"Battered Bruised & Bloody" is a three-act display of Carnage's willingness and ability to work within multiple styles of hip hop and electronic music.
Somewhere around the beginning of 2015, it became clear that DJ Carnage was getting serious about rap production. I'm not talking just collaborating with rappers— electronic artists have been throwing rappers on dance beats with regularity since the bloghaus era gave us stuff like Kid Cudi and David Guetta's "Memories" or N.O.R.E. and MSTRKRFT's "Bounce." Carnage had already pulled that move, outfitting G-Eazy with "Harlem Shake"-era trap-rave on 2012's "Loaded" and Migos with an even more jacked-up dance tent sound on 2014's "Bricks" (Obviously, there's no trap-rave without trap-rap, but that's an entirely different essay). In 2015, Carnage started blending in more with rap production. "WDYW," released in February of that year, still sounds a little like an EDM/rap hybrid (specifically, A$AP Ferg's "Work" with more low end), but his debut album, released that October, brought with it the OG Maco-featuring "The Mud," which could at least pass for the work of a forward-thinking Atlanta rap producer.
Carnage has only leaned harder into hip hop in the past three years. Two Lil Yachty collabs ("Rari" and "Mase in '97") showed his ability to fit in with each of SoundCloud rap's tranquil and abrasive poles, respectively. Last year's Young Martha EP with Young Thug was his most rap-centric work yet, with the tropical-house-y "Don't Call Me" the only of the four songs that could even judiciously be called dance music. With Battered Bruised & Bloody, Carnage's EDM past has gone entirely out of the window save for two instrumental songs that are thrown in the middle of a rap album with little warning. If you played this album to someone who didn't know Carnage and told them it was Rap Caviar, they probably wouldn't guess you were messing with them until track seven.
Regardless of Carnage's previous exploits and your opinion of them, this album would fall flat on its face if he didn't do his homework and turn in a respectable batch of rap beats. A handful of EDM tracks featuring rappers in the middle of an EDM album is one thing, but very few people want to hear a full 45 minutes of rappers going in over four-on-the-floor beats. If Battered Bruised & Bloody has one main reason for succeeding (and it's got a few), it's that Carnage shows he's capable of trafficking in several styles under the rap zeitgeist umbrella while not sounding much like a dance music convert. He does, in the album's second half, turn in a pair of tracks that hew closer to pop radio in the current trop-pop era, but other than the mob-music-with-house-buildups of the Lil B-featuring "Motorola," the 11 songs on this album that don't feature Skellism or Steve Aoki are pretty divorced from big-tent dance music.
We begin with a tour de force of Soundcloud rap, with Carnage calling on Killy, Deko, Lil Pump, and Scarlxrd, four rappers of varying popularity who nevertheless share the fact that SC is where they got their start. Of these, Killy and Deko handle the more vibes-based, Murda Beatz-style outings while Lil Pump and Scarlxrd shepherd the producer through blunt-impact bangers. The wildcards in this suite of songs are the aforementioned "Motorola" and "Learn How to Watch," which somehow makes an intriguing pair out of Madeintyo and Mac Miller. This first third of the album is fun, quick, and repetitive, and while it certainly says something that Lil Pump has the best verse within that section (and, quite possibly, the album), Carnage hits ever SoundCloud rap nail on the head, giving the genre a deceptive "so easy anyone could do it" feel.
The weakest section of Battered Bruised & Bloody is definitely the mid-album dance break, and I'm not just saying that because I'm writing for a rap site— I genuinely believe that "MOROKOMBA!" and "Plur Genocide" are both a bit goofy and gimmicky. In his early days, Carnage made his name playing aggressive, pummeling hardstyle, and while both of these tracks still retain elements of that genre, they're blended with signifiers from other eras of dance music in which Carnage seems a little out of his depth. "MOROKOMBA!," with its video game drop and hi-gloss drum sound, would fit right in with Darude's "Sandstorm" and other late '90s Eurodance tracks, save for its slightly deeper bass sound.
The Steve Aoki-assisted "Plur Genocide," on the other hand, is a trip straight back to the Crookers/Ed Banger era of bloghaus, complete with a hook sampling a rapper and its pre-dubstep bass. Stylistically, these two tracks are a jarring departure from the rest of Battered Bruised & Bloody, and ideologically, they're even more out-of-step with the otherwise modern and forward-thinking album.
We get closer to modern pop, which now often means a loose mixture of tropical house and rap signifiers, on the album's back third. Promising young voices again make up the majority of collaborators, save for four Migos verses between the last two tracks. Here, Carnage shows he can do delicate and heartfelt in addition to in-your-face and pulse-quickening, which I personally was not expecting coming into Battered Bruised & Bloody. The final track, "Waterworld," feels a little tacked-on because of name recognition and relatively generic trap production, but it's excusable because any producer with a Migos collab in their pocket would probably do the same.
Battered Bruised & Bloody's best aspect is its blend of maximalist future pop, which at times veers towards the experiment that Charli XCX recently attempted and succeeded at on last year's Pop 2. Carnage's weakness here, though, is that he's still pretty staid in his compartmentalization of genres— now that I know he can do tropical house and distorted SoundCloud punk-rap, I'm interested in hearing what happens when he removes them from the kiddie plate with dividers between side dishes and lets them commingle.
He's successfully moved beyond his initial identity as an EDM producer/rap interloper and into a career in which he can easily straddle the line, though he's more rap-focused these days. As he seems like he could produce for a wide variety of rappers, I'd be interested to see a Carnage co-production credit on a major label rap album. Perhaps the main thing that keeps Carnage tied to dance music, though, is his clear desire to be the lead artist and make projects on his own. Battered Bruised & Bloody is much more successful in that regard than Papi Gordo, and if Carnage stays hungry and keeps playing around with the rap zeitgeist, he could soon helm a genre-defying party-starter of an album.