Lil Kambo is not a rapper, but his latest song has racked up nearly 3 million listens on Spotify. He’s not a musician of any sort, but his latest release, “Kid Carti,” topped the US Viral 50 chart on Spotify last week. This is only possible because he pitch-shifted a leaked Playboi Carti song, claimed it as his own, and released it to a public constantly-frothing at the mouth for more Carti content. This instance is indicative of an issue with regulation and moderation that Spotify will surely have to address in the near future, but it also reveals the public’s fascination with Carti himself. Surely everyone listening knows that Kambo is a fraud, looking for streams and negligible residuals, but they listened anyway. They listened to a pitched up version of an as yet unreleased Playboi Carti song just to hear more Carti. Why does a relatively quiet star such as Carti demand such public fervor, such desperately thirsty questing by the aforementioned listening public? Here we will consider the potential reasons.
The Atlanta-born Playboi Carti found success early on, signing to Awful Records at age 16. The label, run by internet famous rapper Father, operated as a loose assembly of forward thinking Atlanta rappers and producers. After his viral hit “Broke Boi” was released in 2015, he drew the attention of none other than the pretty motherfucker himself, A$AP Rocky. Rocky brought Carti into the A$AP Mob’s inner circle and featured him on their group mixtape Cozy Tapes Volume 1. Shortly afterward, Carti signed with the Mob’s imprint AWGE records and in doing so also signed with Interscope. He released his eponymous, much anticipated debut project less than a year later.
“Magnolia,” Carti’s first massive hit, was a mostly word-of-mouth based success. Atlanta’s own had become part of the New York rap scene, a move most rappers from the proud southern city avoid. It did wonders for his career.
After riding the clout afforded him by “Magnolia,” “Broke Boi” and his collaborations with A$AP Mob, Carti released Die Lit, his major label debut. The record, released May 11, 2018, was a massive hit. It was featured on year best lists by venerated music sites such as Pitchfork, Spin, Noisey and Complex.
Carti moonlights as a model. He walked the runway in Paris for Virgil Abloh’s debut as Louis Vuitton’s menswear creative director, and has been noticed by publications like GQ who champion his unique combination of high fashion and street swag.
Here we find ourselves, given the details of Carti’s life, at a question of semi-pressing importance. What it is about Carti, what about his specific brand of fame, makes the public go so wild with adoration that a pitch shifted, low fidelity snippet of an unreleased single makes its way up the charts?
The song in its current form is unremarkable, but it’s an undeniable hit (as far as sheer numbers are concerned). Carti’s appeal seems to lie in his disavowing of traditional rap structures and his dedication to rhythm, cadence and repetition. His songs feature stellar production (often provided by Pierre Bourne), and catchy hooks that Carti repeats over and over in a singsong ffashion. It works.
His fusion of clout rap and cutting edge fashion has made him a sensation. This very modern pursuit seems to be the answer to the question of his success, a mystique driven by his ability to perfectly balance internet baiting and quality material with a decided aversion to too much visibility. He is the pied piper of the internet age, and the cult of Carti is stronger than ever. He has figured out what sells, how to sell it, and how he should look doing it: all the while making it look innocuous or accidental.