How one of hip-hop’s most elusive artists stays making waves.
Interview: Vanessa Satten
Images: Atiba Jefferson
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
“People are cocky because they think they are already there,” Playboi Carti says while he puffs on a blunt at Atlanta’s Blue South Recording Studios during witching hours on a rainy mid-March night. “I feel like I’m just getting my feet wet. I’m not there at all to be cocky and shit.” King Vamp might not brag much, but he is undoubtedly confident. And, he has every reason to be with the cult-like following of fans amassed since he first got known in the game in 2015, as a signee to A$AP Rocky’s AWGE label. Since then, Carti, born Jordan Carter, has released three albums: 2017’s self-titled LP, 2018’s Die Lit and 2020’s Whole Lotta Red, which came in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Each project helped increase his popularity and success and assisted in creating continuous growth.
Now gearing up for his next album, currently titled Music, Playboi Carti is also breaking out of the artist lane with his own record label Opium and a cloth- ing line. As a fashion connoisseur, Carti is looking to make designer clothing that is affordable for his fans. For the 25-year-old rapper, pleasing his fans seems to be one of Carti’s main goals.The elusive MC is also focused on taking care of his family, including his almost 2-year-old son, Onyx, whom he had with rapper Iggy Azalea. Rocking all Balenciaga and a T-shirt from his new line, the usually quiet Playboi Carti finally opens up.
XXL: You were talking about Tech N9ne earlier. Go back into that. Is that why you are wearing some face paint today? He’s known for that.
Playboi Carti: Tech N9ne, he’s the pioneer of what I got going on right now. When it comes to having a cult following, embracing yourself and sticking to your vision, Tech N9ne is the pioneer of that. So, it’s only right I give him his flowers. And, he’s very big in his own world and it’s the same thing with me. Even with the merch.
With the performance, the merch, the presentation, the Juggalo fans and the die-hard audience…
You [said before] he’s one of the best performers, all of that. And then, if you asked a younger kid today, he’ll say that for me. He’s one of the persons who…
Music-wise? Aesthetically? When did that start? People in hip-hop used to not want to embrace Tech as much as they do now. So, you saying this is a surprise.
I just like how he’s consistent, like his vision. He stuck to his own vision. People like him are before their time, you know what I’m saying? He’s a genius and I’m a genius, so that’s how I see it.
So, you are kind of like a 2.0, 3.0 version of that kind of movement? Not the music, but the same overall package?
I’m more of like, I’m a real-life artist. I really studied his shit before I even get into things. Tech N9ne is the pioneer of this shit. Rock stars. He embraced the rock star, punk shit in hip-hop and it’s fire.
Have you worked together? Have you given him his flowers in person? Is he going to be surprised by what you’re saying or does he know that you feel that way?
Most definitely be surprised by what I’m saying.
Do you look at your fan base as a cult following? Do you feed into that?
It’s just a world. I was telling my friends, “I’m into tattoos right now.” It’s a bunch of people that take tattoos seriously, just like they dedicate themselves to that. You got rock stars. Punks. You got emos. You got goths. With me, I’m just being myself and I feel like it’s a lot of people who really want to be themselves and do a lot of different things. That’s the reason why it’s a cult because everybody is not going to understand and I understand. And when they see me, especially when I was coming up, [the are] like, “Damn, Carti look just like me.” A regular Atlanta nigga, you know what I’m saying? Like, boom, boom, tall, dreads and all of that.
Take it way back. Freshman 2017. You got a big backpack. You got a varsity jacket on. You got “Magnolia” out as a single. You seem to have a whole kind of different image than what you got going on right now. How would you explain your transition from the character that you were then compared to the one you are now?
Well, when it comes to fashion, whatever I was wearing then that was it, you know what I’m saying? But a lot of other kids see that be like, “Damn, I can do the same shit.” It’s a lot of people that’s my size, tall like me, got an afro and start twisting shit up. Boom. People would see me then and think I was country. Especially when I was in New York a lot.
Imagine mixing that country-ness with what I learn with what I know…Rick [Owens], Raf [Simons], all that, you know what I mean? It kept me in both worlds. I could talk to my hood homies—not hood homies—but just like my homies…you know what I’m saying?
That are from the hood?
Yeah. They might see a picture and be like, “Man, what the heck?”
So how do they respond to the face paint?
They laugh, but they know. My friends call me Michael Jackson. They like, “You are on your Michael Jackson shit.”
