Rock is dead, the common saying goes.
It has been shut out, grew out of touch with the masses, replaced in the youthful mainstream by the much more timely and versatile world of hip-hop. What was once a capricious, rebellious spirit has since then stagnated and eventually fell to niche grounds as rap took center stage.
However, while rock may have for the most part retreated, its spirit lives on, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Playboi Carti’s as-of-now magnum opus, Whole Lotta Red. A long, at times agonizingly anticipated departure from his somewhat more mellow prior albums (yes, I find Die Lit mellow compared to this), the album fully deserves its rapid chart climb, latching onto your eardrums and hardly letting go across its whopping 24-song repertoire.
Experimental yet surprisingly stylistically consistent, I can certainly recommend this gritty pocket-rocket to a rocker trying to get into rap, a raphead trying to get into rock, or even for a casual, energetic evening to optimistically kick off 2021 (the fool you are).
A consistent if overwhelming bout of experimentation
The first thing that probably hits you is the presence of much more raspy, aggressive vocals. An intended and consistent stylistic choice, the vocals emulate a performer tearing up his throat toward the end of a lengthy concert. Perhaps a tad off-putting at first, this vocal style quickly grows on you, exemplifying the aggressive, energetic, no-holds-barred approach Playboi is taking with the whole album.
The clear vocal and tonal consistency throughout only helps highlight the musical experimentation present throughout. Kanye’s vocals predictably show up on a track, then Kid Cudi and Future’s more, shall we say, meditative vocals help give “M3tamorphosis” and “Teen X” (respectively) an almost ethereal vibe, a strange mix of tensity and aloofness that I have only ever found in rap and perhaps the occasional blues song. My favorite part, however, easily comes at the beginning of “Vamp Anthem”, which opens with a remix of a Bach composition. Yes, the exact Bach composition when you hear the word “vamp”.
As a longtime proponent of integrating organ in rap (which I have not successfully seen done since the days of K-Rino), those unexpected opening notes and their integration into the rest of the track bring joy to my heart. While the term has become a bit of a dirty word from its association with Juggalos (you know, back when it was cool to hate on Juggalos), but horrorcore remains an inspiration here as well.
Perhaps the one area where the album suffers is in fact in the sheer number of its tracks. There are a lot of admirable efforts at hand here, but due to the number of goodies, at least a few are bound to go over a listener’s head on the first go. At the same time, keep in mind that it’s very much a rock star album – loud, aggressive, kind of raunchy and surprisingly imposing. Though coming straight off of “evermore”, I, perhaps unjustly, expected a tad bit more lyrical depth than was presented.
Spirit of rock, and the unexpected target audience
While a bold, clearly thought-out blast of an album, it is not the mainstream listener, or even a seasoned Playboi Carti fan, who I think will derive the most joy out of this album. Rather, show this to your metalhead friend. You know, the guy in your group who wears a Saxon shirt while actually knowing what Saxon is, who complains about music being dead and whose library consists of hits from the early 80s, or hits desperately trying to be early 80s (so basically me).
While I don’t foresee rock making a legitimate comeback to the charts in the near future (no, Imagine Dragons don’t count shut up), the voraciousness, stylistic boldness, and the unabashed emotion presented certainly make Whole Lotta Red a love letter to the rockstar extravagance thought bygone, and easily Carti’s finest work to date.