Playboi Carti – A Review

I’ve found it quite hard to reinvent myself as a rap fan. In a field where the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and other lyrical gods are providing that true essence, the frequent itch I need to scratch is this new wave of mumble rappers that aren’t going away. I was ignorant at first, quick to dismiss any and everything they had to offer.

The person who turned the tide happened to be a young man from Awful Records named Playboi Carti, and his viral smash ‘Broke Boi’. Suddenly I grasped the appeal; it wasn’t the substance of what he was saying, but the aesthetic to the record that made me vibe. He made it cool for me to favour the bars but also get down to what the new generation were doing. This is not to say that he is super lyrical spiritual spherical miracle, but more on that later.

Since then, my ear for – for want of a better word – commercial sounding rap was opened and my prejudices began to slip away. Carti was only dropping loosies but his debut project will be fire, I thought.

Well, fast forward a couple years and that young man has settled slowly into the game rather than blowing the door down, stalling on a full-length project until this point. His self-titled debut mixtape illuminates his highlights; namely, his ear for beats. Listening to this tape, my same prejudices threatened to resurface, however.

But I’ll get the good bits out of the way first. Beginning the project is the Harry Fraud-produced ‘Location’, which sounds like what happens when you ascend into heaven and Rick James is waiting for you at the pearly gates. Carti fits his lane perfectly here, with his trademark ‘YAH’ and ‘WHAT’ adlibs weaving between braggadocious diatribes.

The good vibes continue on another highlight, ‘Magnolia’, with Pierre Bourne behind the boards, and it becomes clear that Cash Carti is relaying on the producers to craft the mixtape. Which, for the most part, they do. Other exceptional beats appear elsewhere, such as the A$AP Rocky-assisted ‘New Choppa’, ‘Half and Half’ and ‘No. 9’, and they serve the purpose of keeping things exciting as the lyrics meander from one generic trap theme to another. Carti is vivid despite using little words (literally half of the album is adlibs), and his energy and confidence is reciprocated by the production.

The excitement gets old very quickly, though, and it gets to a point where I can’t rely on the beats anymore. But it began to make sense. Its more than fine to hear one or two tracks at any one time, but a whole 15-track project? The appeal will have lost its lustre after track six at least! Luckily, Playboi Carti managed to keep my attention until track 9, but the lack of sophistication in his songwriting became more grating. It gets to a point where hooks are not clearly discernible from verses, namely on ‘Wokeuplikethis’ with player partner Lil Uzi Vert, the kind of thoughtless methods apparent in no classic album/mixtape ever.

There’s only so much of the same thing I want to hear on a project, no matter how good it sounds. He is describing a lifestyle of carefree innocence, free of consequence, and that is all well and good, but with Lil Yachty, Uzi (who made two appearances on the mixtape) and others above him in the pecking order, Carti has to figure out a way to jettison himself to the top of the pile. Those artists arguably do it better, but there is space for Carti to shine. He has the aesthetic and sound already, so half of the work is already done.

This is a solid if not contrived first outing for an artist about whom we still don’t really know much (other than his extracurricular activities with the opposite sex), and there is potential if the vocals can match the beats, but the Atlanta rapper represents the best and worst of new age rap. With better lyrical output, he could become one of its focal points.


Wretch 32’s ‘Growing Over Life’: A Review

As featured in Complex UK

Among the deftest emcees to emerge from the grime scene since its inception, the man known as Wretch 32 from Tottenham has always worn his heart firmly on his sleeve and has come into his own in recent years.

From the early days of The Movement to commercial success and acclaim on his own, Wretch has led by example as he has charted his journey from the underground to the ascendancy of mainstream recognition. Returning with his third studio album, and his first in half a decade, Growing Over Life uncovers an artist with an intense sense of community, one who understands the journey he has undertaken and the sacrifices that he’s made.

Leaning towards traditionally hip-hop soundscapes, the album’s production is riddled with lowkey boom bap but levelled by piano, brass and violin sequences that demonstrate the high level of musicality and thought put into Wretch’s overall sound. Flipping The Notorious B.I.G. on “All A Dream” serves as the clearest indicator of Growing Over Life‘s musical direction. It’s almost minimal with its subtlety, without sounding it.

Only album opener and highlight “Antwi” sticks to the trademark grime formula to amazing effect, and sets the precedent for the next 11 tracks to follow. His musical parameters are expanded to a level that is far from the realm of the scene he came up in.

Wretch is at his sharpest lyrically on this album, tackling his subject matter almost with a sense of duty, as if he was born to. “Pressure” projects expectations placed on Wretch from all cylinders, and his way of overcoming and making his family, and the ends, proud. It’s almost as if the MC relishes the responsibilities thrust upon him, adamant they make him a better person.

Delving into the album more and the first half certainly acts as a lamenting of the struggles and consequences of trying to make it, as demonstrated in the phone conversation between Wretch and his partner at the end of “Take Me As I Am”. He decides to choose pursuing his dream over his relationship; a way of bettering his life in the long-run, despite the pain of losing his love.

Calls for social justice are rife throughout the album, with “Open Conversation & Mark Duggan” the shining musical star. Born out of a mutual frustration towards the treatment of black people in this country, Wretch lets himself go lyrically as he reflects on a history of the police failing the black community, with a standout assist from Avelino compounding the anger further.

Wretch 32 continues to coax his guests out of their comfort zone, and they sing their hearts out in support. From Emeli Sandé and Laura Mvula to Kranium and Knox Brown, the features serve to perfectly advance the pain and sorrow, and later joy and happiness that encapsulate the project.

This is particularly effective in the second half of the album, which shifts to a sense of gratefulness and recognition of those important to him, in tracks “I.O.U.”, featuring Sande, and “Cooked Food”, as Wretch levels up with heartfelt vocals. Ending with “Church”, the MC appears to have found solace in himself, able to hang his head high in church rather than being another statistic in the prison system. His life has seen a number of ups and downs, but he wouldn’t have it any other way, with the bellowing cries of a gospel choir reflecting the album’s triumph.

Wretch has reached a pinnacle on his third album, expressing himself in maximum comfort and with a maturity that has seldom been seen in his generation—all while delivering insightful, romantic, and ultimately triumphant bars that reinforce what we already knew about him.

As an artist and a leader of the UK scene, he has never been afraid to project himself to the fullest, and this is fully realised in his latest body of work. Growing over life, he most certainly has done.