Trippie Redd's two Love Letter to You tapes, both released last year, gave us a pretty good idea of who he was. Able to wallow in sadness as capably as lash out in anger, Trippie emerged as the center of the emotive Soundcloud Venn diagram that once comprised Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep, XXXTentacion, and Tekashi 6ix9ine, among others. On one end of the spectrum, you had "Love Scars" and "In Too Deep." On the other, you had "Poles1469" and "Back Back Back." That's plenty of range as it is, but for some reason, Trippie tacked on tracks that attempted to show further versatility. The boom-bappy "Can You Rap Like Me?" was the only real low point of the first tape, and the ultimate downfall of A Love Letter to You 2 was the attempt to stretch several songs out with pop choruses where standard hooks would have sufficed. 

Trippie continues branching out on Life's A Trip, his debut album, and while his experimentation produces some definite highs, it also waters down what seemed like a promising formula a year ago. Some of that's to be expected— if you've been influenced by various strains of rock music, especially emo, you're probably going to play around with guitars at some point— but other creative decisions on this album are absolutely confusing. Why would any up-and-comer seek out Scott Storch for a beat in 2018? Why would Trippie reuse a Diplo collaboration that already appeared on the producer's album? Why does Trippie continue to rap like Joey Badass for a song or two per project? This adds up to an album that's as enjoyable as it is frustrating, and paints a picture of an artist as talented as he is rudderless.

Between the three drumless guitar ballads (of which the Eddie Money-interpolating "How You Feel" is the best and aimlessly repetitive "Underwater FlyZone" is the worst) and the two boom-bap workouts are some genuinely good tracks that house Trippie's melodic and lyrical gifts under the same roof. "Forever Ever" shows that Trippie can hang with Young Thug in both departments, which only a handful of other artists can claim. "Bird Shit" is a rare chance to hear Trippie kick back and relax, which allows him to explore more creative vocal patterns. "BANG!" manages to pose as a guitar ballad and a turn-up joint at the same time, and might be the best distillation of Trippie's unique skillset to date. This three-song stretch prominently features guitars and doesn't find Trippie sacrificing melodies for lyrics, or vice-versa, so it's odd that he feels the need to compartmentalize those talents elsewhere on the album.

Trippie's capable of sounding like completely different people from one second to the next, as is made unmistakably clear as the plaintive "How You Feel" gives way to the clamorous "Dark Knight Dummo." It's unclear yet if this is a gift or a curse. Here's a dude who can proclaim "I kill people" in the same menacing mumble as his collaborators Chief Keef and Tadoe, attempt the same Funk Flex Freestyle transformation as Lil Yachty on a "Who Run It" remix, and reliably rival Lil Uzi Vert's nasally, vulnerable sing-rapping. Perhaps if Trippie were to confine each of his impulses to separate projects (like Keef did with the melodic Thot Breaker and hard-nosed Dedication tapes last year) or even divide projects based on his stylistic approaches (like Denzel Curry recently did by splitting TA13OO into thirds), he'd seem less aimless and more calculated in his approach.

It's hard not to feel the weight of recent events in Trippie's life clouding Life's a Trip. Friends dying, multiple assault charges, beefs, the "God's Plan" drama, and especially, the alleged pistol-whipping of a young woman all cast shadows on what should have been a promising year for the clearly talented 19-year-old. He imbues his work with pain and passion, but his album sequencing and beat selection water this down considerably on Life's a Trip