Where were you when Playboi Carti surprise-dropped the trap gospel that is Die Lit?
A year after the release of his long-awaited eponymous debut mixtape, Atlanta rapper Playboi Carti has returned to surprise the rap game with his follow-up debut album Die Lit. Its lengthy list of big-name features seems too good to be true at first glance, but the 19 tracks deliver on its promising track list, providing fans and doubters with multiple hits that make a strong case for the new wave of rappers led by Carti.
Rap music has been changing since 2015, with a general trend away from lyrical and musical extravagance and toward melody, vibe and minimalism. In the time since this transition, Carti has remained one of the most elusive members of this “new wave” of rappers; he infamously took several years to drop his debut tape Playboi Carti, the lead single of which, “Magnolia,” became a smash hit outside of the SoundCloud rap bubble, charting at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Almost a year after the mixtape’s release, several of Carti’s songs leaked onto SoundCloud, leading fans to believe that new music was forthcoming. While a majority of the leaks remain unreleased, some of these tracks, including “Love Hurts” and “Choppa Won’t Miss,” made the final cut to the album. Then, on May 10, Carti suddenly announced Die Lit to drop on Interscope that same night.
What made Playboi Carti so hypnotically catchy is underscored in Die Lit: The repetitive drum patterns of executive and primary producer Pi’erre Bourne pair well with Carti’s redundant earworm ad-libs and refrains. Delivered over an ethereal beat, the “I’m on ‘em beans for the real / I’m on the lean for real” chorus of “Lean 4 Real” sounds like a fever dream in the best way possible.
Nicki Minaj-assisted “Poke It Out” also exemplifies the effectiveness of this deceptively simple formula. Despite the fact that Nicki Minaj says “Playboi” 21 times before her verse starts, she outshines Carti on his own track in a highlight feature. Guest feature Lil Uzi Vert owns the Maaly Raw-produced “Shoota,” which almost urges the listener to recreate Lil Uzi Vert’s trademark shoulder roll with its rattling drums and beautiful keys.
Critics of Carti and the “mumble-rap” umbrella that he finds himself in often cite a lack of substantive lyrical content as a common detriment to the music’s quality and enjoyability. On this project, Carti’s mix of ad-libs and substanceless bars proves that hip-hop is and always has been a genre based on defying convention and finding mass appeal in this deviation.
The features on this project for the most part pan over well. Young Thug’s electrifying verse on “Choppa Won’t Miss” hark back to his Barter 6 days as he effortlessly floats over an instrumental that sounds like an alarm clock you don’t want to turn off.
In “Mileage,” “FlatBed Freestyle” and “R.I.P. Fredo,” Carti attempts to switch up his delivery by pitching his voice up, resulting in his voice sounding like baby talk. This is a major detriment to the album — it just doesn’t execute on Carti’s effort to break up the monotony, which was a primary criticism of the self-titled mixtape. He sounds much more at home on songs such as “Old Money” and “Foreign,” which feel like trademark Carti songs but suffer from the combination of indistinguishable beats and worn-out flows.
Evidently, where Die Lit stands out is in its bouncy, neck-breaking, car speaker-booming production. This is not necessarily a detriment or an affront to Carti, however — much of today’s new wave rap music is carried by the beats that skyrocket the songs into success. Bourne handles most of the album’s production for good reason: His pairing with Carti is a perfect fit throughout the project.
What distinguishes Carti from his peers is his ability to effortlessly switch up his flow, voice and ad-libs for each new song. Despite Carti’s blatantly repetitive style coming off as thoughtless, when it comes together with each song’s animated drums and synths, an enjoyable, contagious, attention-demanding project full of hits emerges.