Traditions of rap are challenged in latest release from a budding artist
The Santa Clara
May 24, 2018
Playboi Carti is not a rapper. Where hip-hop zigs, Carti zags. “Die Lit,” the Atlanta artist’s most recent offering, inverts convention and rejects the rap hegemony. Like his friend and album guest Lil Uzi Vert, Carti revels in his outsider status. Recently, his music has only become more oblique.
“Die Lit” continues the thread started by Carti’s influential self-titled mixtape from last year. This time, however, his wildest and most distinct impulses are given room to spread like mold spores, breaking off in fractals across the hourlong tracklist and unfolding into what is often a perversely beautiful piece of work.
Along with a select group of rap outsiders—many of whom are featured on this project—Carti stands tall as a propagator of high-art value while also stretches the genre into immensely fertile new territory. At first, the sugar-sweet music of Carti may not seem to fit into the same category as the future-looking pop of Lil Uzi or the upturned machismo of Young Thug, but he manages to pull off the delicate trick of matching those artists’ lofty experimentalism with blatant pop appeal.
The songs of “Die Lit” come across as ranting and raving rather than rapping. Rap clichés are repeated ad nauseum until they are stripped bare, gesturing at notions of the absurd in the quotidian—how boasts of wealth, women and potency lose meaning in their incessance is reminiscent of the pop art of Andy Warhol.
Alternatively, Carti’s exhaustive repetition could be understood like mantras in Eastern medicine—through the sheer force of repetition, these lyrics can transcend their listener into an elevated form of consciousness, one freed from dualistic values that denote Carti as a “bad” rapper.
The way Carti weaves his lyrics as disjointed fragments offers a perfect foil to the exacted narratives popularly believed to be the highpoint of rap songcraft. If any one of Kendrick Lamar’s albums could be compared to classical portraiture, then Carti and “Die Lit” are analogous to impressionism. Adlibs, especially, appear in plethora like errant swoops of brushwork across Carti’s canvas—whatever Carti cannot express in his plainspoken lyrics, he does through jubilant burps of “what,” “yeah” and a wide variety of other vocal glitches.
Carti’s sparse beat choice and mastery of empty space is unmatched in the rap sphere and thus can perhaps be best understood through the lens of experimental music. On “Die Lit,” the loops which make up the instrumentation are as repetitive as Carti’s lyrics, almost to the point of drone. Oftentimes, the instrumentals of a track feature no variation between bars and defiantly refuse to change form across verse, bridge and chorus.
Musical elements overused by other artists are completely forgone here, whether it be the missing snare on “Love Hurts” or even the beat itself during Lil Uzi’s “Shoota” verse. It is obvious that Carti curated the production for “Die Lit” to cement the album’s curio status, a refreshingly daring choice in an era unfortunately defined by concessions to the pop music machine.
The beats here have more in common with the work of minimalist William Basinski than trap producer à la mode Metro Boomin, again hinting at an air of refinement unheard of in pop rap.
The average track length on “Die Lit” is around three minutes, and the songs here are as addictive as they are jawdroppingly weird. Maybe the album’s most impressive feat is retaining extreme listenability in the face of equally extreme discordance—while the quirks of the album are certainly worthy of careful analysis, “Die Lit” also works exceedingly well as a straight up party record.
The flippant and repetitive nature of Carti’s music easily settles into the background, but its spirit is inherently propulsive—just because these beats are minimal does not mean they lack a sweet groove.
So no, Playboi Carti is not a rapper. And “Die Lit” is not an album. Instead, it can be understood as a bold deconstruction of hip-hop.
Whether or not it will eclipse Carti’s more structurally conventional yet equally fascinating opus from last year is too soon to be decided, but one thing is absolutely certain: “Die Lit” is an album worth obsessing over, and Playboi Carti is an artist who will not be easily written off.
Contact Peter Schutz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.