During hip-hop’s infancy, the MC was literally the master of ceremonies, telling the audience the name of the song that the DJ was playing and shouting out the members of his crew. Soon, MCs came up with catchphrases and rhymes, and rappers were born. On Wednesday night at Fillmore Silver Spring, Atlanta rapper Playboi Carti served as MC in the traditional sense, which was just about the only thing throwback about the concert.
More than a rapper, the black-clad 20-year-old performed like a rock star — or at least how he imagined a rock star would perform — for a sold-out crowd of teenagers and late adolescents: strafing the stage, his arms flailing and his head banging, exhorting the audience to turn up, starting mosh pits and throwing up the horns. What he didn’t do much of was actual rapping, letting the crowd and his DJ do much of the lyrical lifting.
But lyricism really isn’t the point of Carti’s music. The tracks on his self-titled debut mixtape are blasts of dopamine, composed solely of hypnotic beats, four- or five-note melodies on loop and Carti’s mumbled boasts, which tumble forth without distinction between verse and chorus. It might be a simplistic formula, but for the post-millennials that made up the crowd, this is punk rock. This is their reason to transform into an undulating mass, phone-fisted arms extended like tendrils searching for a light source and finding one in the charismatic Carti.
After quickly running through fan favorites such as the cloud- rap-reminiscent “Location,” percolating drug anthem “Half & Half” and the New Orleans-inspired “Magnolia,” Carti ran into a problem: He was basically out of material. Easy solution: Hype the crowd and lip sync while the DJ played hits by contemporaries like 21 Savage, SahBabii and A$AP Rocky. The crowd didn’t seemed bothered by the tactic, and Carti was unapologetic. “It’s the Cash Carti party,” he reminded the audience. “I do what the f--- I wanna do.”
Carti certainly has the appropriate attitude, but for all his heavy-metal horns and mosh-pit commands, his rock-star pose was often revealed to be just that. The illusion was often broken by the presence of a bouncer-bodyguard who shadowed Carti like a fretful parent scurrying after an overactive toddler; he helped the rapper off a speaker stack he had climbed and wiped up the water he threw on the stage.
Again, the audience didn’t seem to mind any of this. Perhaps their senses were dulled by an overpowering low-end that annihilated not just eardrums but also sense of self. But while the bass obliterated, it also liberated: It was probably tough to think about a fight with your parents, or an unrequited love, or rising sea levels, or the chance of mutually assured destruction. For 40 minutes, Carti’s set was a welcome reprieve from all that. Or maybe it was just a way to spend one of the last Wednesdays of summer vacation.