Whole Lotta Red has everything to sound like a potential significant act that could turn Hip Hop upside down, maybe even more than Playboi Carti has achieved so far. A creative and fun experience that hasn't finished pushing the limits of the possible. It's simply a joy for the listener looking for new thrills. Just like Whole Lotta Red, it is not a late review, it is a timely review.
It arrived like a gift under the Christmas tree, one thing about Whole Lotta Red has been much talked about, and it's not about to be finished. When you think about it, there are very few Hip Hop artists today who are able to have such a craze around an album release, but when they do, it's a bit of a suicide mission for them. Waiting is something so toxic, like a parasite grafting itself to its prey, that one digs into the smallest details of a new release while being unconsciously much more severe or on the contrary too laudatory as if the messiah had landed on earth. We like that, that's what makes us vibrate and that makes us rush deep inside ourselves. Carti understood this and played it, fuelling the enormous expectation around an album that he had sold as an instant classic. Nevertheless, whatever the increasingly delirious marketing drifts of rappers, as long as the artist's artistic and creative state of mind is at the heart of the project, it's not a problem. In my head I think of the unthinkable and grotesque promotion around The Life Of Pablo where Kanye West had taken the music industry by storm. It's a bit the same today with Playboi Carti, one of the most creative rappers of the last 10 years. It's important to understand one essential thing about Carti, it's this ultimate willingness to always look for the right sound. A quality that I admire and for which I advise a lot of rappers to follow this advice. Whatever the album or the distinctive period that Playboi has known, it has always, and I mean always, changed its formula by approaching a different musical direction, which means that no two projects are the same. Certainly, there are always some similarities that make the nature and characteristics of Carti, but it's so pronounced that when you listen to YUNGXANHOE released in 2014 and Rockstar Made present in the new album, it's day and night. In the space of 6 years, Playboi Carti has been able to renew its formula at least 3 times, where many rappers would have capitalized their money as if music was a profession like any other. It's a twist, because music is a passion, an art that makes us all vibrate.
It's no secret that Carti exploded with a Magnolia in 2017, a kind of hypnotic and psychedelic trap with very accessible access to a totally masterful minimalist rehearsal and instrumentation from another planet. Not only is it a symbol of success, but Magnolia remains to this day the backbone of Carti's musical essence. That is to say, to caricature a mixture of trap and cloud rap, supported by experimental structures. And yet before the producers of the new generation came to vampirize the sounds of Pierre Bourne, Carti has always globally kept a certain consequent lead over its competitors. It is impossible to talk about Carti without mentioning Magnolia, yet this now cult single of the Hip Hop repertoire marks the first transformation of Carti who since its debut in 2013/2014 had landed on the internet with a cloud rap/vaportrap sound, thus making the second pioneering wave of something that continues to be one of the main elements of Hip Hop production today. It was built little by little around the precursors and creators, we necessarily think of Viper, Soulja Boy, Lil B, Chief Keef for the Cloud side, Gucci Mane, Young Thug and Future for the Trap and finally the massive influence of Philadelphia with the collective Working on Dying, Black Kray creator of the Tread and Lil Uzi Vert (even if for Uzi the influence is mutual). Subsequently, Carti became an idol of the new generation, fulfilling the expectations around him with Die Lit in 2018, a must-have album that created a powerful cult around the rapper. So here we are, more than 2 years later, Whole Lotta Red.
The first observation when we live for the very first time Whole Lotta Red experience, it is this direct historical comparison which is created if we know the references, symbolizing the arrival of Punk Rock in 1976. Not to mention the cover, which is a nod to the magazine cover of The Damned's leader, one of the first Punk Rock bands, Whole Lotta Red already resides like a punch on the table, as if the hour of revolution had sounded. To recontextualize itself, Punk Rock arrived as a powerful generational fracture, which had already emerged a few years before the symbolic date of 1976, because the young people had reached saturation with the political system and an aging music, which sweated the flowers, the love of hippies and hallucinogenic drugs. In concrete terms, the listeners had come to the end of Prog Rock, Glam Rock and all that folk/blues, which for years occupied the music industry. They just wanted to express their anger and opinions through 3 chords and shredded outfits. The mid-70's is the symbol of the revival, the rise of electronic music, the arrival of punk and new wave. So yes, the context of today and hip hop is different but in the end we find a lot of similarities. First of all, this movement of destructuring of hip hop is not totally new since the SoundCloud era, which seems to be over for this case, had offered new waves of rappers, we think necessarily of Mumble Rap, Emo Rap, Trap Metal, Lofi, the second wave of Cloud Rap which occupied the rap sphere to compete with a trap and a more commercial pop rap. Just as it's no surprise that Playboi Carti is one of the pioneers of Soundcloud, it wouldn't be a surprise either that Whole Lotta Red is somehow the symbol of a new "punk" wave in the Hip Hop spirit. I have a lot of hope in that. We're all just coming into a Hip Hop era where artists are all globally facing a huge wall, where we're desperately trying (or not) to find a solution to get to the other side, but without success. The main culprit is simply creativity. Offering projects that look like single compilations and trying to make virality an essential motor of music, will gradually lead Hip Hop to die in its current stupidity.
