PLAYBOI CARTI: ALBUM REVIEW
Ask ten people their thoughts on Playboi Carti and you’ll get ten different answers. Playboi Carti went from being the most hated rapper in the country to one of the most critically acclaimed and has now settled on being one of the most divisive figures in all of the music industry. Many people see Carti as representing a sea change in rap, while others just don't see enough talent to back up the hype.
Mumble rap was critically abhorred until around the time of Playboi Carti's self-titled album, so at surface level, Playboi Carti brought mumble rap critical legitimacy. However, I think it goes much deeper than that. Carti, on this album specifically, sanitized the already thriving genre of mumble rap enough that white critics were comfortable liking it. He made mumble rap so “different” that its critics felt they could acknowledge its excellence. Obviously, this isn’t true for all critics, but certainly a majority. So, while Carti’s self-titled was certainly a masterpiece, and this project is one of the greatest albums of the last decade, it’s important to acknowledge that “Playboi Carti” is not anything revelatory.
For context, Playboi Carti spent a couple of years in the underground, making spaced-out cloud rap for Father’s imprint, Awful Records, before making it big. During this time, he relied on an edgy image and a gruff tone to push his music forward. There was nothing particularly unique about his sound, but there was clearly extreme talent there. This talent was amplified every time he linked up with the up-and-coming producer Pierre Bourne. Pierre’s bubbly, repetitive beats allowed Carti to show his versatility and creativity. In 2017, the pair linked up to record “Magnolia,” the lead single for Carti’s album.
“Magnolia” took over the country. It’s a hard song not to love. The pulsating, vibey beat paired with Carti’s wild ad-libs make it such a fun listen, and when paired with the music video, it becomes even more clear why it connected with so many people. There’s something magical about Carti chanting “woo” for about ten straight seconds while the beat morphs around him. This song immediately highlighted what made Carti special; his ability to let the beat breathe and to use his voice as an instrument is unmatched. Even when he’s just adlibbing, occasionally leaving multiple seconds of silence, his presence can still be felt. Miles Davis always credited Ahmad Jamal as one of his favorite pianists because of his ability to create music even with his silence; I would like to think Miles would have appreciated Carti too.
Other than the use of silence, there’s nothing really experimental about this project. In fact, it’s probably one of the cleanest and sanitized trap releases in recent memory. The instrumentals are simple, the flows are crisp, and Carti isn’t saying anything controversial. Additionally, every single song on the album is extremely catchy. I think this is what allowed it to have such widespread appeal. As a critic, if you adore radio pop music but don’t like this album, it speaks volumes about how you view rap. If Carly Rae Jepsen is lauded for making perfect pop songs, Carti should also be lauded for making perfect pop-leaning trap songs.
The lyrics on this album barely matter. On his subsequent and previous releases, Carti had a lot to say, but his self-titled is just Carti having fun. The only thing that matters is what the music sounds like. But, these simple lyrics are repeated so often that they essentially become mantras. On the incredible “Location” Carti says, “she gave me top in the drop” so often that it becomes like gospel. This project is all about the energy that Carti chooses to put into the world and that energy is attention-grabbing and invigorating.
Carti radiates energy no matter what. Some of the criticism lobbed against him is legitimate, some is just thinly-veiled homophobia, but very little focuses on the actual music. Carti is not some musical genius or a revelatory figure, he just makes great hip-hop. I have a hard time understanding why there’s anything divisive about this album or Carti in general, the music should speak for itself. His self-titled is beautifully crafted trap and that’s all we should ask for.