Nearly two and a half years after the release of his debut studio album Die Lit, Playboi Carti dropped his long-awaited sophomore follow-up, Whole Lotta Red, on Dec. 25, 2020. When I tore into the record like a present under the proverbial Christmas tree, I soon came to realize that Whole Lotta Red is Carti’s most unique corpus of work to date. However, Whole Lotta Red’s originality is simultaneously its most enticing feature and its ultimate failure.
The project’s production is unlike any of Carti’s previous projects. Die Lit and his self-titled mixtape both relied heavily on producer Pierre Bourne’s repetitive, psychedelic beats. With Whole Lotta Red, Carti experiments with new sounds and draws upon a broader range of producers, including Art Dealer, Richie Souf, F1lthy, and even Kanye West. The album’s new sounds are distorted, abrasive, and aggressive, especially on tracks such as “New Tank” or “Stop Breathing.” This is not to say that Carti has completely turned a new leaf; “Place” and “ILoveUIHateU” feature Borne’s hypnotic, synth-heavy production and remain absolute bangers.
Along with the beats, Carti experiments with new vocal styles, ranges, and deliveries—their success, however, is hit-or-miss. For example, “JumpOutTheHouse” features Carti repeating the chorus with a disconcerting frequency; the song sounds like a broken record. Carti gets lyrical on “Vamp Anthem” with lines like “.223 gon’ hit ‘em up, he done got hypnotized / I done made a mil’ in a white tee but I ain’t Franchize,” and, to Carti’s credit, it works.
The project’s features—which are far and few between—are fun and diverse. For the most part, Carti plays them to his own strengths. Kanye West’s verse on “Go2DaMoon” shows Kanye at his most deranged and egotistical, making for an excellent guest appearance, but Carti follows Ye with a short and insubstantial verse that leaves much to be desired. Fortunately, Carti more strongly synchronizes with Kid Cudi and Future’s verses on “M3tamorphosis” and “Teen X.”
Whole Lotta Red is an innovative, courageous effort at a new sound, proving that Playboi Carti is not a one-trick pony, nor is his music dependent on the aesthetics of specific producers. The project showcases that Carti has found new strengths, but he hasn’t quite got the hang of them, either.