After the surprise success of his debut mixtape, Playboi Carti returns with another project. But this time, has Cash Carti bitten off more than he can chew?
Over the past year, Playboi Carti has gone from a SoundCloud chancer to an apparent sure-fire success. Off the strength of his self-titled debut mixtape and its smash hit single “Magnolia,” Carti managed to establish himself as a credible star in the rap game, so much so that his sophomore project Die Lit was received with a reasonable amount of excitement. The question is, has Die Lit lived up to the expectations set by his eponymous mixtape, or has it served to to squander all of his good will?
Carti’s projects have been made or broken by his production choices. Anyone who enjoyed the first mixtape would be likely to agree that producer Pi’erre Bourne and his monolithic synth drones were as important as Carti was to the project’s “Magnolia”-driven success. On Die Lit, Pi’erre and Carti have reunited in order to reestablish their already impressive chemistry, with Pierre handling fifteen out of nineteen tracks. The rest of the beats are handled by a respectable group of additional collaborators including Don Cannon, Indigo Child and Maaly Raw.
Luckily, under Pi’erre’s curation as executive producer, there remains a sense of consistency in spite of this project’s extended length. While such a consistency in mood is strong, there isn’t quite the sensation of any obvious potential smashes the way there once was with “Magnolia”. The album, for all of its length, never manages to feel too trenchant or exhaustive beyond a few minor missteps, leaving us with an album that feels even more cohesive than his debut.
Another interesting change on Die Lit is the considerably high-volume amount of guest features. Lil’ Uzi Vert makes a return on the continuously swelling skyrocket “Shoota,” but he’s the only returning voice. This time, Carti is joined by an eclectic mix of collaborators, including Pi’erre, who picks up the mic for two tracks. For the most part, these collaborations don’t exactly mirror the slightness and simplicity of Carti’s rap style, and the contrast can either dilute the vibe or create an interesting dynamic.
For example, Nicki Minaj’s verse on “Poke It Out” begins by attempting to mirror Carti before suddenly becoming a tour of all her worst stylistic impulses; plus, it goes on for half the four minute song, essentially 96 bars in Carti-Time. However, Skepta’s southern-rap style swagging on the sinister “Lean 4 Real” or the melodic embellishments by Chief Keef on “Mileage” help evolve tracks, granting them whole new dimensions. Oddly enough, even the people who seem like ideal partners for Carti, such as Young Thug and Travis Scott, fail to hit the sweet spot one would expect. Surprisingly, a truly off-the-wall choice like Bryson Tiller can find remarkable comfort within Die Lit’s eclectic soundscapes.
While credit should be thrown to the various guests of Die Lit, the person who essentially keeps the record coherent is unmistakably Carti himself. Whereas prior efforts usually relied on Carti endlessly woodshedding and freewheeling as he strung together bars and phrases off-the-cuff, he appears to be actively constructing flows and styles with purpose this time around. Take for example the 21 Savage-inspired flow on “R.I.P. Fredo,” which seems to play off the arrival of 21’s artist Young Nudy, or the call & response style employed on “Home (KOD).” As effortless as his bars may seem, you can tell that Carti’s taking rap seriously on his own terms.
Granted, there hasn’t been much development in conventional rapping ability, so anyone expecting the sudden arrival of any sort of lyricism or rap virtuosity will be sorely disappointed. At the same time, it feels impetuous to criticize Carti for failing to grow in directions that his style and approach to rap rarely seem to support. Besides, tracks such as “R.I.P.” (which features Pi’erre deploying explosive 808 thuds and a downright foreboding Jodeci sample) convey a sense of how far Pi’erre and Carti have developed their sound without changing up what made it work in the first place.
Die Lit feels like the closest to a fully realized album as Carti is ever going to come close to achieving. With the quote unquote ‘mumble rappers’ having their number of successes over the past year, there’s an ever growing sense of inevitable collapse; what does the future hold for a scene where all of the money and commercial pressure is being placed onto upstarts, who continuously break rap rules? Currently, Carti’s career is surrounded by a vocal sense of confusion. It's hard to say if Die Lit will be the one that ensures his success in the rap game or serve to shatter all his hard-earned momentum. Yet for all the growing pains and confusion, Die Lit should, at the very least, be recspected for doing so much while doing so very little.