First Listen #48: Playboi Carti’s ‘Whole Lotta Red’

Annndddd we’re back. Well, I’m back. And ready to talk music. I was supposed to use the time I was away to plan out what things were gonna look like on here this year, but I….didn’t do that LOL. Instead, every morning, I thought about how I needed to sit down and plan, and then proceeded to do everything I could to sabotage myself. Like always lol. But now that I’ve successfully read myself for filth, let’s take a trip back into the terrible year that was 2020 and talk Playboi Carti.

Now, my experience listening to Carti is very minimal. I caught on to his 2017 breakout hit “Magnolia” very late, and other than a few potential listens to snippets of his songs on Tik Tok videos, the only other Carti verse I’ve heard is his verse on Tyler the Creator’s “EARFQUAKE” from IGOR (2019), where he was truly a perfect addition to a perfect song. However, people have spoken highly enough about him that I quickly added Whole Lotta Red (2020) to my listening list at the end of the year.

Photo Credit:

2020:Whole Lotta Red

(via Genius)

I………y’all……..I did not like this project LOL. It just felt……….underdeveloped and dull. There were a lot of times where Carti’s verses sounded super LAZY, and he seemed to rely very heavily on the production to do the bulk of the work. Which it did. There were whole verses/choruses – like on “JumpOutTheHouse” and “M3tamorphosis” where he says maybe like 12 distinct lines. If THAT. And the creativity level of the bars he was giving us ranged from “Send my niggas to your momma house, it get tragic” to “I got me some thots / They thought was gay (slatt).” That’s it. I would be setting myself up for failure A LOT if I expected to be blown away lyrically on every song on every album I’ve heard, but I at least expected the quality I heard on “Magnolia” and “EARFQUAKE” – at least on those two songs, I was remotely interested in what he was talking about. Ugh, even the choruses on this album – literally the HARDEST THING TO GET WRONG ON A PROJECT – were BAD. And the adlibs really started hammering away at parts of my brain that should never be treated so roughly. The parts of the album where he talks about his son are also a little difficult to listen to because he, allegedly, decided to go play Playstation 5 with Lil Uzi Vert instead of being there for the birth of his son ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The only vaguely interesting parts – outside of the production – on this project came from the guest spots. I didn’t hate Kanye’s verse on “Go2DaMoon” – though he really could have kept that “Ye Jesus gang” line, Cudi’s verse on “M3tamorphosis” was decent – but his hums didn’t hit like they typically do and that was horrendously disappointing – and Future was fine on “Teen X.” Future’s always just…fine. Except on FKA Twigs’s “Holy Terrain.” He gave us a lot on there. Otherwise, as I continued through the project, I found myself struggling to not skip on to the next track. I couldn’t understand how the production/producers on this album were giving so MUCH, but Carti was doing so little (but in a way that makes it clear that he’s completely unaware that he was giving us NOTHING).

I fuck that bitch in the back seat

I fuck that bitch in a wagon

I fuck that bitch in the back seat

Now, that bitch braggin’

Playboi Carti, “Rockstar Made”
(I… see what I mean???)

And I think that’s something that I’ve been struggling with when listening to mainstream rap artists, when thinking about them in contrast to underground artists. Now, let me start off by saying that mainstream music isn’t inherently bad, and underground music isn’t inherently good. BUT. Mainstream artists get let off the hook a lot, especially the ones that follow a certain formula (either one that they’d developed themselves, or one that they are following from another artist). This is where I’ll give Carti some credit. While I don’t listen to his music often, it’s clear from the way I see people talk about him online and the way this album moved musically, he has a pulse on that formula and people have adapted their own ways of moving from him. Whole Lotta Red, and artists like Carti, Lil Uzi Vert, etc., embody where mainstream rap sits right now and where it’s going within the next couple years. However, there’s a level of fluidity that I look for in artists, and the ones that I like the most know how to move themselves across musical space effortlessly. And that takes work.

I’ll always use Michael Jackson as a perfect example of this. Between 1979 and 2001, Michael released six (main) albums that ran the gamut of the popular Black musical styles of the decades. In the 70s, disco and funk was taking over, and he gave us Off the Wall (1972); in the 80s, pop was the thing, so he gave us Thriller (1982) and Bad (1987); in the 90s, hip hop was becoming more mainstream, so he took elements of that and gave us Dangerous (1991) – my fave from him – and HIStory (1995); and in the early 00s, there was a very specific genre of slow R&B that was grabbing everyone’s attention, so he worked with people like Teddy Riley, Babyface, and (yuck, but relevant) R. Kelly to give us Invincible (2001). That’s how he remained so popular and influential for so long (and continues to) because he knew what tools to use to place himself within each cultural moment without being left behind.

On a more hip hop-specific level, people like Denzel Curry and J.I.D. do similar work. Now, they definitely aren’t underground, but they’re out of the mainstream enough that I can use them as relevant examples. Plus, this is really a Denzel Curry stan blog in disguise lol. Both of them can give us a solid lyrically-simulating song (like they do together on “SIRENS” from Denzel’s TABOO (2018)), while also being on an absolutely ignorant track in the next breath. Sometimes on the same album. And that takes a lot of skill, and you can tell that they have love for the creative process and music making as a whole (edit: IDK is another person I’d add that does a really good job of this). The mainstream sweethearts can’t do that. And they weren’t brought into the mainstream to do that. They’re where they are because they can produce a consistent product, take command of a certain formula, and embody a certain aesthetic. When they want to switch up their sound, they work with a different producer, but give us the exact same thing they gave us on a different track. And that’s fine, but that’s not the key to longevity. It’s the same as fast fashion. You could get a shirt from SHEIN or Fashion Nova that’s hot and fashionable right now, but once the trend is over, you’re left with a shirt that you wouldn’t be caught dead in again that was probably created by someone being exploited for cheap labor in another country ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The metaphor kinda breaks down, but you get the point!

While I was looking at the lyrics on Genius because I really couldn’t understand what Carti was saying with that baby voice, the Carti stans were talking about how Whole Lotta Red was a classic album. And I’m wondering what an classic album is in this era of fast fashion music. I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with the piecemeal-ness of contemporary rap albums. Artists drop projects (or their deluxe editions) with 25 songs on them (I blame Migos’s Culture II (2018) for bringing us into this 25-track album era) and seemingly don’t expect anyone to sit there and listen to alladat more than one or two times. The decent songs are scattered across the project, and the rest is filler to justify merch sales. Is that what a classic project is now? An effortless, formulaic, hyper-produced piece of musical space that’s served to a generation obsessed with speed? I don’t know.

But I do know I’m never listening to Whole Lotta Red ever again 🙂

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image via Dazed

(listen to Whole Lotta Red on Spotify by clicking the image below)

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