Opium and the Carti Clone Problem

Ken Carson and Destroy Lonely
Ken Carson and Destroy Lonely

Rap has always been on the cutting edge of music. Even in the early days of the genre, when artists were still testing the boundaries, the music that people like Outkast, Jay-Z, A Tribe Called Quest, and Eminem were making sounded novel, like nothing listeners had ever heard before. Rap music is a constantly evolving genre, one that is consistently experimental, even in some of the musical subset’s most popular songs. Artists like Travis Scott, Yeat, and Lucki are all great examples of people who are operating at a higher level than many other artists in the genre while still putting out music that is incredibly unique and experimental. This was exemplified recently when Travis Scott released his long awaited experimental album “Utopia”, to much fanfare among hip hop fans. Yeat and Lucki have also recently released projects featuring experimental elements, and have received quite positive reception.

However, inevitably, with innovation and the formation of new types of art, a second wave of artists will emerge, a wave of artists who try their hardest to imitate the previous artist (to varying degrees of success). This is exactly what happened with “rage music,” a subgenre of rap music that is characterized by energetic, charismatic, and subtly manic music that is often somewhat repetitive and loud. This genre has existed for years, and its name comes from a song called “I Miss The Rage” by rapper Trippie Redd, but was arguably brought to the forefront of the mainstream by one man (who was featured on that song): Playboi Carti.

Playboi Carti is a world-renowned rapper at this point, first gaining notoriety in the late 2010s for his songs “Magnolia” and “wokeuplikethis*” off of his debut, self-titled album. A year after, he would release his second studio album, “Die Lit”, in 2018. This featured songs like “Shoota”, “RIP”, and “FlatBed Freestyle”, which, alongside the aforementioned tracks from his debut, would go on to be some of his most popular songs, especially at his concerts.  

With the popularity of these songs, Carti eventually accumulated a cult like following over the internet, collaborating with some big names at the forefront of the hip-hop industry such as Tyler, The Creator and Kanye West. This buzz came to a fever pitch when Carti dropped his third album, Whole Lotta Red, on Christmas Day in 2020. This album was, in many people’s eyes, the event that spawned the genre of “rage music” that has rose to such popularity in 2023. Artists such as Yeat, Kankan, and Lucki have drawn clear influences from Carti’s style of minimalistic yet braggadocious rapping, which they wear on their sleeves. Following Carti’s style and drawing from his influence has made numerous artists incredibly popular in the mainstream. As time passed, Playboi Carti would eventually use this to his advantage.

In 2019, Carti had founded the “Opium” record label under Interscope Records. He would later sign two artists, who would go on to be massively successful in the rap landscape. These artists were Destroy Lonely and Ken Carson. These two artists are popular in the same way that people like Yeat are, however, they arguably take the Carti influences to the extreme.

While Destroy Lonely and Ken Carsons’ songs are incredibly popular with Gen Z, they have generally been panned by music critics, such as Pitchfork, and Anthony Fantano. Fantano even famously gave a zero out of ten score to Carsons’ second studio album, X, which is quite rare for Fantano. Destroy Lonely’s debut album, if Looks Could Kill similarly received a one out of ten score from him. Both artists’ music have been described as rather repetitive, even for rage music, and have been accused of being clear copies of Playboi Carti’s style. 

In light of this, it may seem strange that these two artists who are arguably ripping off Playboi Carti’s entire style of music, are signed to Carti’s label. However, if you think about the business side of this equation, the situation starts to make a bit more sense. 

First, Carti created a whole wave of popular music. Popularizing it through a combination of meme status and TikTok virality. Then, Carti signs two artists who can effectively copy this style and continue to pump out album after album, song after song, of the same type of music. This will further push the style into the mainstream, contributing to Carti’s fame, while also bringing in a significant profit for the man himself, since he would inevitably get a significant cut from the money made by the artists he signed. 

Whether this series of moves were deliberate all along, or made up along the way is really anybody’s guess. However, one thing that can’t be denied is how much success this strategy has seen. Carti’s distinct style of music making, and clothing, appropriately titled Opium, has become one of the latest internet crazes for Gen Z, and is gaining more and more popularity each day. And recently, Carti has announced his “Antagonist” tour, being supported by Ken Carson, Destroy Lonely, and another Opium signee, the hip hop duo “Homixide Gang”. 

With this series of moves, Carti has both created and dominated an entire lane of rap music, effectively establishing a monopoly over a whole subculture, and gaining even more notoriety and profits as a result. Smaller artists like Kankan and Lucki, as well as rising stars like Yeat can try to compete with Carti’s roster in the future, but one thing is certain: Carti and his disciples aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

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