When it first dropped, I tweeted that Playboi Carti’s newest album Whole Lotta Red is the rapper’s ARTPOP—and a month later, I stand by that claim. Immediately upon its release, there were thousands of rapheads and Carti fans saying Whole Lotta Red was the “worst album” he’d put out, and some even said it was the worst album of the year. While it’s quite different from a lot of the rap dominating the Billboard 100, Carti does something a lot of mainstream acts are afraid to do: experiment. The album, like Lady Gaga’s ARTPOP, is a fantastic work of exploration and departure from the rap that mostly dominated 2020.
Every track on Whole Lotta Red is feverish. Heavy beats blaze through each other, cutting from song to song with a sense of urgency. This isn’t a bad thing: as most of the songs don’t last longer than three minutes, listeners will want to replay certain ones right after they finish. It’s like Carti knows how infectious his voice is and wants this album to consume you. It’s obvious that he’s aware of the dichotomy of what rap currently is and what it can be, and he uses that to his advantage. While Carti isn’t saying anything new on the album, it feels new because of the different sounds he’s utilizing. Like the vampires he raps about and ghouls who feel trapped in the beats, the majority of Whole Lotta Red feels otherworldly, like something Carti and his collaborators are bracing the world for.
While there are “basic” trap beats here and there, underneath them lies a heady and messy bunch of noises that feel reminiscent of recent hyperpop endeavors. Every bit of the album is elevated by the production and Carti’s bubbly drawl. The intro of “Stop Breathing,” for example, ignites with what sounds like a glitch in the matrix. And more often than not, basic beats are completely out of the equation, like in “Beno!” What it lacks in lyrical genius, Whole Lotta Red makes up for it in its ability to totally immerse listeners. The album truly feels like a Playboi Carti from the future sent it back to us, letting us know that this is what rap music can sound like. It can be fun, it can be experimental, and it can merge with other genres.
One of the standout tracks is also one of the shortest, “JumpOutTheHouse.” There isn’t much to it, as Carti chants “jump out the house” over and over again, but the track is intoxicating. It feels like the perfect cut to blast at a house party, smoke billowing around the room as drunk partygoers attempt to dance to the song’s electronic-infused beat. Another standout is “Vamp Anthem,” a track that begins with a sample of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.” It’s a downright hilarious choice, but Carti makes it work. The classical track blends with typical bass and drums expertly, Bach’s organ carrying Carti’s voice into what feels like infinity. A track like this is impossible to get out of your head, and it’s hard not to picture a group of cloak-wearing vampires dancing to this in a graveyard.
It’s choices like these that prove Carti’s newest album is the refreshment the rap game needs. While the mania found in the first half of the album does slowly dwindle as the second half begins, the tracks all display a growth in Carti’s artistry. He’s consistently been one of the most intriguing figures in music, from his playful baby voice to his willingness to actually improve his craft. In his short career he’s never really strayed from what makes him Playboi Carti, but in only three albums he’s delivered three different eras. With Whole Lotta Red, Carti has propelled himself way ahead of his peers. It’s almost as if with the release of this album, he’s telling everyone around him to keep up.
By Kaiya Shunyata
Illustration by Julian Alexander