Did you have to grow into a place to be comfortable with that side of you?
I wouldn’t give a fuck because it’s like, I love everybody. I don’t judge nobody. I have gay friends. I have trans friends, you know what I’m saying? I done dated…
You are accepting of everybody…
I don’t give a damn and everyone knows that.
What do you appreciate in a person?
Just loyalty. I don’t be around people like that. I’m big on trusting people. And I don’t like putting people in those positions, so I just stay to myself.
You seem elusive. Quiet. Standoffish. Are those things that you are by nature? Would you agree with that? You don’t do many interviews. You are on the quiet side. Is that intentional and just naturally who you are?
Sometimes I feel like I don’t know how to talk. So, I don’t be wanting people to judge me based on how I talk, you know what I’m saying? I was never like that. Even when I get around my White friends and shit, I’m like, “What up, shorty?” You know what I mean? I don’t switch it up. I’m just a product of my environment. I’m from Atlanta and I love Atlanta. This is me. Certain things you can’t change. I can get my teeth done. I can get a skincare routine. I can go dress up nice, but I can’t take that Atlanta out of me.
And you would never want to.
Nah. I don’t be having nothing to say, for real. I work every day. I have kids. I’m young with kids.
How do you like being a dad? How has that been for you?
I’m a father. You know what I’m saying? You know how it is having kids. I just got responsibilities. I pay a lot of bills. I take care of a lot of people. I take care of my mom. I take care of my family. I take care of my baby mom [and] I take care of my son. There’s a lot of people I take care of. So, it’s like, I gotta keep doing it.
Is that pressure that you wake up and stress out about it? How do you respond to that? Are you resentful at all of that because you have so many bills and so many people to take care of or is that just what comes with the fame? Is it pressure to keep all of this going with all the balls in the air?
I just wake up and smile. There’s no reason to be mad. I’m blessed. So, I just stay in the studio. Anything that I go through, I just put into music. That will never change.
You just played some new music. One song was “Wicked.” You mentioned you had a new album. What can you say about that?
I was about to name my album Music because that’s where I’m at, you know what I’m saying? Music.
Do you have a name now?
Music because that’s all it is at this point.
Walk through the difference between the three albums you have released. They all seem drastically different from each other. How would you describe the growth between projects and what fans will see coming from you next, even the baby voice. Are you offended by the term “baby voice”?
Hmmm. I don’t know. I don’t judge. I can’t get mad at my fans for saying baby voice. That’s how it’s…
That’s how it was described.
Yeah, then it’s that. Like I said, it’s music. That’s what it’s for so everybody can just… I got a lot of people that I got to take care of so I’m here, forever. So, the music that I’m making is forever. I’ve been listening to Mayhem, The Weeknd, a lot of old Atlanta shit, ratchet shit. Do you think sometimes I need to dumb it down? Do people think I’m too ahead? Because sometimes I feel like dumbing it down makes more money.
Are you making it for the money?
Then what does it matter? Why would you dumb it down?
People talk. It’s just like I have a lot of people I have to take care of. And if you got to dumb shit down to get the money, I’ll do that for my family, you know what I’m saying? I’m just letting people know, I know what’s going on and this is what I’m on, you feel me? I’d rather do it now. People love it. People hate it. And then two years from now, it’s normal. Being weird is normal now, you know what I’m saying? If you’re not weird, you’re not cool.
Is your weird natural? Or is it played up because you’re not really weird? Are you not really cool?
I’m a weirdo. I’m anti. I stay to myself.
What you played was a deeper voice. It had a bit of a different sound to what we have heard in the past. How would you describe whatever that new Carti is? Is it even new?
I have a lot to say, I’m ready to speak my mind and just let it all go. It’s me.
What are the topics that are important for this project? What did you notice while making this recent music that you find yourself rapping about or writing about?
Love. Sex. Drugs. Changes in my life. I’ve been rapping about going to rehab. I want to go to rehab because I think I’m bipolar. I want everybody to feel free. I want this album to make everyone feel free. I hope this album brings peace to the world, honestly. I’m in love with what I’m doing. Like I told you, you can’t put a genre alternative [on me]. My little brother told me that all the time.
You can’t be boxed in.
So, when we say you are a hip-hop artist, do you agree or do you think you’re beyond that title?
I am a hip-hop artist.
