Album Review: Whole Lotta Red
Updated: Sep 21
I have never been a passionate Playboi Carti fan. His self-titled debut mixtape was enjoyable but didn't leave much of an impact on me, and while his debut album, Die Lit, was far more engaging, I still don't find myself returning to it often. Even so, I can appreciate Carti's unique style. He puts his own spin on trap music, using repetitive refrains, babyish vocals and fast-paced production to define his sound.
Following Die Lit, fans were impatient to hear his next album, Whole Lotta Red, but when it finally released on Christmas Day in 2020, reception was divided. While the album's reputation has gotten better over time, with many citing Whole Lotta Red as one of the best albums in trap music, I still find myself conflicted over my feelings on the record as a whole.
The aesthetics of Whole Lotta Red take an entirely different approach to anything Carti had released up to that point. With allusions to vampires, horror, and punk, it seemed that Carti wanted to pursue a darker, harsher sound unlike any of his music beforehand. For much of the album, this harsher sound dominates, with Carti using a more guttural tone, shouting and screaming his words over the booming bass and clatter of hi-hats. The bass sound distorted and shaky, and Carti yells the lyrics as though each word is straining his throat. Great examples of this are the opener 'Rockstar Made' and 'Stop Breathing' shortly after. This more abrasive approach to trap is so engaging, and Carti delivers a great performance, adapting to these more rustic beats with ease.
The first leg of the album is incredible. From opener 'Rockstar Made' to 'Teen X' featuring Future, every song feels necessary and adds to the album. Kanye West's feature may dominate the track 'Go2DaMoon' more than I would like, but his performance is charming and adds some variation to the tracklist by having another passionate voice involved. Kid Cudi's humming on 'M3tamorphosis' is weaved into the instrumental, giving it a uniquely ethereal and spacey sound. Other highlights include 'New Tank' and 'Teen X' which strike a balance between the bubbly trap of Die Lit and the sinister sounds found on the rest of Whole Lotta Red.
However, not every song stays consistent with this fresh sound. Tracks like 'Beno!' and 'Slay3r' sound like they wouldn't be out of place in the track listing for Die Lit. They sound like classic Playboi Carti songs, and fit nicely between the harsher tracks to give the album some variation and keep its sound from getting monotonous.
Where Whole Lotta Red falls short is in its second half. Being a twenty-four track album, of course it would be difficult for every song to land perfectly. Unfortunately, most of the weaker songs fall in the second half of the album, making the record drag as it slowly reaches its end. There are definite highlights like 'Punk Monk', where Carti seems to reject other artists in the industry wanting to work with him as he embraces his own sound. 'Die4Guy' brings back Carti's guttural delivery from the beginning of the album, making me wish he had fully embraced this abrasive sound instead of trying to balance it with his older style. 'Not PLaying' is another great song, with these bright synths layered over the trap production which make for one of my favourite beats on the album.
However, many songs in the second half don't resonate with me whatsoever. 'New N3on' sounds like the type of Playboi Carti song a computer would make to replicate his sound, lacking the flavour and catchiness of a regular Carti beat, along with Carti having a sleepy performance which leaves much to be desired. As a stand-alone song, I may not be so critical towards it, but compared to the raw emotion and energy Carti has portrayed throughout this album, he has proven he is capable of sounding more passionate.
The instrumentals also get less interesting as the album goes on. The sinister, bass-heavy sounds seen in the first half of the album disappear, and instead there are monotonous synth beats like 'Place', 'Sky', or 'Over' which get grating before the songs are even halfway done. I feel that, by this point in Whole Lotta Red, the horror and punk aesthetics have been abandoned, which may be a pleasant change in the album's sound for some, but it leaves me wanting more. None of the songs on Whole Lotta Red are intolerable - none come close to being outright atrocious. But when some of Carti's most exciting, energetic songs start off the album, it disappoints me to hear that sound fade as the record progresses.
Overall, Whole Lotta Red is an album I don't despise as much as some, but sadly I don't love it as much as others either. The crackling bass, shuddering hi-hats and manic performance from Carti in the beginning are incredible, perhaps to the detriment of the album as a whole as these high points make me so much more underwhelmed by the low points. Even though I believe Whole Lotta Red to be more inconsistent than the two albums before it, the fact I come back to it the most speaks volumes about how great its highlights are. This album, while a polarising experience overall, has left me excited to see where Playboi Carti brings his sound next. I only hope that, for his next project, he fully embraces whatever sound he chooses to use, instead of merely dipping his toes.
Fav Tracks: Rockstar Made, Go2DaMoon, Stop Breathing, M3tamorphosis, New Tank, Punk Monk, Die4Guy, Not PLaying