I’ve found it quite hard to reinvent myself as a rap fan. In a field where the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and other lyrical gods are providing that true essence, the frequent itch I need to scratch is this new wave of mumble rappers that aren’t going away. I was ignorant at first, quick to dismiss any and everything they had to offer.
The person who turned the tide happened to be a young man from Awful Records named Playboi Carti, and his viral smash ‘Broke Boi’. Suddenly I grasped the appeal; it wasn’t the substance of what he was saying, but the aesthetic to the record that made me vibe. He made it cool for me to favour the bars but also get down to what the new generation were doing. This is not to say that he is super lyrical spiritual spherical miracle, but more on that later.
Since then, my ear for – for want of a better word – commercial sounding rap was opened and my prejudices began to slip away. Carti was only dropping loosies but his debut project will be fire, I thought.
Well, fast forward a couple years and that young man has settled slowly into the game rather than blowing the door down, stalling on a full-length project until this point. His self-titled debut mixtape illuminates his highlights; namely, his ear for beats. Listening to this tape, my same prejudices threatened to resurface, however.
But I’ll get the good bits out of the way first. Beginning the project is the Harry Fraud-produced ‘Location’, which sounds like what happens when you ascend into heaven and Rick James is waiting for you at the pearly gates. Carti fits his lane perfectly here, with his trademark ‘YAH’ and ‘WHAT’ adlibs weaving between braggadocious diatribes.
The good vibes continue on another highlight, ‘Magnolia’, with Pierre Bourne behind the boards, and it becomes clear that Cash Carti is relaying on the producers to craft the mixtape. Which, for the most part, they do. Other exceptional beats appear elsewhere, such as the A$AP Rocky-assisted ‘New Choppa’, ‘Half and Half’ and ‘No. 9’, and they serve the purpose of keeping things exciting as the lyrics meander from one generic trap theme to another. Carti is vivid despite using little words (literally half of the album is adlibs), and his energy and confidence is reciprocated by the production.
The excitement gets old very quickly, though, and it gets to a point where I can’t rely on the beats anymore. But it began to make sense. Its more than fine to hear one or two tracks at any one time, but a whole 15-track project? The appeal will have lost its lustre after track six at least! Luckily, Playboi Carti managed to keep my attention until track 9, but the lack of sophistication in his songwriting became more grating. It gets to a point where hooks are not clearly discernible from verses, namely on ‘Wokeuplikethis’ with player partner Lil Uzi Vert, the kind of thoughtless methods apparent in no classic album/mixtape ever.
There’s only so much of the same thing I want to hear on a project, no matter how good it sounds. He is describing a lifestyle of carefree innocence, free of consequence, and that is all well and good, but with Lil Yachty, Uzi (who made two appearances on the mixtape) and others above him in the pecking order, Carti has to figure out a way to jettison himself to the top of the pile. Those artists arguably do it better, but there is space for Carti to shine. He has the aesthetic and sound already, so half of the work is already done.
This is a solid if not contrived first outing for an artist about whom we still don’t really know much (other than his extracurricular activities with the opposite sex), and there is potential if the vocals can match the beats, but the Atlanta rapper represents the best and worst of new age rap. With better lyrical output, he could become one of its focal points.