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Playboi Carti - Die Lit Music Album Reviews

Playboi Carti - Die Lit Music Album Reviews
The Atlanta rapper’s official debut is an album that works almost completely from its own lunatic script. It is a perversely infectious sugar high, rap that fundamentally recalibrates the brain’s reward centers.

Being a great rapper has never been a prerequisite for making great rap music, but few rappers have ever tested that premise quite as aggressively as Playboi Carti. On his self-titled 2017 debut, the twitchy Atlanta rapper compensated for his shortcomings as a lyricist with vision and spirit, bouncing his sticky ad-libs off of gloopy, gummy beats that played out with the insane logic of a “Double Dare” obstacle course. “Damn, my shit so radical,” Carti bragged, and it truly was. Yet, amazingly, that project sounds almost conservative compared to Die Lit, a 57-minute sugar high that’s even wilder, more disorienting, and more perversely infectious than its predecessor.

Atlanta swag-rap pioneers Travis Porter and Rich Kidz paved the way for Carti’s giddy style, but even they never took it to such delirious extremes. Die Lit is all cream filling, no Oreo. It’s letting a 4-year-old pour his own salad dressing then watching as he absolutely floods his plate with Hidden Valley Ranch. It’s those levels of Mario where the pipes and clouds spew so many coins and one-ups at you that you wonder why you spent all those other levels collecting them one by one. This is music that fundamentally recalibrates the brain’s reward centers.

Once again, the primary architect behind these addictive fragmented tones is producer Pi’erre Bourne, working from a reserve of what sound like hacked Gameboys, busted subwoofers, and chopped and screwed snippets of Ratatat records. Bourne is a one man Acme Corporation assembly line, and in Carti he’s found the perfect foil for his mischief, a fellow iconoclast similarly willing to test the boundaries between catchy and obnoxious. The two have some of the most quixotic chemistry of any producer/rapper combo since Zaytoven and Gucci Mane disrupted Atlanta’s rap scene more than a decade ago.

Where Carti’s full-length last year was technically a mixtape, Die Lit is being marketed as his official debut, which is often when commercial considerations set in and the fun ends. But while the album is loaded with guest features, including ones from Travis Scott and Nicki Minaj, they never upset its surrealist vision. Even “Fell in Luv (feat. Bryson Tiller)” isn’t as cynical as title threatens; it’s just a typically loopy Playboi Carti song with a Bryson Tiller verse that’s mixed like somebody tried to erase it then gave up. With its victorious pianos, the Lil Uzi Vert-assisted triumph anthem “Shoota” is the album’s one obvious concession to radio’s ideal of tunefulness, but it’s an absolute stunner of a track, and it also works as a window to the world outside of Bourne’s studio, highlighting just how odd and malformed all the beats around it are.

Mostly, Die Lit uses outside voices as accent pieces. London grime icon Skepta elbows his way into “Lean 4 Real,” and although his accent cuts a sharp contrast against nearly any American rapper, here it’s just his mere enunciation that comes as a shock. Young Thug joins Carti in making lots of silly noises on “Choppa Won’t Miss,” and they sound like kids playing over a toy chest. Bourne even gets two verses, because really almost any voice will suffice on music like this, and his is serviceable enough (“Bags of the future/Did it all off computers” is also a pretty solid brag for a producer).

In an Atlanta rap scene that tends to progress incrementally, with artists building off of a shared pool of ideas and advancing the breakthroughs of others, Die Lit is an anomaly, an album that works almost completely from its own lunatic script. At its best—which is to say almost the entire thing, really—the album almost seems to suspend gravity. How does a rapper this basic pull off a project this electrifying? No, Carti’s rapping isn’t any better this time out. And no, it really doesn’t matter. When the carnival itself is this magnificent, there’s no need to nitpick the ring-leader.

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