Trippie Redd returns to form, but is it enough?
Trippie Redd’s debut mixtape, A Love Letter to You, was a shrill, agonized post-mortem of teenage love. Uninhibited histrionics and grandiose promises of forever— a corpse that wouldn’t be left to rest. And it came at the perfect moment. Lil Uzi Vert had primed the radios for fried vocal melodies, and Trippie Redd’s dozens of SoundCloud peers were making emo angst palatable again. What followed was an ascent that, even by SoundCloud standards, was explosive and unpredictable. By the end of the year Trippie Redd had hopscotched from Internet hits with XXXTentacion, to radio hits with Travis Scott, to a tour with G-Eazy.
In the vacuum created by the deaths of XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, Trippie Redd is perhaps SoundCloud’s biggest crossover star. His debut album, Life’s a Trip, was an effort at consolidating that status and at pushing the ascent even higher, though the scattered project suggested like he might be losing inertia. Yet, just three months since that project’s release, Trippie Redd returns to comfortable form. He’s back with the sweet, sugary melody and his ideas about love are unchanged.
This mixtape is opened by the recent single “Topanga”, a song whose upbeat, stagey production is reminiscent of the Diplo-produced track, “Wish.” Thematically, “Topanga” is truer to Trippie Redd’s earlier style. Violence is a fundamental component to the romantic theses of his Love Letter series, so it’s only appropriate that he begin the album with some harsh words for the many imagined and real enemies that surround him. The project frequently returns to that— violence and paranoia, much of it rooted in love. As on the song “Toxic Waste,” where Trippie Redd implores for any bit of intimacy, singing “Even though it isn’t healthy/Won’t you help me?”
Trippie Redd can’t seem to find an answer to that pain: Is it his own toxic energy, or these hoes, “Oh, these hoes.” On songs like “I Tried Loving” and “Negative Energy,” it’s mostly the latter. And maybe because turning the blame on conniving women has always been the most uninteresting tradition of rap music, Trippie Redd’s moments of mistrust quickly become boring and shallow. Unlike guest feature Kodie Shane, who thoughtfully attributes her distrust to the “demons following [her]”, Trippie Redd’s efforts at self-reflection collapse to the sad image of a teenager weltering in a haze of drugs and alcohol.
It’s true, though, that a whole constellation of ugly emotions surround love. Trippie Redd’s ex-girlfriend gave him plenty to be distrustful about when she publicly inflamed his beef with Tekashi 6ix9ine. And when Trippie Redd says, loudly and plainspoken, “I hate you, I hate you, bitch, but I love you, bitch,” on the mixtape’s central interlude, it’s difficult to resolve how much is a commentary on those complex emotions, and how much is just misogyny. A short answer is that teenage love is loud, often confused, and inelegant. Many of the raps on this mixtape are built on a single verse and a chorus, capturing that circling insistent gyre of thoughts that consume a person in heartbreak. The problem is that there are too many of those tracks. The strength of Trippie Redd’s music is that he can sing unironically about all the cheesy, tempestuous moods love evokes. His voice is always at the verge of splitting open, so earnest that you can’t ignore the urgency, but he’s overdone that technique on this mixtape to the point that he begins sounding like any other whiny teenager. Brief, intense moments like the song “So Alive” salvage that melodrama. Over a Nellz beat woozy with negative space, Trippie Redd describes a love so redeeming it would save him from suicidal urges, and so moving that he would die for her. He trades mortality for mortality.
But as magical as love can be, it is also wounding and petty. And that is the defining tone of this mixtape. The eponymous track is no love letter, it’s a series of threats to Trippie Redd’s posers and challengers. What kind of love is defined by its opposition?