SSENSE : Rap Game Reincarnation
Playboi Carti discusses social media and the afterlife
It was close to midnight in Paradise, Nevada. Mike Tyson had defeated Bruce Seldon in a heavyweight championship and crowds of fans streamed out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena onto the Las Vegas strip. Among them was hip-hop superstar Tupac Shakur, who, moments later, was fatally shot in a drive-by. After six days of intensive care in hospital, Tupac was pronounced dead on September 13th, 1996. On the same day in Atlanta, Georgia, Jordan Carter was born.
Growing up in Atlanta’s experimental DIY scene, the young Carter would make the trek out to the studio every day after school, using music to stay out of trouble in a city that presented few options. His efforts did not go unnoticed—while remaining relatively elusive, he found success off the strength of his SoundCloud singles, and quickly gained an online following under the name Playboi Carti. Now, with first album out on Interscope, his rise feels predestined.
Nazanin Shahnavaz: What are some of your favorite places in Atlanta? I’ve never been.
Playboi Carti: Atlanta is very small, I feel like I run into the same people a lot. I just go to the studio, that’s the only thing you can do out there. You have to drive, you can’t be walking around. It’s not like New York or L.A. Atlanta is just about music. I like going to Jamaican restaurants. My friend Gunner just put me onto a new Jamaican spot. It’s called... Dat Fire Jerk Chicken.
I grew up in South London, close to a Caribbean neighborhood, so I love good Jamaican food. How would you describe the music scene in Atlanta?
Trap, guns, weed, lean. Music, that’s it. I feel like people use music to express themselves. If you’re not making music, you’re out hustling making money.
I’ve been curious about lean, seems like everyone drinks it? It’s dangerous, no?
It’s not something you do because it’s cool. It’s something you do because you’ve probably been doing it for a minute and you’re trying to stop. At this point, I’m trying to stop. It’s not something to brag about. I feel like if you haven’t done it, don’t do it.
What was the first album that you ever bought?
Lil Romeo. It was definitely a CD. I was most definitely living in Riverdale. This was early days, probably first grade. The only thing I can remember is Lil Romeo used to always spell out his name in his raps. I always used to know how to spell his name. I was a big fan of Romeo and Bow Wow, the little kids back in the day.
What are the most important factors in your life and career?
Staying true to myself. I decided I wanted to be a rapper and be big in music, so staying down to my plan. Staying down until I come up. I love to see my mother smile, to have my family be happy. Stuff happens so fast you don’t really realize what’s going on until you sit back and be like, “Damn, I did this.” Just making people proud.
You have a very deliberate approach to your online presence. Do you remember the first time you used social media?
2011. My first tweet was, “I’m new to this.” I don’t really be on the internet—I’m more of a guy to show than talk. I really have nothing to talk about other than what’s important. I’ve never been the type to just be tweeting whatever. I feel like I already passed that. Like, what am I waking up to tweet about? I don’t have to do that, my fans don’t even care about that, they just want to hear music.
Are you the same person online and offline?
Do you keep a diary?
My phone is my diary. I have three phones. I am very protective. I always feel like someone will steal my phone and leak stuff.
What do you document?
Funny moments in my life, going to different countries. I like to take pictures of flowers and statues. I like flora, I love flowers. The little things in life make me happy.
How do you think you’ll feel in 30 years looking back at your social media accounts?
“What the hell was I talking about!” It’s always like that, right?
Definitely. Do you believe in reincarnation?
Hell yeah. I could’ve been a fucking animal or some shit, like a black panther or a rabbit.
Or a butterfly?
Or a butterfly. I love butterflies. I have a butterfly chain, butterfly ring, butterfly tat. I feel like that’s me, watching myself blossom, getting over my insecurities, getting confident, and just rising. Just spreading my wings and flying.
What are you insecure about? You seem very confident.
Very confident, but I always want to better things and I’m a very perfect type of dude. I like things to be perfect. That’s probably why I don’t tweet and Instagram.
Do you think there are iPhones and Facebook in heaven?
Nah. There’s probably a big TV we can watch just to check in on everything, but who knows? When I get there, I’ll tell you guys.
You were born on the day that Tupac died. Do you think there’s any significance?
I’m a huge fan of Tupac and Biggie. I wish they were still alive. Maybe music would be different. I wonder if Tupac would have improved my music? I want to know how Tupac would react—not just me but to everything that’s going on in the world at the moment.
Music goes in cycles and fashion goes in cycles. Why do you think the past continues to re-emerge in culture?
I feel like a lot of the styles we’re doing now have already been done. Maybe not in the exact same way, but it has been done. I was talking to my friend Uzi about this, I feel like if we were a part of the same era as Master P and those rappers, we would really be cashing out. Money was different back then. We’re getting money now, but the money then was even bigger. From cars to gold, you look back on pictures and you see Money Mitch and all the street hustlers rocking big gold chains, snap backs. I think it’s the 90s era that my generation is so intrigued by. We just love the styles they had.
More and more musicians are getting involved in the fashion world. Growing up, what were your first encounters with the fashion industry?You have to now, fashion is involved with music. As a musician, you evolve with fashion. I can be rapping about whatever the fuck I’m rapping about and then my fans will be like, “He doesn’t even dress like that.” Growing up my man Brick was making this clothing line called Boys Don’t Cry, and that’s probably when I was like “I have got to expand my mind.” He showed me a lot of designers. I didn’t have the money, but once I did, I knew exactly what to get. My friends made sure I was fly. Brick used to give me mad clothes, my friend Reggie put me onto Supreme—heavy. I was still in high school when I was getting introduced to these things. I love fashion. If I’m not rapping, that’s what I’m doing. I love taking pictures, I love clothes, I love getting dressed up.
I heard that you met Raf Simons, what was that like?
When I saw him, I just got butterflies, I was like, “Damn.” He said my name and everything, and I was like, “Yo, it’s Raf Simons.” That’s how I acted when I first met Rocky, too. No matter how big you get, remember to stay humble. You never know, you might meet Rick Owens, you might meet Raf Simons, you might meet A$AP Rocky, it can happen.
What designers are you most into?
Raf Simons, Rick Owens, I like Undercover, I like a lot of Japanese shit, I like skulls, I like BB Simons, I like stuff that’s shiny, I like to stand out. Sometimes certain shit just looks good on me and I’ll just throw it on. I like making outfits.
Do you think it’s possible to reinvent yourself through fashion?
It’s how you move in fashion. Like, I wore a Dior suit and I didn’t want to take it off. The fuck! Why am I wearing a Dior suit? When I was a kid I would never wear a suit. Now I’ve put this on, and it wasn’t because it was Dior, it was because of the way I felt in it. I felt more appreciated in it. When I took that off, it made me feel clean, you just keep that.
Do you think fashion can reveal something deeper about a person?
It can reveal if a person is open to new things, not just stuck on one thing. It’s good to always try new things, you never know, you can be a trendsetter or start a new wave.
You used to play basketball at school—who do you play as in NBA 2K?