Updated: May 6, 2019
Written by Sebastian Fernandez
Trap rap has become largely definitive of the musical zeitgeist in recent years, and as a result, the amount of trap music releasing has increased tremendously. Websites like Soundcloud and YouTube have been flooded with crowds of people trying to ride the wave to become the next Uzi or Pump, and artists like Migos and Future who have already achieved fame have been flooding the charts with album upon album and mixtape upon mixtape. In the meantime, however, the only thing Playboi Carti has been flooding is his watch face. In a genre defined by a constant struggle to remain relevant and put your name in the spotlight for as long as possible, Playboi Carti has achieved success by doing the exact opposite.
"In short, Playboi Carti is a rockstar."
To understand why Carti purposefully markets himself so sparingly and puts so little of himself in the public eye at any given time, one must understand his brand–his aesthetic as an artist. In short, Playboi Carti is a rockstar. Comparable to acts like the Sex Pistols and, more recently, Odd Future, Carti’s MO is to put as little care into anything as possible. In an interview with the FADER, Carti recounted that his mother used to say that he “was always the type of kid to show you rather than tell you,” and this continues to be the case in his music. Carti doesn’t alter himself to fit any expectations: he presents his materialistic, drug-obsessed, and carefree-to-the-point-of-hedonism self at all times, reflecting his indulgent lifestyle in his music and personality. Carti lets the utter idiocy of lyrics like, “She tatted up now, I see you see / I know you see, I know you see I see,” from “Fell In Luv” (feat. Bryson Tiller), and “Ooh, lean lean lean lean lean lean lean,” from “Pull Up,” do the talking. Carti doesn’t worry about advertising himself or curating an aesthetic, because to do so would be antithetical of the careless confidence with which he carries himself.
The sonics of his music fit his approach as well. The beats Carti raps over are deceptively complex, utilizing a palette of sounds and textures that would lead you to believe that many of them could have been made on a laptop in 20 minutes. However, his beats frequently contain swirling and psychedelic synthesizers that create a uniquely dreamy and druggy atmosphere that few modern rappers can replicate. In contrast with this style however, many of Carti’s other beats are spacey and stripped-back, restating his complete disdain for effort and maximalism.
"While many modern trap artists saturate the market with their sound, Playboi Carti drops in to feed his fans then disappears from the limelight as quickly as he came."
On the business side of Carti’s music, he takes a similar, exaggeratedly effortless approach towards marketing and promotion of himself. Contemporary artists like Future and Migos are completely incomparable to Playboi Carti in this respect. At the time of writing this, Carti’s Instagram account has only 16 posts, each with a very consistent caption style: typo-filled and with a surprisingly cryptic tone. His first of four posts this year is from April 1st. For comparison, at the time of writing, rapper Quavo of Migos’ Instagram page has 3096 posts, and he’s posted 419 times this year since April 1st. As for music releases, rapper Future has been the lead artist on three widely promoted albums this year, and together, Migos are the lead artists of three more albums this year, with another expected to come in December from member Offset. Carti on the other hand dropped only one album this year, completely unannounced until the day before its release. While many modern trap artists saturate the market with their sound, Playboi Carti drops in to feed his fans then disappears from the limelight as quickly as he came, leaving his eager fans constantly wanting more from him and preventing the public from boring of his style; less is truly more for Playboi Carti.
Carti said, in an interview with Genius, “People thought I was sleep, and I was actually woke. That’s what it’s about. Deadass. I feel like people thought Carti was sleep, and I was really woke.” However, given how Carti has somehow turned his utter lack of effort into a successful brand, one can’t help but wonder how “woke” Carti actually is. Does he know why his music has struck a chord with so many fans looking for the carefree cool attitude that he brings, or does he truly not care? Is Carti aware of his carefully crafted modern rockstar persona, or is this all an accident that resulted from some effortless mumbling over random beats? That’s the greatest part of this whole shtick, though: it’s almost more fitting that he should be completely unaware at all.