Playboi Carti is the very example of the Hip Hop artist who doesn't care about conventions and preconceived rules. Whole Lotta Red is full of risk taking and limitless ambition. Over 1 hour, Carti delivers 24 unstructured tracks that obey no laws, only the overflowing creativity of his performers. If you like to dig deeper, Whole Lotta Red is full of hidden details and richness, whether in structures, textures, writing or vocals. It's a veritable gold mine that almost makes you think that Playboi Carti may have delivered its best album to date, but it's still too early to tell. Honestly, this album has given me back my faith in hip hop today, and is one of the few exceptions of its last 2 years, and I don't say that lightly. Apart from the very masterful Gangsta Rap albums of Savage Mode 2 and Alfredo, the conceptual projects Little Dominiques and Nosebleed or Manger on McNichols, and finally the dazzling Eternal Atake, not a 2020 Hip Hop album was as creative, fun and successful as Whole Lotta Red. Escaped as the Machiavellian Dracula of modern times, Carti exudes raw energy, brutality, sex and the exuberance of madness as an obvious fit for his solitary, delirious character. It's so successful that it's transmitted in his music. The album Whole Lotta Red sounds like a war cry, like a bulldozer ravaging everyone in its path and sometimes like an uncontrollable bouncing ball thrown at full speed into a closed room.
The first 5 songs alone sum up what you'll find on the album as a whole. The Rockstar Made introduction clarifies the themes addressed throughout the album, as much in the subjects as musically. We find very clearly the repetitive formulas of Carti, supported by a thread as intense as acid and new flows completely lunar. You have to imagine him, like a madman allied in his bubble, wiggling in all directions, relying on endless schizophrenic monologues. Carti excels in this madness. In the end, nothing happens as planned and that's good, as we said, the album begins brutally like an infantry parachute drop in the middle of a war, and each time there are surprises in store for us. Hop, a mine, shit. It's no coincidence either that Kanye West is one of the key external elements of this project, the emblematic figure of extravagance and creativity. It's also logical to have Kid Cudi and Future as guests, who remain the most influential rappers of the last 10 years. It's not a sign, it's an evidence again. We were expecting a proper featuring with Kanye? Well, it will be a totally unpredictable result, where Carti only deals with closing a song with an abstract structure. There are some similarities with Freestyle 4, which has the ability to push the beastly aspect of Carti's music. This is something that will remain one of the driving forces behind Whole Lotta Red, like the suffocating and oppressive Stop Breathing. Although at first glance the album seems to follow a unique direction, Carti surprises us again on Beno, alternating throughout the project with a few songs that I will therefore call "bouncing ball", a kind of very bouncy Pop Trap that comes to juggle between cloud Rap and Psychedelia, recalling rather what he had already done on Die Lit. Do you remember the very underestimated Eternal Atake? You'd have to be in bad faith not to see all the similarities between the beginning of Eternal Atake and some passages of Whole Lotta Red. Certainly in its entirety, Carti's album shows less irregularities and more achievement, but the essential is there.
Another thing that's fascinating about Playboi Carti is the ability to store energy and transmit it tenfold to the listener. This strength that he has had since Fetti has not faded, on the contrary, it has continued to progress. Everybody knows that we don't listen to Playboi Carti for his writing, because his interpretation and his ability to master his subject as a person is enough in itself. Moreover, even when his ambition overflows, there are always some things that support this mastery. Let me explain. Let's take the album, 24 tracks, many of which are actually very short destructured songs in SoundCloud format which doesn't necessarily have the strength to work alone. Yet each song makes me lean towards an essential cog that will make the general gear work. In spite of some flaws and irregularities in the sense that some passages are less monstrous than others, Playboi Carti always arrives in a repetitive aesthetic to paradoxically do something different. It's so bluffing. It's the kind of replay value album, which is based on digging an extra layer with each listening, and so everything becomes clear. I remember myself being disappointed when Die Lit was released. It's music that has to be earned, Playboi has to be earned and other rappers have to be inspired by it. You will have understood it, I liked very much the supplied and versatile work that Carti proposes in the elaboration of his character, in the themes and in his varied interpretation that always tries to propose some things that stand out, even intrinsically within the album, or within the same song. However, it is important to pay tribute to the production, to all the beatmakers and all the engineers who made this project so incredible. The mixing and engineering is stratospheric and the instrumental parts are so great that I can't listen to any Hip Hop other than Whole Lotta Red at the moment. You have to be complimentary of the texture work, ant studio work, down to the slightest bass saturation. Nothing is left to chance, it's just impressive. In conclusion, Whole Lotta Red has all the potential to be like a good wine, i.e. to improve with age