Rating: 6.5/10

Must-listen: “R.I.P.”, “Lean 4 Real”, “Love Hurts”, “Right Now”, “Poke It Out”, “Home (KOD)”, “Fell in Luv”, “No Time”

The year is 2015. You’re in a car with your friends as Rich The Kid’s “Plug” blasts through the speakers, which leads to an argument over who had the best verse on the record (Kodak is the answer btw). Regardless of what the general consensus amongst your friends is, there’s always gonna be that one guy who begs for the aux as he gives an impassioned speech on the beauty in which Carti will float and ride on any beat, only to proceed into a medley of Carti’s early records like “Broke Boi”, “Fetti” and “Sauce”. Those were the duties of every big Carti fan back then, to emphatically defend the brilliance of those tracks along with the 50-plus unreleased ones, all while patiently awaiting a release date from Carti of his debut project.

Three years later and with that eponymous debut project finally under his belt, Carti dropped off his follow-up effort, Die Lit, this past Thursday evening via iTunes. The project’s release came with no prior warning aside from tweets from A$AP Rocky and photographer Gunner Stahl early Thursday (May 10) morning confirming that Carti’s album would arrive at midnight (May 11). Whereas a number of artists run the risk of over-saturation when releasing projects of around 20 records or more, Die Lit‘s 19-track length actually works in Carti’s favor. Although 19 tracks may sound like a lot, most of his records are under three minutes long so it’s not much of a chore getting through each one. He’s also aided by the fact he hasn’t really released any new material of late, and so there’s no real opposition to his project arriving now. 

It’s interesting to see the course upon which Carti’s career has taken since he first surfaced a few years back, and the role that superproducer Pi’erre Bourne has played in this course. Despite the obvious fact that their work together has propelled both their careers to unimaginable heights, it may have also placed a ceiling on them. Prior to linking up with Bourne, Carti’s potential from his early unreleased records and snippets seemed boundless.

Now two projects deep, it seems as if the versatility we had hoped would sustain Carti has altogether vanished. Perhaps it’s just a case of the artist searching for their true sound early on and soon later falling into a sound they’re comfortable with. But the worry here is that Carti is now actually trapped in this sound, as you can’t help but wonder how well Carti would fare sans Bourne’s buoyant, bass-heavy production.

For a while now, the light at the end of the tunnel for Carti has been his highly-anticipated collab project with Uzi. Yet while they usually have an undeniable chemistry, “Shoota” just doesn’t give the same effect that any of their previous tracks did. In fact, it actually just sounds like an Uzi record with a Carti verse thrown onto it, as despite an impressive verse from Uzi, Carti’s is rather forgettable.

Such is the case for a majority of the feature-assisted records on Die Lit. You have to commend the ability of him and his team in securing verses from each of these artists, as each feature is somebody we actually want to hear from right now. Nicki performing well on “Poke It Out” works well in her favor for her return to the spotlight of late. “Fell in Luv” marks Bryson Tiller’s first appearance since his remix to YBN Nahmir‘s “Rubbin Off the Paint“, and since opening up about his depression during the making of his sophomore effort, True to Self. Even “R.I.P. Fredo” arrives with a very timely verse from Young Nudy, as his long-awaited Slime Ball 3 is slated to arrive next Friday (if only it had a better rollout).

The issue with Carti lately is that he is too often blessed with production you’d think he’d excel on, and yet he ends up letting you down more often than not. It simply doesn’t help that when listening to each Die Lit track with a feature, you end up tired of hearing Carti’s voice and ready to hear somebody else’s.

The duality of Playboi Carti is evident in an analysis of two Die Lit records: “Home (KOD)” and “FlatBed Freestyle“. “Home (KOD)” is arguably the only track on Die Lit with not one, but two memorable Carti verses, as he remains as melodic as ever while chastising his ex in one and commending her in the next. Records like this are what we had looked forward to hearing from Carti all along, with Bourne’s stellar production serving as a boost in perfectly complementing his talent.

“FlatBed Freestyle” on the other hand is a product of Carti being trapped within his current state of comfort. The obvious is that Carti would benefit by taking his time with his music, as too many of his records sound rushed. In addition, the sooner Carti realizes that he doesn’t have the luxury of sounding unintelligible like a Young Thug does, the sooner the ugly “mumble rap” term disappears and the less of a need for him to even address it in his own records as he did in “R.I.P.

*** album mode *! *** Love

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Die Lit being just “good” won’t end up doing Carti’s career any justice. It’s a better collection of Carti records than his last project was, but without any real standout records. This now poses the question of what it is that the new generation of rappers should contribute aside from their standout records? The truth is that some need them more than others, and as for Carti, the verdict is still very much out there. “Poke It Out” is probably the closest to a standout, yet despite however much traction it may or may not gain, it still won’t have anywhere near the impact that “Magnolia” or “Wokeuplikethis*” had last summer.

The flip side of the Playboi Carti argument is the possibility that we were actually expecting too much from him to begin with. Perhaps he’s just this generation’s model for inconsistency. The truth is he’s never actually been the artist to put much effort into crafting each of his tracks–in fact the grab with Carti has always been how “effortlessly he flows”. And now Carti is going to give you a hook of him repeating the same words 10 times, along with “what”/”huh” adlibs littered throughout. You’ll say that you’re tired of it, and while you actually might be, chances are you’re still gonna click “Play” on Carti’s next effort so long as it doesn’t arrive anytime soon. It’s a good thing that Carti knows his music is made for the mid-Spring/early-Summer period, because Die Lit being just good enough just might work.

At the least, Carti can rest his head on the fact that Die Lit is good enough to the point where Yung Bans, the 18-year-old Atlanta rapper who some believe could surpass Carti, actually isn’t there yet. But as for Carti’s own future, you can only hope that he himself realizes that he has more to offer.

Listen to Die Lit below via iTunes, and be sure to follow Playboi Carti on:

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