Playboi Carti & Meme-ified Youth
|Reggie James||Aug 12, 2019|
Yo Pi'erre, you wanna come out here?
My friend Nikita recently tweeted:
When you ask someone for an explanation, you're actually asking them to pick a single simplified linear path out of their multidimensional, non-linear reality to offer you.
I find this to be extremely true, and extremely evident in the very nature of writing. It is impossible for me to allow you to read three different trains of thought in order for you to understand the intersections of how I am arriving to a particular belief. However, what does help with the general understanding of my output, is for you to experience at least some of my inputs. So this issue of the newsletter is going to be littered with content. First up the actual album, Playboi Carti’s 2018 Die Lit.
Defining works, similar to youth culture pushing out the edges of culture, can be studied through the manipulation of handed down artifacts. Blonde by Frank Ocean was so radical because we’d never heard an entire R&B album use percussion so sparsely, instead we were lead through an electric guitar synth dreamscape. The manipulation of social platforms by GenZ show a similar trend, from re-creating the “incoming college class” page from Facebook on Instagram to “pretend to be groups” on Facebook. This sense of manipulation is the foundation of carving out a shared generational identity.
I personally believe that Die Lit might be one of the most important rap albums in the past 10 years, because it captures the zeitgeist of youth culture. It is the Nevermind by Nirvana for this generation.
Die Lit works through hypnotic loops, an analogous musical representation of infectious meme culture. Pi’erre Bourne carries much of the architecture of the album with insane production, while the lyrics are… well…
Uh, woke up with my toolie, what it do?
Uh, meet me in the alley with the troops
Uh, I got red shooters, I got blue, uh, yeah
Let that thing down then point at you, uh, uh
Bentley or the Rari, hoe let's choose, ooh
We gon' rob the bank, bring the loot, uh, uh
We gon' take these boys back to school
Money on the floor just like some shoes
“Carti’s flow — short and repetitive bursts of words punctuated by constant ad-libs that become part of the beat rather than standing on their own — predictably angered a set of rap purists.” — Fader
It’s this bursting high energy quippy flow that defined this sub-genre of rap, and Carti is at the top. Nowhere is it ever more present than it is online. Particularly, the current headquarters for the memes of production, TikTok.
Carti’s “new language” for a new world
“Their work since then — mostly characterized by bouncy 808 patterns and bright, video game-inspired melodies — has become definitive for this generation of rap music on the internet”
Something I meditate a lot on is the ability to create a new language to discuss the coming age of a new world. Although Carti is not speaking a new language, his delivery on the verge of mumble, can present as such.
One of the memes I enjoy most on TikTok is the written translation of what his lyrics are, which is obviously not the actual lyrics but definitely read as they sound. Which creates a great meme template for a lot of things, reminiscent of the Key & Peele sketch of Obama’s anger translator.
I used to come to basketball practice with a skateboard. I wanted to be like Allen Iverson and Terry Kennedy.
— Playboi Carti
Reading multiple interviews of Carti, it was apparent how much the freedom of expression is his ultimate goal in everything he makes. This reverberated even down to his influences of identity. From Terry Kennedy, a black american skateboarder, to Allen Iverson… practice. It reveals the very nature of a fractured 16 year old that grew up in Atlanta, looking for the fullness of self. Not being contained to a singular mold of what a rapper is attracted to, but in the revelry of playing with those very boundaries.
Something I like to do on TikTok is to scroll through profiles in search of “contradictions”, and it rarely disappoints. Intense cosplay makeup videos will sit next to ABG hypebeast videos. E-boys will also dance with their homies in the school yard. The examples extend forever. But what I think we haven’t discussed nearly enough is that not only does the copying of memes provide a lower barrier for creation. But perhaps more interestingly they provide a lower barrier to play with the boundaries of an individual’s identity.
Creation & Setting
On the way outside, we walk past the dining room, which has clearly never been used for its intended purpose. Instead, a microphone with a pop filter is perched by the massive wooden table. “I made so much shit right here for the new album,” Carti says. When I tell him it’s funny to imagine him sitting down at a table in an almost empty room, recording songs that kids will definitely mosh to at his shows, he flashes a smile. “I be bouncing in the chair too, though.”
I think one of the best parts of TikTok, is the continuation of casual setting. It was something I was shocked to hear that resonated with Cardi’s creation process as well.
Where Instagram is focused on the highlight of setting, and the obscuring of the background by placing self in the foreground. A centering of identity in space, in hopes of praise. TikToks generally hold to the common. A messy bedroom, a yard, your parent’s bathroom… that often matches the casual and sometimes cringe nature of the content produced.
The joy of the almost low-fi-ness of this setting allows is high reproducibility of the aesthetic itself. This is truly at the core of the copy-paste nature of TikTok content.
Again, it returns to comfort for the expansion of expression. Carti’s only goal is this sense of freedom. And if there’s one thing that’s true of TikTok creation is a sense of open freedom on platform to let something flop, although everyone that ships a video prays that it doesn’t.
And so we have Carti, like we have the broad user base of TikTok in the same place. Although his table and house is significantly nicer than the general TikTok teen, it holds to the same level of casualness in hopes that the creation itself is focused, remixed, and an unexpected joy.
“One thing I learned this year — it’s time to go crazy,” he says. “I’m just so fuckin’... Carti.” He starts the sentence dead serious, but ends up laughing at himself — or, maybe, at the power of his own aura — like it means everything and nothing at all.
Nothing is real, including the self. You see this in every Carti interview. There’s a tongue-in-cheek-ness to even his own level of seriousness… which presents as even MORE self-aware at times.
I find TikTok videos using his music that same level of almost joyful nihilistic depiction of self. The recognition that yeah this sucks, and yeah I’m fine with it… but this beat and this life go pretty mf hard so let’s make the best of it.
Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.