Right now, Playboi Carti is riding the wave of his viral hit with Young Nudy, “Pissy Pamper,” a track that has established Carti’s “baby voice” as the most captivating, cutting edge sound in hip-hop (except maybe Lil Nas X’s Thugger-inspired, country-trap singin’). Carti’s high-pitched, consonant-lite vocals signify that the hip-hop trope of the mean, masculine thug is being ushered out and the new exciting aesthetic to push is the pretty, glamourous, iced-out and femme thug. This style was not premiered on “Pissy Pamper,” but on Carti’s album debut Die Lit, released just over a year ago (May 2018).
Since its release, Die Lit has paved its own lane in trap, proving to be the most compelling mainstream contrast against both the quasi-lyrical bars of today’s popular trap as well as the MC-driven history of hip-hop. While contemporaries like Migos, Gunna, Drake, Lil Yachty, etc. continue to straddle the line between (for the most part) lyrical mediocrity and artistry, Carti’s Die Lit was a wholehearted departure from the role of a lyrically complex rapper, and instead teaches a lesson on melodies, producer-vocalist chemistry, adlibs, and trap minimalism. In doing so, Carti shed a light on an unexplored, lyrically minimalist area in trap music, but also showed that this area can only be properly explored by Carti himself.
As other highlights within the genre have continued to roll out since Die Lit‘s release last year, Carti’s studio debut remains untouched and shining as one of the most creative and innovative approaches to trap music. Where Travis Scott’s ASTROWORLD is supersaturated and psychedelic, Die Lit is trance-inducing and serenading. Where 21’s i am > i was is dark and emotional, Die Lit is glistening and buoyant. And where Key! and Kenny Beats’ 777 is rhythmically precise and a seamless collaboration, Die Lit is raw, deconstructed, and––well, a similarly seamless collaboration with executive producer Pi’erre Bourne.
With Die Lit, Playboi Carti delivered an hour-long album full of infectious hits––but I wouldn’t exactly call them bangers. On the surface, the album title alludes to a project devoted towards stirring up a mean milly rock at any given club and not much more, but, as supported by the album’s cover art, the project is in actuality a “fuck you” to the modern trap “banger” in itself, in that it morphed the shape of what said “banger” could be comprised of––a postmodern banger, if you will. It’s a message to the industry that the times they are a-changin’ and Carti will die before he succumbs to the expectations and formulas of his peers and critics.
What makes this album special, put simply, is the impenetrable bond between Playboi Carti and Pi’erre Bourne, along with the unprecedented vocal delivery style from Carti. With the lack of lyrical content on Die Lit, he is egging the listener to focus on his other, very charismatic performance qualities like his flow, melody, adlibs, and energy. Carti, Pi’erre, and each feature on the album mesh almost flawlessly, and these features each add something unique to the album, be it a guest production or a guest verse. The simplicity of Carti’s flows and his subject matter (or lack thereof) in conjunction with Pi’erre’s production puts the listener in a trance that often embodies a whirlpool of shimmering melodies, anchored by always-clean hi-hats and 808s. In this sense, Carti embodies a freestyled spoken word performance, floating over his beats effortlessly, almost carelessly, but deliberately nonetheless.
Die Lit kicks off with “Long Time,” guest produced by Art Dealer. A fitting intro track and one of few with a genuine lyrical message to get across, Carti leads off with pride in reflecting on his journey to stardom. The instrumental is a merry-go-round of tight harmonies played on a flamboyant synth over a simple-but-effective drum pattern, perfect for Carti’s opening monologue. We also encounter Carti’s baby voice for the first time, although it is a rather mild pitching-up for him.
“Lean 4 Real (feat. Skepta)” marks one of the most psychedelic points on the album. Produced by IndigoChildRick, Carti and Skeppy riff over cycling synth chords that effectively embody the sentiment of being drugged out on too many downers. Carti’s high-pitched baby voice delivery is soft and almost faint, contrasting with his percussive adlib sounds and Skepta’s punching verse (which also fits nicely over the hazy instrumental).
On “Love Hurts (feat. Travis Scott),” Carti spits an infectious, almost sassy hook over a very stripped-down instrumental. Travis Scott smoothly complements Carti’s energy to arrive at a final product that drunkenly paints the two flexing in the club. Here, Pi’erre passes the reins to Carti to provide much of the song’s audible meat, and he does not disappoint.
“Shoota (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)” gives Die Lit an early, interlude-esque change of pace. Guest produced by Maaly Raw, the track serves as Carti’s reunion with Uzi, and, as usual, their flows fit together like Tetris. Looped and scratched strings, keys, and chimes create a shimmering instrumental that fit the two glamorous personalities rapping over it like a glove––or gloves, rather.
