Playboi Carti’s daring, messy ‘Whole Lotta Red’ finally comes to life

Photo of Whole Lotta Red Cover Art
Interscope Records/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Leave it to Playboi Carti to show up to Christmas with the most divisive album of 2020. 

In the time since 2018’s Die Lit, the rapper’s latest project Whole Lotta Red has been highly anticipated, to say the least. Expecting Carti to drop on time became a meme on Twitter; some fans grew so restless over its delayed release that they even threatened to release the album for him. In terms of hype, it’s safe to say that the album is this year’s Astroworld.

Hip-hop releases of this magnitude are always met with a mountain of impossibly high expectations, often crumbling under the pressure to become the hottest album of the year. And similarly to Travis Scott just two years ago, Carti faces a myriad of fans expecting him to deliver the next bold iteration of his signature eccentric, idiosyncratic sound. With Whole Lotta Red, fans have gotten what they wished for, but it’s not what they might expect. Though initial backlash may suggest otherwise, make no mistake, Carti has stayed true to his promise. The rock star of rap has evolved once again, providing some of the zaniest, unconventional mumble rap in the game, this time with a darker, Slash-inspired edge. 

Whole Lotta Red is hardly interested in recreating the instantaneous, sugar-rush chemistry previously developed between the rapper and producer Pi’erre Bourne, who shows up only twice on the 24-song track list. Instead, Carti’s latest produces its own unique wave of high-energy trap euphoria, possessing varying levels of grit, grime and bounce made from new production by Art Dealer, Wheezy, F1lthy and more.  

Those who hoped Carti would stick with the sweet spot he cultivated on Die Lit may be disappointed. Carti couldn’t care less. The Kid Cudi-assisted banger “M3tamorphosis” openly embraces the rapper’s evolution. Together, Carti and Cudi sound as if they’re levitating, ushering in a new age in the rapper’s career over a hard-hitting beat with synths that light up like red lights on a runway. “I’m in the twilight zone/ Nowhere near these n—-s / They can’t understand me/ I’m talking hieroglyphics,” Carti gleefully raps, his autotune-inflected delivery making him sound like an extraterrestrial Young Thug. In the chorus, Cudi’s elated humming makes the track feel too big for this world as Carti drops the motto: “When you feel like this/ Can’t nobody tell you shit.”

And what an evolution it is. The album’s euphoria is long-lasting but varied, like an all-nighter spent with a Game Boy under the sheets, swapping cartridges from Mario to Castlevania. Songs such as “Rockstar Made” and “Vamp Anthem” introduce the Playboi Carti horror show with their slick trap-percussion full of eerie menace, the former sounding as though actual blood and guts lie beneath its shiny exterior. Kanye West’s memorable verse on “Go2DaMoon” sets the stage like a rocket launch for Carti, who then unleashes a homicidal verse into the atmosphere on “Stop Breathing.” And on the twinkly, helium-inflated “Teen X,” Future and Carti are in full-on, intoxicating delirium.   

At an hour and three minutes, Whole Lotta Red is as messy as it is sprawling. It is overlong, with glimpses of the old Carti stuffed in alongside the new in its quest to capture new trap bliss. Rather than drop a refined, thoroughly curated project, Carti opts to splatter everything against the wall and revel in the aftermath. What’s here is new — jarring even, in its sense of giddy excitement mixed with grit. But these tracks will stand the test of time through their boldness and sheer charisma; nobody will be shaming you for queuing up tracks such as “Beno!” or “JumpOutTheHouse” on the aux one year from now when the new trap sound is blasting from car speakers and stereos everywhere.

Whole Lotta Red is Playboi Carti at his boldest, full of forward-thinking style and unconcerned with repercussions. As DJ Akademiks put it on the introduction to “Control,” “That’s the reason why he said he got a gift for y’all/ N—-a, he’s Santa.” Early reactions suggest the album is coal for Christmas stockings, but multiple relistens reveal its true nature as a daring trap delight. Those who didn’t like their present from Carti this year would do well to remember that everybody initially hated Die Lit too.

Contact Vincent Tran at [email protected].