Whole Lotta Red is a versatile, experimental, and grand pop statement from a singular artist in full command of his authorship.
Whole Lotta Red is, above all else, very cool. And as with anything cool being released into the contemporary pop landscape, Playboi Carti’s second studio album (assuming we’re still calling his 2017 self-titled breakthrough a “mixtape”) has been met with standard skepticisms vis-à-vis the validity of the rapper’s artistic license. But this is the sort of confident, free-spirited work that shrugs off such pedanticisms and makes the critical perspective look goofy. A long-awaited (by rap release standards, anyway) follow up to 2018’s Die Lit, Whole Lotta Red is marked by a structured spontaneity; free associative raps that playfully glide in and out of rhythmic sync with punky, chiptune-gesturing trap beats. Similar to friend and collaborator Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake, from the first half of 2020, Whole Lotta Red seems as if it were conceived as a musical mood board, threading together a selection of sounds and genres (here: punk, goth, video game) that have then been loosely sequenced into something that resembles a traditional studio album. Clocking in at a luxurious 62 minutes, the album fulfills the promise of its event status without breaking a sweat; indeed, if Carti is aware of the hype and expectations surrounding his sophomore effort, he never lets on. The Carti persona has gone full rock star in 2020; it’s hard to imagine him even considering, for a moment, that he could create anything less than a hit.
And so it makes plenty of sense that Kanye West would align himself with Whole Lotta Red, taking on an executive producer role (in the 11th hour of recording, apparently) alongside Givenchy creative director Matthew Williams. While the exact details of West’s contributions are vague (barring his actually tangible guest verse on the album’s second track, “Go2DaMoon,” of course), his presence is felt in the approach to production (reduced and minimal a la Yeezus) and structuring (this is, in many ways, the type of album predicted by 2016’s The Life of Pablo). Whole Lotta Red’s first half is also host to Kid Cudi and Future (who kicked off the “rock star reclamation project” that Carti is now carrying forward), and both guest spots navigate the unconventional production of the project ably enough. But the best is saved for Carti alone, with a guestless second half that asserts the rapper’s command (not only as a brazen rock star, but a vampire king too) and demonstrates the versatility of his vocal experimentation. The majority of these latter tracks forgo beats from more high profile producers in favor of close friends like Working on Dying’s F1lthy, and Art Dealer (who also designed the album art and merch). Decisions like these distinguish Whole Lotta Red from other recent high profile drops; Carti’s album is a grand pop statement that maintains a specific authorial voice.
Published as part of Album Roundup: Oct. – Dec. 2020 | Part 2.