Whole Lotta Red – Playboi Carti ★★½

2020Whole Lotta RedPlayboi Carti★★½46Hip-Hop

Playboi Carti is an artist who has always been more about vibe and aesthetic than substance. His beat selection mixed with adlibs, repetitive hooks and lyrics make for a hypnotic, non-stop, “get hype” experience that all runs and flows together. 

Whole Lotta Red, Carti’s late 2020 release, is not nearly as seamless or effective as its predecessors Die Lit or his self-titled mixtape. While the album for sure has some highlights, and you have to applaud him for experimenting and changing things up a little, its lows are far worse than any misses on his first or second albums, and the gothic, vampire aesthetic Carti’s going for shows up in ways that feel forced or manufactured instead of actually creating a darker atmosphere. 

A distraction on Red is actually Carti’s vocal performance itself. In the past his vocals were used more like an instrument than something meant to deliver a message – they were almost always synthesized in some way, or mumbled, and intentionally incomprehensible. On Red, his voice is much clearer and more traditionally produced, which makes it easier to realize that his message has never really had any substance to it at all. 

Part of the album’s uncharacteristic lack of consistency is probably a product of the songs being produced not exclusively by Pi’erre Bourne, whose distinct, bouncy production style fit perfectly in the past with Carti’s energy. Bourne works on a few tracks here – “Place” and “ILoveUIHateU” –  and his influence can definitely be felt on others like “Beno!” and “Teen X.”  Cardi feels much more in his element on these tracks, but his performance overall feels like it lacks direction elsewhere.

I tend to be drawn more to the softer tracks and those that were more traditional Carti than the new aesthetic. “New N3on” has those old-school Carti vocals and “F33l Lik3 Dyin,” features an airy Bon Iver sample and light vocals hovering above some dark, pounding bass. “Control,” “Sky” and “Beno!” are also really solid. 

Some of the songs that follow the new direction are also good. “Go2DaMoon”’ uses some dark synth strings and an off-the-rails Kanye feature that feels a little on edge and paranoid. But, for the most part, the darker songs like “Rockstar Made,” “On The Time,” “Vamp Anthem” and “No SI33p” sound like a guy fucking around with the settings on a Yamaha keyboard and repeating the first thing that pops into his head over and over again. They’re still hype songs with energy, and I’m sure they’d be fun in a concert, but across a 24-track album it’s a bit too much and a little underwhelming at the same time, and can desperately use a few more features to change things up a little.

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