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Monday, December 11, 2023

Playboi Carti’s debut mixtape feels uninspired and derivative

After teasing a mixtape for what seems like ages, Playboi Carti’s debut, self-titled tape is finally here, and despite the hype, it’s pretty underwhelming. Playboi Carti is really nothing more than a stereotypical dive into the “trendsetting” life of a rising SoundCloud rapper.

There’s an argument to be made that Carti is a trendsetter when it comes to street style, but he’s far from it in the rap game. On “wokeuplikethis*” when he says he woke up to other rappers “sounding like me,” it’s because his music isn’t groundbreaking.

His voice sounds like every wannabe A$AP Mob associate. Right now, the only difference between him and those other aesthetically indulgent rappers is that he’s actually gotten cosigns from the Mob.

As a sort of A$AP Rocky protegé, Carti should have a lot going for him. He’s got connections to some of the most popular artists in hip-hop, yet outside of features from Rocky and Lil Uzi, the tape doesn’t do anything unique.

If Rocky is the confident, experienced brother in the Mob, then Carti is the awkward little brother who tries to be just like his older sibling. That does have its benefits, though; much like Rocky and Ferg, Carti’s lyrics are oozing with confidence. Experimenting with his confidence could bring him to really exciting places in the future, but for now, it just seems like a way to hide how heavily influenced he is by his mentors.

However, it’s not an irredeemable project. Sure, it has no business being 46 minutes long, but there are moments that show he has more to offer than uninspired imitation.

Tracks like “Other S--t” and “Yah Mean” have simple nod-your-head production that make it impossible to sit still. A chunk of the songs on Playboi Carti are simply entertaining, but there’s no substance to them—which I guess is fine if you want something basic to listen to as you go through your daily routine.

Though there are very few of them, some moments are worthy of high praise. One of them comes in the form of a verse from A$AP Rocky. His feature on “New Choppa” is an absolutely bonkers verse showcasing the Harlem native’s skill for bringing in a jaw-dropping flow that few rappers could pull off.

Aside from mirroring other rappers’ styles, Carti’s biggest issue is being overshadowed by every feature. Both songs with Lil Uzi play back-to-back, making it briefly seem like an Uzi mixtape instead of the other way around. It’s no surprise that Rocky steals the show, but Carti is barely present on the track.

I wanted to like this tape because Carti has a unique persona that could translate to some fly music, but it doesn’t happen here. Imagine that Carti took elements of A$AP Mob’s swagger and threw them on top of a SoundCloud rapper’s tracks, and the final product is this tape. It follows a basic formula for what he thinks is popular and the result is something that could be spit out of a machine.

I’m all for mixtapes that stick to hip-hop tropes as long as they bring something new: interesting flows, perplexing metaphors, crazy production or even something as simple as a unique voice. On Playboi Carti, there are few moments that really stick out, but the ones that do give me hope that his debut album will be an improvement—it also doesn’t hurt that he’s been in the studio with Frank Ocean.

Grade: C-

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