Playboi's music has always tended to polarize the music community. It seems to be the case that you either hate or love Playboi's music. Some are turned off by the repetitive deliveries, while others find them hypnotic. This dichotomy between these two camps of thought is the cause of 2018's Die Lit getting rather lukewarm reception initially, but then going on to find a very large cult-following, cementing Playboi as a person to watch for innovation in the hip hop genre for those that found the effort to be very innovative and unique. With a cult-following spawned off of an already polarizing sophomore effort, fans and everyone in general were interested to see what Playboi would do next. So eager in fact, that some (if not most of the second half of the album, if my research is correct) of the songs off of what was to become Whole Lotta Red leaked long before its Christmas Day release.
So. Now it's 2021. It feels weird to say that. But shortly before 2020 ended, on Christmas Day, Playboi Carti dropped Whole Lotta Red. And as to be expected, the community is completely polarized.
The main issue to be taken up with not giving this record a fair shot is that most of the time the sentiment tends to be that Playboi "played it safe" on this record. While, yes, there are some tropes to what he is doing on this record that we saw on Die Lit, there is undeniably new direction. Rather it be what people tend to call "Playboi straining his voice" to the vampire and goth aesthetics, this record is dripping with inspiration from rock, punk, and goth.
The hums by Kid Cudi on Metamorphosis paired with the production give off a very droney, goth, and possibly even post-punk vibes. Rockstar Made, whilst somewhat reminiscent of RIP off of Die Lit, has a new texture of Playboi Carti giving us vocal approaches we've never heard from him; almost this punk, and as he says, rock star made vocal delivery that definitely took me personally a few listens to click with. On tracks like Stop Breathing, Control and on parts of Feel Like Dying, there's this almost nostalgic early 2010's Lil Wayne - esque delivery that we've never heard from Carti. JumpOutTheHouse is one the most polarizing songs on the whole record, but I believe it to be legitimately a metal song, just not played with metal instruments. Obviously, no it's not Death or anything but if you listen you may understand what I mean. New Tank is another kind of nasty, punk/metal inspired song, coming with aggressive delivery. On King Vamp, Playboi literally says "Open that *** up!". Pit time! What I'm trying to say is, is that Playboi gained major points with his followers by innovating both his delivery styles and production choices.
The album is much darker, involving themes of self isolation, relationship issues, acknowledgment of drug addiction, and, of course, the vampire themes. What really helps push these darker themes is how Playboi actually sounds. He sounds intoxicated, and sometimes even like a goblin, on over half of this record. It's nasty and off-putting, but it's supposed to be. The thing that Playboi has been good at at least since Die Lit has been creating a coherent album experience that flows very well. The slower tracks like ILoveUIHateU break up and give listeners a break from the more aggressive tracks. This song in particular shows Playboi's actual ability to sing. I'm sorry, but he doesn't sound bad here! And this song is a perfect segue to another thing I'd like to point out that progressed on this album. This album, has some of Playboi's most substantial lyrical content. This record is a lot less dependent on the ad-libs, and he's actually talking about his feelings. At the end of the album, after Feel Like Dying, I was left just hoping Playboi is okay, because it was sort of crazy to hear someone I used to sort of get krunk to say, well, I'm dying though.
If you enjoy old school hip-hop, this isn't going to be for you. If you like experimental hip-hop, then give this a listen. Maybe even two. This album offers some varied production, varied vibes and luscious and sometimes violent headspaces. It is truly enjoyed late at night, as Playboi would probably like it to be, given the vampire themes. Playboi's followers are of course going to love this, but I believe that if you're a listener that listens "between the lines", you'll be able to hear all the influence from rock, punk, goth, and metal. So, this album could maybe even possibly be a gateway to hip-hop for fans of those genres? Perhaps. Who knows. All I know is, I think Playboi dropped a very solid album right before the worst year of recent memory ended, and it perfectly soundtracked how I felt about Christmas that year.