Playboi Carti hits and misses with his sophomore record, Whole Lotta Red

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Photo courtesy of Interscope

“Whole Lotta Red” album cover

On Christmas Day, internationally recognized Atlanta mumble rapper Playboi Carti (Jordan Terrell Carter) officially released his full-length sophomore studio album entitled Whole Lotta Red on Interscope Records to harsh fan reception. 

The project follows the successful debut album from 2018 Die Lit and his 2017 self-titled mixtape that saw him initially break into the mainstream with catchy hits like “Magnolia” and “WokeUpLikeThis.” 

Despite the unpopularity of Whole Lotta Red trending among the majority of online listeners, the album has received a generally positive response critically, receiving four stars from Rolling Stone and an 8.3 out of 10 from Pitchfork. At 24 songs and over an hour of playtime, it is Carti’s longest project to date and there is a lot to digest.

The quality of the songs on the first half of the LP is generally hit or miss and the duration of the tracks are really all over the place. It opens with the three-minute cut, “Rockstar Made,” which features a typical and inviting Playboi Carti beat and hook, but those positives are drowned out by the distraction of Carti’s experimental vocal effects. Ironically enough, Carti repeats “Never too much,” in the intro and chorus. This opener is indicative of the style and pattern throughout the album, considering how Carti is trying to blend new elements of experimentation, most notably with his voice, but it just sticks out too much in comparison to all the great things going on with the background melody. 

The record takes a bit of a turn with a barer instrumental on the short track “Go2DaMoon” featuring Kanye West. Despite the track being under two minutes and even with the impressive feature, this one drags on much longer than it needs to, as this song is filled with dead air from start to finish.

This sets the record up for one of the more interesting stretches of songs, with songs like “Stop Breathing,” “Beno!” and “JumpOutTheHouse.” Carti’s voice effects start to make sense, his aggressive and raspy tone don’t awkwardly stick out and they fit well over the heavy beats and rattling bass. In this stretch, we also are presented with the repetition and vampire aesthetic that makes for a chilling experience that might be quick to deter listeners. 

”M3tamorphosis” featuring Kid Cudi is the longest track on the record at over five minutes, and I really wish it wasn’t. Carti’s weird vocal effects and some decent bars pull you in, but the mixing and production of the song absolutely ruin the track, which could be solved if the song was shorter or if the instrumental was more prevalent.

“Slay3r,” “No Sl33p” and “New Tank” provide a sharp turn as they are more upbeat and pop-influenced tracks that sound like they could fit in on a Lil Uzi Vert project. While these tracks mix in some noise-music elements, they don’t seem appropriate for the darker vibe that is Whole Lotta Red

“Teen X,” featuring Future, is a return to the inconsistency that existed at the beginning of the record. Despite good chemistry between Future and Playboi Carti, the hook utilizes a squeaky falsetto that almost sounds like the niche rapper 645 AR. This is another cut that could have been left off the project and may have made the album better as a whole. 

The next song, “Meh,” is not exactly a thrill ride with the bars being few and far between. Carti turns this one into a decent tune with his aggressive energy, but it quite literally is “meh” with its blandness lyrically. 

The twelfth track, “Vamp Anthem,” perhaps the most talked-about song on the record, captures the album’s energy quite well, but the gothic synth sample is laughably produced and Carti’s mumbling has never been harder to understand.

The second half of the LP was less popular among fans than the first half. Out of 12 songs on the album that made it onto Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, only three of them came from the second half. This came as a surprise because although Carti continues his experimental rap style, the beats behind his rapping seem to have a more mainstream appeal in the album’s latter half. 

The first song on the back half of the record is “New N3on.” This track is a simple beat with repetitive lyrics that are hard to understand without looking up the lyrics but somehow ends up being very catchy. 

The next song “Control” starts off with words from a well-known figure in the hip-hop community, DJ Akademics. The song itself is not anything special, and the chorus is typical Carti as it’s just him repeating the tagline, “Girl, I been losing control (What?)” eight times.

“King Vamp” starts off slow with Carti’s usual vocal effects, and then transitions into a boring chorus. It isn’t about 30 seconds until the first real lyrics start. Carti’s popular songs are known for their stellar choruses, but the chorus of this song just consisted of Carti spelling out words letter by letter. 

The beat on “Place” plays for three seconds, then abruptly cuts out for five seconds leading first-time listeners to question why they can’t hear the music, and this is right where Carti wants them. Then the music continues and Carti raps on beat for the remainder of the song, coming together to make an unoriginal, yet good sound. “Sky” and “Over” follow with gratifying beats and classic Playboi Carti adlibs that make for the best one-two punch on the record.

The final cut in the stretch of premier songs is “ILoveUIHateU.” This track is noticeably more upbeat than the previous, but it works for Carti better than any other upbeat song on the record, despite being barely two minutes long.

The final song, “F33l Lik3 Dyin” is not a typical song for Carti. The song samples Bon Iver’s “iMi,” and it has a more serious vibe than most of Carti’s other songs. Carti does not change his style much, but it was interesting to hear him on an atypical beat. 

One word to describe Whole Lotta Red is experimental. Carti has certainly become a mainstream rapper through his numerous hits, but we would not say that this album has much mainstream appeal. 

Its highs include the stellar production, but the lower points of the album, such as the amount of repetition in the lyrics come together to make a unique and polarizing LP. It is clear to see that Carti wanted to make a record that stood out from the rest, but in no way will this be a genre-defining project that changes the landscape of modern rap. 

Carti performs in a style that many other rappers would not dare to, and because of this, the album is simply not for everyone. People may fall in love with Whole Lotta Red after their first listen, or they may never listen to it again.