, and it would've been impressive if more of them actually turned up. Carti teased his fanbase with potential features from Travis Scott, Post Malone and Pharrell Williams - but none of this came to fruition. At least we get Kid Cudi’s humming though, and a pretty fire verse on ‘M3tamorphosis’.
Overall, Whole Lotta Red's proudest moments are found in its production, but even then it leaves a bit to be desired. Its highlights are fantastic, but sadly there are only a small handful of them to choose from. The album ended up as one of the most underwhelming releases of 2020, delivering us little more than a collection of passable trap genericisms and half-baked songwriting. It is a prime example of a middle of the road release, and has little to offer in either creativity or replay value.
- 5.8 -
highlights: 'Control', 'Vamp Anthem', 'Go2DaMoon'
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and co-edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
James Mellen is Slow Motion Panic Masters' Head of A&R, and is currently studying songwriting and production and is based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs.
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