I suppose I should begin this review by saying that I’ve adored this album ever since it came out. The dark and eclectic production and stylistic choices are infectious to me in a lot of the same ways Bladee’s Working on Dying is. Indeed, many of the best beats on Whole Lotta Red come from F1lthy, a producer in the Working on Dying collective.
But my enjoyment of this album is irrelevant. What makes music truly good to me is what its ideas offer you when you put in the work to consider and decipher them. Applying this philosophy to an artist like Playboi Carti may seem inappropriate, but Carti’s discography has been perhaps the most artistically worthy to come out of the trap genre thus far. On Playboi Carti and Die Lit, Playboi Carti built a character that whittled trap down to its base components and presented them in a way that was so toneless it became satirical. Playboi Carti makes or has made great music, but I always got the impression he didn’t truly understand why, and Whole Lotta Red made me certain of that. When considered, Whole Lotta Red gives you a tangled web of good and bad ideas that all lead to confusion, instead of a series of logical threads that lead to a satisfying end.
The main artistic folly of Whole Lotta Red is the erosion of the character of Playboi Carti. Playboi Carti and Jordan Carter have become one. The indulgence, recklessness, and self-destruction that comes with stardom that Playboi Carti once described with art have become his reality, and the integration of punk aesthetics into the music makes it clear that this has made him frustrated and confused. But, unlike in punk music, Playboi Carti doesn’t attack the systems that restrict them, he embraces them. Capitalism, consumerism, materialism, addiction, anxiety, fame, these are the things that ruin Carti’s life, corrode his relationships, and make him feel like dying (sorry, “F33l Lik3 Dyin”), but he seems to consciously reject that, trying, and failing, to find solace is meaningless vampiric imagery and unfocused outbursts.
I thought the presence of artists like Kid Cudi and Kanye West in this album’s creation would lead to some kind of maturation or revelation from Carti. Both of those artists are known for how they find solace from hedonism through their music. But here, Carti only seems interested in regressing, and he ends up more like the other feature on this album, Future, a man enslaved by his vices and blinded by his fame (which he confirms himself on Save Me).
On Whole Lotta Red, Playboi Carti is watching his downfall and celebrating it. Whole Lotta Red is to Playboi Carti as Graduation is to Kanye West, a demise framed as a party. Hopefully, an 808s & Heartbreak-level event can save both Playboi Carti and Jordan Carter before he turns into Future.