this is a somewhat long and rambling review, but i've thought about WLR a lot since christmas. here are my thoughts:
you people don't deserve this album. i'm seriously baffled by the negative reaction to this from people who are ostensibly fans of carti's work. if i had to guess, i think it comes from an inability to contextualize this album in a rap mainstream that streaming music and playlisting has homogenized to a disturbing degree. i know this may be hard to believe, but before every rap hit sounded like a post malone song rappers took sizable risks on pretty large releases. in that sense, this album is like yeezus--a highly anticipated album that elevates underground regional sounds that have existed for some time to the mainstream. for kanye in 2013, that was chicago house, drill, and industrial music. playboi carti arguably digs even deeper here, utilizing production from the philly production collective Working On Dying, inventors of the "tread" subgenre that has existed since, like, 2016. now, although i was familiar with Working On Dying, i didn't know what tread was before i listened to WLR. obviously, very few of the people reviewing the album on this website know what it is either, and even the blurb writer for apple music has clearly never heard of it (PC Music??? what???). but, since i somehow missed the 2018 matt ox song (zero degrees) that sounded exactly like WLR 2 years before WLR, i took the 15 minutes to do my homework about this album's influences before coming to a snap judgment. see: https://www.passionweiss.com/2017/09/06/tread-music/
i've also heard complaints about carti's vocals on this, which makes no sense, as he somehow outshines the attention-grabbing production on almost every song with even-more-attention-grabbing rapping. unlike the production,i can provide context here off the top of my head. there are times where carti sounds like 2013-15 young thug on here, not only on a basic "he sounds like young thug" level but also in terms of the level of risk taken in pushing one's voice to its limits. that is the highest compliment i can give to an artist. just about every rap pioneer of the past decade plus--gucci mane, future, young thug, chief keef--can be heard in the spirit of this album. if it wasn't obvious enough, "stop breathing" interpolates one of the best gucci songs, "shirt off" (and if your main takeaway from the song was the mf doom reference and not the gucci one, go listen to wilt chamberlain pt 1 right now). you can hear the energy of future songs like "sh!t", "first class flights," and "mark mcgwire" on WLR. the mixing on the album reminds me of those early low-budget chief keef tapes like almighty so--and that's a good thing. songs that were actual bangers that had no intention of becoming hits. WLR is distinctly different from these old ass songs, but the influence is palpable. if you don't like WLR because of the vocals or mixing, you can't pretend like you would have been an early fan of young thug, or chief keef, or future, or gucci, or lil b, or even playboi carti himself. and i say that as someone who was not a fan of those guys when i first heard them (save for lil b. i was always based). granted, i was a teenager when most of them came out and listening to some shit like hopsin and didn't know anything about music, but still. i don't want that grim fate for you, dear reader. i want you to recognize great rap talents early on and be able to appreciate them for as long as possible. i don't want you to be telling me that baby keem is "next up" for 3 consecutive years because you can't tell chief keef from slim jesus or playboi carti from mario judah.
that being said, i loved WLR on my first listen, my second listen, and third, fourth, and whatever listen i'm on now. i didn't need this context to enjoy it, but you, dear reader, might. and i genuinely want you to like this album, because it's genuinely great. if i'm being honest, i can't pretend like i didn't think the second half of carti's self-titled was a glorified beat tape on first listen. it didn't sound like broke boi or fetti, and i just didn't get it. a few months later, i thought it was a classic. i think the same thing is happening here. die lit, carti's least adventurous release, brought in a bunch of fans who wanted a certain type of rap album. thank god he didn't give in.
WLR is a force. you feel it in the first half, with the pulsating bass and energized delivery. but the second half, which most people think is better (i would agree, if only because it doesn't have the kanye song), is euphoric. it's two sides of the same coin. carti put his all of his emotional energy into every part of this album, and you can feel it. the aforementioned "stop breathing" is one of the best songs of the year, and one of the best of carti's career. he starts his verse repeating "ever since my brother died // i been thinking bout homicide" in the most aggressive tone he can muster. writing it doesn't do it justice. "punk monk" is as personal as carti has ever been. i could list about 50 highlights, but that would be pointless, because you've already heard the album. to enjoy it, relish the weird moments. relish the emphasis he places on certain syllables. relish the sudden pause in "place." relish the euphoric singing on "not playing." just enjoy it.
this review, though, is not saying that the album is flawless. you can make legitimate criticisms of parts of it. the kanye song is a pointless dud, it doesn't fit on the album and kanye's traditional rapping just serves as a contrast to how exciting carti is on the rest of the album. if you don't like repetition in music, you also may not like this, and i'm willing to accept that as legitimate. personally, i find repetition powerful when used correctly and not lazily. some might find it used lazily here, but i think it hits. further, it's not like carti didn't repeat phrases on his earlier music, so to hear this criticism from carti fans is a bit odd. the features here are also all pretty lackluster. the only one who can even argue that he belongs here is future, who has enough nuts to use his version of "baby voice" but not enough nuts to go fully unhinged like he would have earlier in his career and like carti does here. kid cudi's verse is forgettable. i would have liked to hear some thug harambe voice on a tread song, but i'll take what i can get. also, vamp anthem is a bit gimmicky but not to the point where i didn't like it. it's fun. i'm not calling the inclusion of akademics a flaw because of how flawlessly he transitions into carti's singing, but yeah, i don't like him. i struggle to come up with more true flaws.
and even with its flaws, this album is a classic. you could argue that WLR is not as revolutionary or groundbreaking as it purports to be, and i agree to a certain extent. this album does not create a completely new sound, but rather naturally evolves carti's existing sound using regional influences that have existed for a while. carti really is not conceptually on another level than artists like black kray, matt ox, or uzi who also make tread rap. to some, that might not make it a classic, or even great. but that's what carti's always done, and it's what more artists should do. i would love to hear a dozen WLR-esque albums from big artists in 2021. maybe then, WLR will just be another really great album. but for now, WLR is a new way forward. reject rap caviar, embrace regional rap. embrace backlash. i'm talking to you, future.
TL;DR: my shirt off (x14)