Starter Pack: Playboi Carti

Where to begin with the FADER 117 cover star.

Photographer Micaiah Carter
June 12, 2019
Starter Pack: Playboi Carti

Playboi Carti's rise from the SoundCloud underground to rap stardom has been a strange one, filled with long waits, leaked songs, and boundary-pushing music. Over the last five years, the FADER Summer Music Issue cover star has cycled through collaborators and styles with ease, emerging as one of the best indicators of where the sound of rap is headed. Below, find a primer on some the Atlanta rapper's most essential songs.

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"YUNGXANHOE"

Maybe the most defining image of Jordan Carter’s presence among a generation of artists that would soon be introduced to the world was a red square. This red square next to a handful of waveforms sent curiosity about who Playboi Carti was into a fever pitch. One of these tracks, “YUNGXANHOE,” was the first song Carti ever released on his SoundCloud back in 2014. In some ways, it isn’t so different from what we hear now, at least in terms of Carti’s relationship with production. He doesn’t try to eat the beat so much as co-exist with it and let it speak for itself. The unmistakable sound of the PS2 loading screen sampled over menacing 808s runs for almost forty seconds until Carti gets into the hook. Before the voice modifications that would birth baby mode, we had enunciations that would serve as exclamation points for Carti’s verses. — Will Gendron

"Beef"

Another standout track released during the same period in 2015 was “Beef.” This song begins like a lot of other records that would follow, laced with a noticeable sense of pressure that threatens to explode, relieved only when Carti decides to begin. The song is enveloping thanks in part to the vocal layering. At one point, at the beginning of his first verse, we hear Carti say “kill for me,” those same lyrics echoed, and a shushing sound. Soon enough he’ll release a song that runs fourteen vocal tracks at the same time. Both “Beef and “YUNGXANHOE” were produced by Ethereal who’s eerie sound helped launch Carti into prominence. — WG

"Broke Boi"

Before Carti was a rap star, he was a SoundCloud prince, building a feverish hype for himself on the platform as the youngest member of Atlanta’s oddball Awful Records crew. “Broke Boi” changed all of that; it was the then-18-year-old’s first real hint at what was to come: the snippets before the song came out, the frenzied buzz bubbling up from the underground. Carti’s relationships with his producers has always been paramount to his evolution and success. The first songs he put on SoundCloud had been produced by Awful’s Ethereal, but he soon gravitated towards MexikoDro and his bouncy plug sound (the two would fall out a year or so later over accusations that Carti hadn’t paid for beats). “Broke Boi” signaled Carti’s had grown beyond the Atlanta underground scene and blasted off into a different stratosphere. The song hadn’t been officially released when he performed it for the first time at an Awful Records show in New York at the beginning of 2015 but the crowd already knew every word. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco

"Magnolia"

Probably the most significant producer-rapper relationship of Playboi Carti’s career has been with Pi’erre Bourne. Carti’s clipped, ad-lib heavy rapping over Pi’erre’s video game-inspired beats have become widely imitated across SoundCloud and, in many cases, the blueprint has been “Magnolia.” The song, a single on Carti’s long-awaited self-titled mixtape, dominated the summer of 2017, when it seemed like “In New York I Milly Rock/ Hide it in my sock” and Pi’erre’s distorted bass were inescapable. If “Broke Boi” established Carti as the underground’s frontrunner, then “Magnolia” was his true arrival, marking SoundCloud rap’s crossover into the mainstream. It’s still his highest-charting single to date. — BDL

"Lean 4 Real" f. Skepta

Much has been justifiably made of how perfectly Playboi Carti's slippery, Skittles-like voice fits with Pi'erre Bourne's evil, video-game production approach — but "Lean 4 Real," from his excellent real-deal debut Die Lit, showcases just how well his approach works on other peoples' beats, too. The soothed-out, ghostly beat was constructed by IndigoChildRick, the central melody sounding like steam hissing out of a broken pipe; accordingly, Carti seems to hover just above the proceedings, his mush-mouthed vocals namechecking Nickelodeon while hitting soft punctuation. Grime don Skepta provides a perfect foil here, one of a few Die Lit guest spots that shine brightly—but otherwise it's Carti's stage, and he holds court with the sort of casual melodic genius that's come to be expected from him. — Larry Fitzmaurice

"Shoota" f. Lil Uzi Vert

"Shoota," featuring Carti's brother-in-leaks Lil Uzi Vert, is a headrush of emotions. Synths that sound like angelic harps signal the introduction as Uzi brags about bust downs and touchdowns over Maaly Raw's ever-ascending production. You wait for the drop but it seemingly never arrives. A full minute of climbing later and Carti rides the wave, taking the song title more literally as he talks about prepping for a robbery in an alley "with the troops." Carti and Uzi always sound great together and "Shoota" showcases both of their abilities to make a lot out of a little perfectly. It's a fantasy getaway with two charismatic buddies you hope never ends. — David Renshaw

"Long Time (Intro)"

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“Long Time (Intro),” the opening track of Playboi Carti’s sophomore record Die Lit, is the perfect example of the rapper’s quiet confidence. “Just to look like this it took a long time,” he spits, slyly, over and over again. That phrase — combined with a playfulness with melody that demonstrates the rapper’s diverse musical skills — gives the listener that same poise. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel like the coolest person in the world, even when you’re doing extremely dumb, mundane things. You will never feel more badass scrubbing the hell out of those pots and pans. —Eric Sundermann

"Cancun" (Snippet)

Playboi Carti songs are perfect for the eras of Vine, TikTok, and Twitter — the vibe is captured in twenty seconds or less, but that’s never enough. I first heard “Magnolia” before its official release as a 17-second snippet attached to the video of a nodding goat — the fan had taken the liberty of giving the song a title, “Hide It In My Sock.” That song exploded, and set the course for Carti’s career as one defined by the clips that emerge before full songs. Last year, it seemed like “Cancun” (again, who knows what it’s actually called) was destined to be the next “Magnolia.” There was the snippet, a video of Carti and Skepta tossing money in an underground parking lot and the beat, a fluffy yet complex bop reminiscent of the best Pi’erre Bourne instrumentals. There was a meme, too: Carti rubbing a fat stack against his belly and saying “My stummy hurt” solidified the rapper as the most fashionable trickster of the SoundCloud age. Fast forward to present day, and “Cancun” still isn’t out, though it has been furiously patched together into unofficial versions by desperate fans. Whether it’s due to rampant leaks of other songs or the more reliable and equally frustrating machinations of a record label is irrelevant: our brief taste of “Cancun” showed us how a beloved hit can be created just by teasing it. — Jordan Darville

Starter Pack: Playboi Carti