Soundcloud Rap background player turned most anticipated, the A$AP-cosigned 'mumble rapper' finally strikes out on his own with his debut mixtape.
Remember the days where a rapper 'had next' or was always hanging around other famous rappers and you wondered when exactly that guy was going to drop an album? Over the past few decades of rap, it's been a common phenomena to see guys hang around in the shadows, turning in the occasional great feature or loose track but never getting a fully realized project out in their lifetime. Playboi Carti was someone on the verge of becoming that guy. Friend to rappers as disparately located as the Awful Records crew, the A$AP Mob, Lil' Uzi Vert, Kodak Black and Rich The Kid, Carti had a number of collaborations and loose singles that fans instantly gravitated to in the last few years, so eagerly anticipating his release that they even started to goad him into putting out a mixtape. Carti even found himself taunting those fair-weather fans back, briefly teasing a mixtape cover that collected the comments of his greatest hecklers. Much to the relief -- or perhaps even the surprise -- of those expectant fans, Playboi Carti is hot off the heels of his debut mixtape. Now the question is simply whether or not he lives up to the hype.
A lot of people have thrown around the title of 'SoundCloud rapper' at Carti and many of his peers. It's a weird distinction to make when so many rappers on SoundCloud don't necessarily sound the same, and the ones that make music like Carti's descend from a rap style forged in the back channels of imeem and frantically shared on tumblr at the turn of the decade. In a sense, it's just left-field swag rap like Lil' B, Metro Zu or even Odd Future in their less backpacky moments used to make. There's a certain influence of southern rappers like Gucci Mane, Young Thug, Lil Wayne or otherwise that you can sort of hear at the edges of Carti's rapping styles; but a mixtape full of lo-fi beats that are either hyper-distorted synth noises or sedative ambient loops? It's certainly not quite as radical a development as certain rap listeners have been complaining about.
The production is maybe the most amusing aspect of Playboi Carti's mixtape, which is a strange mix of contradicting efforts. As stated before, much of the production feels a lot like its based around the more ambient end of earlier net-based swag rap that the likes of Clams Casino, Squadda B or Carti's occasional collaborator Ethereal. In that era, the style was being pushed by a number of bedroom producers experimenting with sounds and learning the craft. Carti, however, has opted for a number of relative amateurs such as Pierre Bourne (who handles a majority of the tape), Chris Fresh and J. Cash Beatz, who he puts next to industry veterans like Southside, Harry Fraud and Hit-Boy in a way that never feels like a gap in quality. Mixtape opener “Location” is a soothing track that sounds like a 70s new age deep cut, while the A$AP Rocky collaboration “New Choppa” feels so degraded that when it starts up you get the feeling that the beat won't make it past the gate. A weird blend of sour synths, Playstation FX chimes and skeletal Zaytoven inspired 'trap' drums, it's bizarre to think that this style can still sound fresh in 2017, especially when paired against the increasingly poppier and overproduced mainstream of rap.
What really drives this home is the irreverence of Carti himself. Rapping on this mixtape feels fairly effortless, almost something close to an afterthought. And for anyone possibly expecting that this will be the moment Playboi Carti dazzles you with punchlines and trick flows, think again. That said, the description that Carti is some sort of 'mumble rapper' is a bit ridiculous. For every incoherent cast-aside, there's a sense of rambling freestyle wood-shedding that gradually unfolds throughout the song that's downright fun. On the one hand, there's a chance that if expected to develop any further as an artist Carti will lose a lot of that charm. As much as Lil Uzi Vert's cameos don't sound out of place on the mixtape despite the obvious efforts he's made to work on his songwriting craft elsewhere, someone like Rocky actually manages to sound incredibly stiff and out of place in comparison. But at the same time, there's an easy chance that over the course of multiple projects, this style could very easily become stale and trap Carti to relative obscurity. On the moments where it hits, such as tracks like “wokeuplikethis*” or “Magnolia”, you can easily slip into the mood and roll out casually to Playboy Carti's music, but on other occasions the songs seem to crumble under too much scrutiny.
Maybe that's the trick of the matter. At 15 tracks with only a few even clocking as high as 4 minutes, Carti knows not to overextend or outstay his welcome for the listeners, drifting in and out just before you start to lose interest in the aimless glides that his mixtape consists of. While it's hard to say if this will be considered a classic or even a particularly strong outing years from now, it's impressive to see someone like Carti with all these demands and not that many expectations exceed his potential for the moment. Now the trick is waiting to see what he does next, if he decides to try again.