Playboi Carti deconstructed cloud-trap in sensational fashion at Cable Dahmer Arena
The doubled-down intentionality of a rapper's rise to gritty rockstar mystique.
There’s a lot to be said about the positive and negative space at work in multiple elements of Playboi Carti’s King Vamp tour stop at Cable Dahmer Arena on Sunday night.
Carti offered his fans in Independence, Missouri a whole lot of Whole Lotta Red, his polarizing 2020 album, and not much else. Most of his rabid fanbase (those in attendance anyway) seemed to hold the record in the highest regards, so this was ultimately a winning move.
The tour has been the subject of some online controversy, due to the harassment that opener Rico Nasty has been facing from Carti fans on multiple dates.
One fan at the Portland date threw a bottle at her, causing her to pause her set and jump off stage to confront the offender. Then fans at Red Rocks booed her over what appeared to be technical difficulties. In deleted tweets from Saturday, Rico posted, “Crazy how I wanted a tour bus my whole life and now I just be on the tour bus crying myself to sleep every night,” and “I wish I was dead as much as y’all do trust me.”
Rico was received with warmth on Sunday night, and according to tweets from St. Louis concertgoers the previous night, there too.
Viewed in a vacuum, you wouldn’t have thought anything was off with Rico’s tour, much less a sustained campaign of harassment. Though her 20-minute outing here was not as engaging as her pre-COVID headlining set at The Granada, it did give fans the opportunity to mosh along to tracks from the D.C. rapper’s most recent album, Nightmare Vacation, which includes more of her trademark metal guitar-injected party rap for the post-SoundCloud generation. There are few better matches for Carti, support-wise, so it’s almost beyond me why some crowds have turned on her.
Sunday night’s show involved Playboi Carti doubling down on some of the aesthetic decisions he’s made.
The team involved in the stage design deserves an award. Not a single word or image was flashed on the screen. Just endless strobes, lasers (mostly red, of course), and rolling fog (that created a haze even in the concourse). Carti for almost the entirety of the set appeared as nothing more than a silhouette, a phantom.
He’s making truly subversive—borderline experimental—music, while doing the work to truly claim the title of “rockstar.”
There’s the album art inspired by Dave Vanian’s Slash magazine cover, the Black Flag reference on “Die4Guy,” and Carti’s black leather jacket. But what really earns him the title is the level of mystique he’s achieved despite his fairly massive fame. His music has actually grown stranger, louder, and more abrasive as time has gone on is the exact opposite path of most young stars. Carti’s cloud-trap productions are more distorted than ever and feature lots of cold, gritty textures. The vocals are more sparse than on previous releases, and less resemble “rapping” in a traditional sense.
He didn’t rap along for every bar, or even anywhere close to every bar, but this was a rare instance where I was completely content with the situation. For every lyric missed, he spent a moment or two wholeheartedly howling into the microphone. For the first song of the set, “Stop Breathing,” Carti careened onto the stage, planted himself in the middle of the fog, lasers, and strobes, bent backward, and screamed.
I tried counting the number of different mosh pits that simultaneously broke out. I was witnessing perhaps the closest thing I’d ever seen to one giant 1,000-kid mosh pit. The smell of weed permeated my mask, and the night itself.
Like Whole Lotta Red itself (24 songs, just over an hour), there was a little filler in this 60 minute set. The presence of an electric guitar player on stage, with no DJ visible, was a notable switch from the standard rap show. A few songs contained some very audible shredding (at least one solo or two) and a few extremely moody guitar interludes gave Carti some time to breathe between tracks.
Carti was visibly winded during and after “Die4Guy” and spent the two songs mostly hunched over, just letting the track play while sticking his face in his arms and blowing a couple kisses towards fans. This was the closest he came to directly acknowledging his audience on Sunday night, but I don’t think anyone in the room was offended in the slightest. If the WLR era has made anything clear, he’s not vying for personal validation right now.
One of the set’s final songs, “Over,” features Carti rapping the somehow-wholesome line, “Don’t make me start a fuckin’ riot / Sometimes this shit get so excitin’.”
If anything, it looked like the only riot Carti wants to start—despite the gigantic mosh pit—is simply a riot within himself.