The designer-draped Atlanta wunderkind has long been slotted as one of the Four Horsemen of the Rap-pocalypse, causing traditional heads to shudder and wonder "What would Biggie say?" alongside fellow “unlyrical” new school torchbearers Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage. Unlike his musical peers, though, Carti has, up until this point, appeared completely unconcerned with, you know, actually releasing music.
Moving seamlessly from an alignment with Awful Records to A$AP Mob, Carti has spent the last two years since his breakout SoundCloud hit “Broke Boi” (and to a lesser but meaningful extent “Fetti”) as an enigma. Championed by the youth as the next big thing in rap, Carti has actively avoided putting out new raps, dropping only a few tracks of his own and popping up on only a handful of guest spots. His two high-profile “features” on A$AP Mob’s Cozy Tapes Vol. 1 combined didn’t even amount to your standard 16-bar verse; more ad libs than focused bars. And for someone who seemed more content making fashion week appearances and mingling with models and tastemakers than pursuing a music career, Carti barely posted to social media, a far cry from the attention-seeking crowd he hung around.
A musician who didn’t release music? A rapper who didn’t rap? A millennial trendsetter who went months without posting to Instagram? Who is Playboi Carti, and why did so many people care to find out?
The answer—beyond “Broke Boi” sounding like a fire somehow raging inside an ice block—is that Carti’s could-care-less attitude and refusal to bow to consumer demand took on almost mythical proportions to a generation of young hypebeasts used to getting any and every desire quenched immediately and without question. The longer the wait for a Carti tape lasted, the more his fans wanted it.
Today, it finally dropped.
After years of waiting, Playboi Carti finally, actually came through for his throes of Supreme-clad fans with his first full-length release, appropriately titled Playboi Carti.
The project (album? mixtape?) features mentor and Mob boss A$AP Rocky, diminutive partner-in-refusing-to-rhyme Lil Uzi Vert and Santa Monica singer/songwriter/producer Leven Kali, along with production from Harry Fraud, Hit-Boy, Pierre Bourne and 808 Mafia’s Southside and Chris Fresh, among others. Clocking in at 15 tracks, Carti just effectively doubled his output to date.
Three Standout Songs:
“Location” (prod. Harry Fraud)
While most of the project is light and bouncy, its opener is sluggish and sedated, like wading through a jacuzzi filled with cough syrup. Harry Fraud's ethereal, cloud-like atmosphere matches Carti’s slurred and leisurely flow, and even though his raps are little more than vapid observations about having tats on his neck and his arm, somehow it just feels right.
“wokeuplikethis*” ft. Lil Uzi Vert (prod. Pierre Bourne)
One of two Uzi-featured singles—along with “Lookin”—to be released prior to the project (and the one that didn’t initially receive cover art or an iTunes release despite being the better effort, oddly enough), “wokeuplikethis*”—written in all lowercase with no spaces and an asterisk at the end because A E S T H E T I C—is also the best song on the project. Uzi provides just enough emotional wailing to balance Carti’s rougher, unaffected jabs, and the hook is addictive enough to catch yourself repeating hours later.
“New Choppa” ft. A$AP Rocky (prod. Ricci Riera)
By far the most sonically aggressive and intimidating track, “New Choppa” is warped and destabilizing. When Rocky’s verse kicks off (“I roll up an L in the lobby, my partner’s got wops and it’s probably a Glock or a Tommy”) it’s both the project’s first and last instance of being drawn in by actual rapping. It’s also the point in which you start to feel like you’d rather be listening to a whole project of Carti with Rocky instead of solo endeavor, as they complement each other well. And by complement each other well, I mean Rocky is a good rapper and Carti is not.
If you were to tell me Carti crafted this whole project in one sitting, I would say, "yeah, that sounds about right." For a project that was years in the making, to the point where the cover was teased as a collage of fans begging Carti to release it, Carti's debut sounds exactly how you'd expect it to sound had someone told him to make it in a week at any given time last year. Carti is so unremarkable, from his raps to his hooks, which are indistinguishable most of the time, that the project is remarkable for the simple fact it took so long to finish.
If there's a rap project less about actual rapping that exists, I'd like to hear it. If there was a single line Carti said that stood out to me while listening, I've already forgotten it. It's fitting that Carti chose to go head-to-head with Kendrick on release day, as this project is the furthest thing from a Kendrick album that still exists under the hip-hop umbrella.
And yet, I enjoyed it. I'll listen to it again. The production is simple but eccentric and addictive. It's easy, accessible and makes you feel good—basically the rap equivalent of the McDonald's Dollar Menu or Bravo as a TV channel. It's light and breezy, like the sun on a summer day, and just like the sun on a summer day, it slots easily in the background as you focus on other things. I feel foolish for even thinking about it hard enough to write over 1,000 words.
As for Carti's career, now that the mystique of not having a project is fading like a finger tat, along with it goes most of the excitement surrounding his artistry. Then again, he probably doesn't give a shit. Music seems to almost be a side project for Carti, something to fuel his passion for fashion. In a recent piece for W Magazine, Carti enthusiastically recounts the time he met designer Raf Simmons, exclaiming, “I met Raf! Not even like some streetwear designer, but Raf!” Has he ever spoken about his music with the same excitement?
Listening to his self-titled debut, it's hard to imagine.