There’s a world out there that’s perfect. Let me tell you about it. In this utopia, currency is in the form of reposts, the universally accepted greatest television series is not The Wire but Dragon Ball Z, high fashion is a long sleeve black t-shirt with the word “Friends” printed in bold across the front and the founding father is a 16-year old by the name of Chief Keef. Unlike the real world where everything comes to a sudden halt when Drake or Beyonce are courteous enough to upload anything more than a breath onto streaming services, this place stops spinning at the slightest rumor—even from the most unreliable of sources—of a grainy Instagram ripped snippet from Lil Uzi Vert or Playboi Carti. This world is SoundCloud and it got its standstill moment when Carti surprisingly released his appropriately named second album Die Lit last week.
Just two years ago, the thought of receiving two Playboi Carti full lengths in a two year period was improbable. The Atlanta-based rapper became an enigma after a string of Ethereal and Mexikodro platform shattering hits. His snippets, low quality leaks and clips, became as valuable as gold on SoundCloud. The tracks were dealt, traded, and sold all by optimistic, yet frustrated teenagers who wanted one thing out of life: “Drop the tape Carti!” The love he got on SoundCloud continued to evolve, at times bordering on obsession, as kids held an air-tight grip to their absurdly low quality “Telly” snippets. And telling your friends about a budding “SoundCloud rapper” with almost no online presence made you sound as insane as an NBA scout attempting to convince an owner to draft a European prospect post-Andrea Bargnani. Then in late 2016, Playboi Carti would emerge as the new young hope of the A$AP Mob in New York—not behind the underappreciated Atlanta-based Awful Records collective that introduced him. That subsequently led to his abandonment of the dystopian Ethereal synths in favor of the elegance of Pi’erre Bourne on his long awaited eponymous debut Playboi Carti.
In the year since Carti’s debut, SoundCloud has gone through a transition. At one point, the SoundCloud community existed strictly on that platform but artists began to migrate and exist outside of the site. A pivotal moment for this generation was the 2017 XXL Freshman cover which brought a ton of skeptical eyes onto Carti and his peers, elevating critiques of the movement’s content which had begun with the 2016 Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert headlined cover. The condemnation of the music—such as Hip Hop DX’s infamous headline calling Playboi Carti a “glorified beat tape with ad-libs”—began to effect the output. Lil Yachty became hell bent on winning a beef with Hot 97’s Ebro by proving that he could rap traditionally, and other artists such as Trippie Redd and XXXTentacion followed. But that wasn’t what the SoundCloud world was about. Following in the footsteps of punk, it was supposed to be a place where approval from previous generations was an afterthought. If they didn’t like it, fuck it. They’re old anyway. Die Lit, is an accomplishment because it lives in rebellion, disregarding what Carti’s predecessors deem as valuable.
Self-awareness is key, and Carti getting in touch with that allowed him to separate himself from the pack, reaching territory where only Lil Uzi resides. On the album’s second track “R.I.P.” Carti and Pi’erre are hilariously transforming Jodeci’s “What About Us” into a headbanger. Carti goes off on a tangent: “Fuck that mumblin shit/Fuck that mumblin shit/Bought a crib for my momma off that mumblin shit,” genuinely unbothered by the pundits. He’s aware of complaints that say he can slip into incoherence, but opts to further anger this crowd by pushing the lack of comprehension to its brink. “Flatbed Freestyle” seems to be a slow descent into madness as Carti’s voice heightens and his annunciation becomes nonexistent as the song progresses. By the end, it’s as if Carti showed up to the studio directly after a shot of Novacane.
Artists tweaking their vocal pitch has always been an essential SoundCloud stylistic choiceusually just to mix shit up. The mainstream rap community has only really been exposed to the pitch alteration methods developed in Memphis and Houston. Specifically, music coming from OG Ron C’s Swishahouse which transformed chopped vocals into the mainstream mainstay it is today. But Carti reaches to the opposite end of the spectrum and on a portion of Die Lit’s tracks significantly raises his pitch. It begins on the victorious album intro “Long Time”—which is Carti essentially bragging that yes, he’s on some cool shit—where the polarizing stage is set. Skepta then joins Carti on “Lean 4 Real” which uses an intoxicating Indigochildrick beat, that belongs on a Disney World water ride, to melt minds as he not only raises his pitch, but delves into intense repetition (“I’m on em beans for real/ I’m on the lean for real”).
Repetition has always had its place in rap, but more now than ever. Desiigner transformed, “Panda, Panda, Panda” into a phenomenon and Lil Pump’s rise has been on the back of similar lyrical structure (“Gucci Gang, Gucci Gang, Gucci Gang”). Carti is the poster boy, though. It’s a method derived from Back From the Dead 2 era Chief Keef, which on tracks like “Faneto” and “The Moral,” the Chicago rapper innovatively constructs his flow (“The moral of the story gang gang/The moral of the story gang bang”). Carti captures the very essence of the method on “Pull Up,” mastering it in the process. Nearly every line is subsequently repeated “All of these niggas they talkin/All of these niggas they talkin/I let my choppa they talk/I let my choppa they talk.” It’s a pattern that he haphazardly sticks to.
But of course the most important element of Die Lit is that it’s the embodiment of a current culture where the only thing more important than one day achieving that six figure paying job is Instagram clout (understandably) and getting by through overcharging on Grailed (also, understandably).
Die Lit is the unification of the SoundCloud elite and the figures who came directly before, an embracement of it’s short but rich history. Skepta and Bryson Tiller make their appearances: Skepta as the way-too-old friend who has seen some shit, but dresses nice and has an income so you put up with him. Bryson is a respected figure based on the fact that Trapsoul proved Soundcloud success was translatable. A trifecta of rappers influential to the platform’s musical direction also appear in top form. Chief Keef joins Carti for a sex positive ad lib fueled odyssey “Mileage.” World famous dad Travis Scott arrives on “Love Hurts.” Young Thug connects with Carti for arguably the album’s best track “Choppa Won’t Miss,” in which he reminds the world to never forget how much he means to this scene, using a stop-start flow that is begging to be emulated. And Carti does not forget his peers Gunna and Young Nudy, as well as his doubles partner Lil Uzi Vert who steals the show on “Shoota.”
Knowing your strengths and limitations is a skill that few have. Playboi Carti on Die Lit is not only able to recognize his limits, but accentuate his strengths. The album is packaged for the SoundCloud world but exists just fine outside of it. Carti—along with Uzi—now finds himself in a crucial, torch-bearing position for an entire generation. Any missteps would only give validation to a larger rap community indefinitely warring against change. Die Lit is a true “I know what’s popping, you don’t know shit” moment. And if there’s anything we’ve learned over the last five years, it’s that there is nothing more SoundCloud than that.
Alphonse Pierre is a New York-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.