Review Summary: Playboi Carti crafts a cloudy, effervescent piece of rap workmanship, chock full of moody pleasures.
It’s tough to defend an album like Die Lit
from its detractors: “Yeah, I'ma go *** that bitch / I’ma go thrash that bitch / Shawty gon' suck this dick / Shawty gon' suck this dick,” goes the first chorus of “R.I.P.,” and you either vibe with in-house producer Pi’erre Bourne’s buzzing bass and glimmering keyboards or you blanch at Playboi Carti’s loopy misogyny. As with his excellent double-Platinum 2017 single “Magnolia”—“In New York I Milly Rock (hello?) / hide it in my sock (what?),” that one went—Carti has this *** down to a science, and even those fans inoculated to his approach will have trouble denying the collateral damage thereby induced. To put it another way: Die Lit
, from a sympathetic perspective or an antagonistic one, appears like an apparition of what rap music could look like emptied of lyrical content. Not as much of a “mumbler” as some of his contemporaries, Carti nonetheless mostly foregoes narrative and tonal coloration in structuring his raps; even Sach and his fellow scholars of polysemy in contemporary hip-hop might stop short of undertaking analysis of a tercet like "Right Now"'s "I'm with the stick, I'm in the 6, I'm in the wagon / I'm in the bitch, I'm in the bricks, I'm in the ashes / I got that white, I got that dope, I got that ashy". Listening closely, one can eventually hear an overarching theme of Carti’s admiration (that’s right) of his romantic partners, but Die Lit
as a collection of words proves tough to pore over, full of tiny word-hooks that combust like ants under the proverbial magnifying glass of lyrical scrutiny. So shawty gon’ suck this dick, over and over, and Carti will refuse to provide subtext or a psychological groundwork for his fleshly fantasies. Some albums you love unconditionally, but there are some on whose behalf you want to apologize: reader, I don’t blame you if you don’t like this experience.
I insist, however, that Die Lit
is worth your time, if not quite the 57 minutes Carti could have chopped down to 40 without diminishing the album’s pleasures. A lot of the gratification of this record is in the production, which performs the age-old hip-hop trick of taking a fractional melodic idea, barely a song by itself, and spinning out of it a thick sonic weave. “Long Time,” the celebratory introduction to the album, is as perfect an example as any: warm, off-kilter keyboards, a thick ostinato, and skittering drums are all Pi’erre needs to undergird Carti’s expressive braggadocio. The overall effect is immensely pleasing to the ear, and the rapper and his crew, spelunking the depths of “cloud rap,” hit the spot again and again. Carti works with tiny loops of auditory bliss that invest his elemental raps with something like holiness. The last time I felt this attracted to the overarching sonic Idea of a rap record was Live.Love.A$AP
, and while Die Lit
doesn’t match that mixtape’s ambitions and consistency, Carti seems even more comfortable in his environment than did Rocky. And yes, it’s Carti himself that controls this album’s pace and mood (though we should note that Pi’erre contributes production to 14 tracks on here—this guy deserves to be watched closely); occasionally mindless but far from dumb, playing the Playboi but retaining a certain awe in the face of the great sex he’s constantly having, Carti knows his strengths and isn’t afraid to modulate his approach based on the prevailing sonic atmosphere. Carti ebbs and flows with his crew, warm on “Mileage” (as in, “don’t care if your pussy got some”) as he is corrosive on “R.I.P.,” all of it evincing a togetherness between all involved that feels rare in today’s era of free-for-all production credits and obligatory slates of guest verses.
In the final count, there is something ineffably utopian about the aural lilt of Die Lit
and sense of luxury and comfort it offers to the listener. The bouncy Don Cannon production “No Time” offers the most convincing figuration of Carti’s fructification of mood and affect: “we ain’t got time,” Carti sings over effervescent synth pads, but the warmth and insistence of his delivery and the production betrays his intent toward eternity anyhow. The simplicity which many listeners will mistake for emptiness here begins to resonate as a strategy for Playboi Carti to reach, in his own way, the heights of his greatest heroes, so that he might ultimately "die lit" and therefore live on in the hearts of his fans and admirers. Head bald like Ginobili and dunking on your hoe like Kobe, Carti wants this *** forever. With the endlessly replayable Die Lit
, he gets his wish.