Of the bevy of singles, previews, guest verses and performances I had heard from Atlanta rapper Jordan Teller Carter — known by his musical moniker of Playboi Carti — prior to the release of his first full-length project, my initial impression of his ability was one of overall indifference. His close affiliation with Lil Uzi Vert clearly showed, in that his languid, mumbled delivery most definitely took cues from the Pennsylvanian MC, plus his flows and rhymes tended to be pretty archetypal for trap, establishing nothing resembling a definitive identity amongst the artists with which he had surrounded himself. The strongest impression Playboi Carti had left on me came as a result of his features on A$AP Mob’s debut studio album from last year, Cozy Tapes Vol. 1: Friends, particularly on the closing track Telephone Calls, although, even here, his performance was overshadowed by the cut’s other features. As such, upon the announcement of his debut, self-titled release, my interest was far from piqued, but given the appearance of some notable producers on the mixtape, I thought that perhaps, with the assistance of a talented recording crew, the young rapper might just be able to find his feet and distinguish himself from the contemporaries he has so plainly pulled from before now. However, on Playboi Carti, the rapper essentially embodies a recurring trend that has unfortunately reared its ugly head on many a debut mixtape and album recently; that being that the artist himself is the least interesting aspect of his own project.
As would be expected from many of the names that show up in the production credits, the beats are of a relatively high standard across much of the tape, but Playboi Carti himself makes little of the opportunities presented to him on many of these instrumentals. Not only are his flow and delivery still more Lil Uzi Vert’s than his own, but Carti is also far too reliant on ad libs, and not to much success, as they seldom add anything to any of these songs. Lyrically speaking, the MC simply rattles off typical trap tropes without building on them in any significant way, whilst his hooks tend to be rather indistinguishable from his verses, resulting in a lack of many memorable moments. For the most part, despite its solid production, Playboi Carti barely even demonstrates that the artist has made an attempt to find his own voice, rather his mundane performances and over-reliance on ad libs lead to a project that comes across as senseless and directionless and, as such, is ultimately forgettable.
The disconnect between MC and DJ is evident right from the onset with the Harry Fraud-produced Location. From a production standpoint, this synth-driven beat is a perfect opener for a mumble rap mixtape, establishing the moody, nocturnal vibe that spans across much of Playboi Carti, whilst boasting some smooth, jazz-infused instrumentals, not to mention the topnotch beat switch that sees the inclusion of a well-integrated guitar lick from Allan Holdsworth’s Endomorph. With Playboi Carti spitting over this beat, however, he doesn’t add anything to this track more than he acts as an annoyance over what nonetheless stands as a very impressive instrumental. Indeed, the MC establishes many of the recurring bad habits that will appear again and again over the course of the tape’s runtime, such as the mindless and cluttered ad libs, the incessant repetition of bars and the lack of many discernible features that differentiate his hooks from his verses. The slight nasal inflection he has picked up from Lil Uzi Vert also ends up coming across as rather forced and awkward, and, as a result, fits quite clumsily atop some of the classy instrumentals featured on the tape. Many of the best instrumentals on Playboi Carti come from Pi’erre Bourne, to the point that the mixtape, at times, feels like a Pi’erre Bourne beat tape that a random Soundcloud rapper hopped on to deliver some half-baked verses. On wokeuplikethis*, despite Bourne’s searing synth line and icy countermelody laying down a catchy instrumental, Carti comes through with one of his most repetitive and underwritten hooks on the entire tape. Plus, the entire premise of the song is almost laughably ironic, with the rapper purporting that other MCs have been ripping off his vocal style (“Woke up to niggas sounding like me”), and yet wokeuplikethis* also features a guest verse from Lil Uzi Vert, from whom Carti has clearly taken many a stylistic cue, from his drawling tone to his heavy emphasis on ad libs. There are certain instances, particularly on dothatshit!, wherein Bourne’s dainty, flute-based production almost gets drowned out in the mess of Carti’s ad libs, which seldom ever come across as particularly energising or entertaining. What’s more, quite a few tracks on Playboi Carti, particularly Lookin, feature frivolous and ludicrously overblown introductory vocal segments from Carti that simply waste a significant portion of the track and hinder its flow slightly, whilst other cuts present ridiculously rudimentary refrains that are repeated ad nauseum, with a prime example being the closing track, Had 2, which, despite its brief runtime, is largely dedicated to the mind-numbing repetition of the line, “Boss up on these niggas”, which is recited 35 times overall.
There is most definitely the odd instance in which Playboi Carti rides the beat presented to him rather well, but such examples are rather limited and tend to see the rapper overplay his occasional realisation of a catchy hook or clever line. Magnolia, once again produced by Pi’erre Bourne, flaunts a crisp, buzzing bass synth and a graceful flute line atop a slick trap beat, and Carti comes through with a punctuated refrain that is rather infectious, although, yet again, he is far too liberal in reciting it over and over again. New Choppa not only boasts some great production, courtesy of Riera, with its quivering, almost 8-bit-sounding lead melody and haunting countermelody, but Carti and guest feature A$AP Rocky exhibit some compelling chemistry amongst their intertwining verses, plus this track is one of the few on Playboi Carti to not overstay its welcome particularly, rounding off at just over two-minutes in total. However, outside of these exhaustive examples, despite the opportunities granted to him by a selection of highly talented producers who provide some fantastic beats, Playboi Carti squanders these chances for the most part, in that he provides little in the way of original or even well-executed ideas as a means of establishing a character for himself amongst his contemporaries, rather he seems to resort to typical trap clichés without adding anything to such tropes that makes him stand out from his obvious influences.
Playboi Carti’s debut mixtape embodies an issue that has appeared on many a recent debut full-length, that being that the artist himself is the least remarkable thing about his own project. The production really steals the show on Playboi Carti, and even the best verses on the tape come courtesy of guest features, particularly A$AP Rocky’s aforementioned appearance on New Choppa, so Carti himself is left coming across as a disturbance on his own mixtape, which doesn’t bode at all well for future material from the rapper. The tiresome repetition of bars and disorderly ad libs seem to exist purely to pad out the MC’s input over some very admirable production and, in fact, Playboi Carti would be a much better project were it released as a beat tape. I can certainly see some appeal in this mixtape, but it arises solely from the quality of the instrumentals, whilst Playboi Carti’s contributions, at best, merely fulfil the role of a mumble rapper. Indeed, the fundamental problems with Carti’s character run deeper than simply lacking a definitive sound or style, rather he seems to employ ill-conceived techniques as a crutch, which is a bad habit he should shake off soon if he’s serious about making waves in the trap game.
The Vinyl Verdict: 5/10