“Poke It Out” features another minimalist beat from Pi’erre, and again Carti spazzes on his chorus, verse, and adlibs (as does Nicki Minaj, who spits a tantalizing guest verse). Between the track’s adlibs and the irresistibly bouncy delay effect that pops up throughout, “Poke It Out” is one of Die Lit‘s catchiest (and most twerkable) tunes.
Carti’s collaboration with Bryson Tiller, “Fell in Luv (feat. Bryson Tiller),” is a blissful ode to romantic and sexual tension, courtesy of baby Carti. Again Pi’erre provides an instrumental situated at the perfect midpoint between Carti’s minimalism and Tiller’s sing-rapping, using glitchy vocal synths to emulate the emotional and euphoric power of falling in love.
“Mileage (feat. Chief Keef)” features one of the hottest hooks on the project and an endearing verse from baby-voice-Carti, and is another example of Chief Keef’s impressive versatility. This track is also highlighted by Carti’s gunshot adlibs, which help propel the beat forward, and not to mention the playful Miley Cyrus bars.
On “Flatbed Freestyle,” a personal favorite off the album, Carti’s baby voice is on full display. He raps (almost whimpering) over an ingenious beat composed by Pi’erre, consisting by a falling melody over two adjacent chords played on a high-pitched, almost nasally keyboard, which fits Carti’s high-pitched, nasally delivery perfectly. Pi’erre’s goofy vocal sample interjections that anticipate and then land on beat one make for a seamless, James Brown-esque loop that falls into perfect harmony with each bar. Carti could hum the entire song without a discernable word and would still have recorded an impeccable performance.
The last guest production on Die Lit is “No Time (feat. Gunna),” and it does not disappoint. As rappers who have both come up in Atlanta and taken inspiration from the artistry of Young Thug, their flows and styles are analogous and complement each other well. Both have a soothing, effortless delivery over Treshaun Beatz’ instrumental to make for a song that can transport you into the calm chaos of fame and nightlife.
“Choppa Won’t Miss (feat. Young Thug)” features some of the most exciting adlib tracks of the entire album, thanks to Thugger’s ubiquitous “slatt!“s and Carti’s “pewpewpewpew.” The pulsing synth chords over heavy 808 hits make for a “Magnolia”-type bounce and combine with Carti and Thug for a very fun and colorful performance.
As enthusiastic as I am about the creativity put into this album, it’s not perfect, so I’ll quickly address some of its shortcomings, in no particular order. For as great as Pi’erre meshes with Carti across Die Lit, he spits a weak, breathy verse that takes away from the hypnotic “Right Now (feat. Pi’erre Bourne).” Since the album is very minimalist, it takes a very particular chemistry between vocals and instrumentals to make a song catchy and exciting. A few of these cuts (e.g. “Old Money,” “Pull Up,” “Top [feat. Pi’erre Bourne]) lack this spark and end up making for somewhat boring tracks that Die Lit could do without. Also, without a lot of lyrical depth or complexity, these songs do not string together any sort of lyrical meta-themes, which has traditionally been the X Factor that polishes a great album into a classic (see MBDTF, TPAB).
The theme that does reappear throughout Die Lit is not lyrical but is, as stated before, communicated through the distinction between Carti and our conception of what a rapper actually is. The song-by-song flow of the album is not a revolutionary aspect of Die Lit, but it’s a diverse enough range of vibes from track to track that Carti and Pi’erre are able to lead the listener through several different moods without growing stale.
Die Lit showed the rest of the genre the potential for abstractness in trap music. Playboi Carti’s intoxicating charisma and serenading delivery were an innovation not yet explored in trap, and while the door has been opened to this new area of minimalism, melody, and baby-voiced flows, it is becoming more and more clear that Carti may be the only MC able to eloquently deliver a project that uses this style to his advantage––evidenced not only by the lack of efficient steez-jocking, but also the level of fiending that has come with Carti’s follow up on the unreleased “Pissy Pamper.” Hopefully Carti will give us a new elaborative follow-up on this truly one of a kind album soon enough.
Recommended tracks: Long Time, Lean 4 Real (feat. Skepta), Love Hurts (feat. Travis Scott), Shoota (feat. Lil Uzi Vert), Poke It Out, Fell in Luv (feat. Bryson Tiller), Mileage (feat. Chief Keef), FlatBed Freestyle, No Time (feat. Gunna), Choppa Won’t Miss (feat. Young Thug)