As much as many would work to vehemently deny this fact, the art of tried and true simplicity has come to dominate the grander hip-hop landscape within the past decade’s end -- far more than it had ever come to do so from each section of the genre, at least. As the 2010s moved forward and forward with distinct sounds and styles arising as more than just trends, the landscape from the highest spectacle eventually became transfixed with the art of “doing more with less.”
That idea was exponentially advanced towards the middle of the decade with the now-infamous rise of what eventually became coined as “SoundCloud rap” -- hip-hop with a perceived notion of “lyrical-ineptitude” and that “lacked substance” compared to adjacent sub-genres at the time and even in the past as well. Though those claims are put into scrutiny for extremely valid reasons, it is truly fair to say that acts in this light certainly ran with the simplistic and seemingly carefree demeanor that they would come to exude on the widest public scale moving into the future.
But though it stands to reason that this simplistic - and what many called “ignorant” - nature was at least in some parts true when taking in all that this era had to offer from the outset, what many failed to realize was just how incredible, iconic, and simply impactful the best music out of this scene really was. These artists set the bar for the generations to come after them in the midst of the Internet age, and the landscape would not be the same without them.
But even as the genre began to hit its loftiest heights towards the end of 2016 moving into the following year, seldom acts had truly come through with what could be considered a “classic” offering, even within that once-present time. A plethora of essential music was indeed being released, but no one had quite come through with a wall-to-wall “standard” of a project -- something that would both encapsulate the era it found itself in, while also setting the mark for even more projects and the artists behind them to follow suit.
That is, until Playboi Carti - a purveyor of the scene and its corresponding style even at the time - took it upon himself to put together a 15-track odyssey of an album experience with his self-titled 2017 project. This album stands the test of time even to this day in such a wide and all-encompassing manner -- from practically every single angle it could have taken from the outset.
Carti had already made his mark as a rising and soon-to-be icon of modern hip-hop with a bevvy of outstanding singles and projects alike; he made the rounds across the Internet landscape far before most were able to capitalize on it as he did, and even amongst those who had joined him in that quest, it was he himself who would do it far better than any single one of his contemporaries.
But that sheer talent wouldn’t hit the mainstream level until this very album was released. Off of the back of the project’s most notable single “Magnolia,” Carti would find himself and his album eventually standing with nearly as much prominence as the likes of Kendrick Lamar’s Damn which released the very same day as this project. Though it would take until the summer for things to really start to become apparent as far as Carti arriving at the mainstream level was concerned, perhaps these two projects standing as quite the antithesis of each other represented an entire paradigm shift that we can now look back on in a tellingly different light.
That contrast begins and ends with the artistic themes and approaches that make up this project for its entirety; we’re dealing with an album here that lives and dies off of its unadulterated sense of appeal alone, which would truly be quite the hurdle for any other artist but Carti to climb given how difficult it is to make an album come off as brilliant with so little to work with.
It should be noted however that this is Playboi Carti we’re talking about, someone who is sincerely one-of-a-kind in his outright unreplicable artistic appeal and approach by himself. This is someone who can even make the most miniscule and run-of-the-mill facets seem like the most impressive and unprecedented feats any hip-hop act could ever pull off, which is exactly why such tracks as “Half & Half,” “Other Shit,” and “Yah Mean” come off as resounding as they do despite there being nothing significant about them beyond their surface level demeanor.
But that just makes tracks like “Location” and “Flex” that much more outstanding in their own right, as these are examples of tracks that without question do have quite a lot going on beyond Carti’s normally standard delivery and methodology. These tracks sound and feel momentous and cinematic compared to the rest of the album, and their respective places in the tracklisting work to serve greatly towards the entire album's benefit by being so separated from each other.
Because in between these two songs (and two after “Flex” as well) is the most vivid compilation of all that modern hip-hop represented at the time, and in making this album so lengthy and ambitious, Carti essentially forced his way to the forefront of that landscape in the process. His obviously engaging presence on the mic is backed up by what can now be considered a star-making performance by in-demand producer Pi’erre Bourne, as his catchy and energetic instrumentals perfectly matched both Carti’s approach on this album alone, and the entire scene that surrounded the two as well. Other production credits on the album from the likes of Harry Fraud, Hit-Boy, and Southside also worked to provide a dynamic backing for Carti himself to embellish on as well.
What ends up resulting from all of this is an album that was certainly unforgettable as time moved forward during the year of its release, but also one that would come to serve as the benchmark for the years to come rounding out this iconic decade. Carti would top himself in many’s eyes with his follow-up to this project Die Lit, but that is an album that makes itself iconic for a number of different reasons. What that project lacks is the forward-thinking and boundary-setting status that Playboi Carti exudes so efficiently, and for that reason alone, it is truly one of the most incredibly integral pieces of hip-hop history.