With the cult stuff, you have the satanic symbol, imagery and all that on your clothing, merch and part of your brand. Are you playing into that? Is that the wrong interpretation of it? How would you explain what the imagery means?
I didn’t make the rules. People go this way; I go that way. I said that on Whole Lotta Red, that’s what it’s about. And now, it’s becoming by nature. I was never scared to express myself. I’ve always been…my mom, she can tell you that. I don’t want to talk about no fucking money either, but there’s levels, you know what I’m saying? There’s certain shit I couldn’t do back then that I could do now. People could get deep into their thoughts.
Recently people saw you performing with Kanye West at the Donda 2 listening event. What’s your relationship with Kanye like?
Kanye. Words can’t describe…that’s my big brother. That’s my friend. I talk to Kanye every day. He’s different and I’m different. I see myself in him a lot and I’m pretty sure he feels the same. I don’t really have too many friends and that’s really one of my friends. I love him. I love A$AP Rocky. What them two guys did for me is… I love them and I appreciate everything.
What they did for you is unforgettable?
Yeah. My family is good forever. Know what I’m saying?
Do you have other relationships like that in hip-hop? And if not, why do you think you don’t have so many, because you keep to yourself, intentionally? Relationships are not as real within the genre or in the culture as much or you don’t care?
I would love to get invited to some parties. I don’t get invited nowhere.
I don’t know. People are excited when they do see me. I like to work. I’m from Atlanta where you can’t really like, just pop out and go anywhere anyway, so that mentally travels with me.
You have a relationship with Lil Uzi Vert. You were going to put out a project together. What happened to that?
I love Uzi. I forgot to mention him. I love Uzi to death.
Will we ever hear that project?
Uzi is working on mad music right now. I don’t know if he’s serious about a lot of things. But
I hope one day we can change the world with that, for sure.
What does changing the world really mean to you because you’ve mentioned it a few times now? What would have to happen for you to say, “Yes, I did change the world?”
You hear it. Make another one, you know what I’m saying? That’s it. It’s certain shit that you are asking me that you already know the answer to and that’s why I’m speaking like that because I don’t want to brag. I don’t want to be… I’m not cocky at all. I’m not cocky. What I mean by changing the world? New sounds. New waves. New movements. I just don’t want to say it like that ’cause…that sounds cocky. So, what I mean by changing the world is just something like refreshing that would—not change the world—just change the sound of music. Every time.
Yeah. Every time.
You feel that’s your responsibility?
That’s a responsibility.
What’s success for you on this next project?
When I see people who didn’t listen to me before, start listening to me. Or people who I know who don’t like me and they be like, “Yo, that shit’s hard.” You know what I mean? And it’s cool. That’s what I think about, too. I don’t want to give nobody nothing bad to say about me. I don’t care, but I just like, I hear music that’s not made by me and I be like, “Yo, this is undeniable.” Even if I don’t fuck with that person at all, everybody deserves their flowers. Somebody could be a shitty person but make great music. You can’t fucking deny that.
Do your feelings get hurt ever? Or do you have a big shell up where nothing really matters?
Nothing really hurts my feelings other than, just like, love. That’s the only thing that can hurt my feelings and, like, personal things.
Going into a different direction. You mentioned today that you are launching a clothing line. Also, you have your own label, Opium, and a roster of artists on it. What can you say about those projects that are outside of your personal music career?
Opium is my label. My artists that I have are Ken Car$on, Destroy Lonely and Homicide Beno! And Homixide Meechie. I have a gang of producers. I came in first just signing a gang of producers. Ken and Lonely, they are two kids who grew up where I’m from. And they are family. As they got older, they started rapping. I met Homicide about three years ago. And when I first got with them, my cousins, they good friends with them—boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. I had Beno! with me every day and one day he just sent me a song and I was just like, “Wow!” They’re superstars. I love them. They have my full focus. That’s it.
Outside of this new album, they have your full focus and your clothing line?
Yeah, Opium, that’s it. Opium. My label. My artists. My clothing. My clothing line is based off of years of me wearing all of these designer brands and having designer friends like Virgil [Abloh] and Matthew [Williams]. He does Givenchy. I learned a lot from [A$AP] Bari, too, VLONE. I learned a lot just sitting back watching them. Watch Bari make jeans. Watch Virgil make jeans, make shoes. Matthew, the same thing. What I learn from them, it’s time that I do that for myself, you know what I’m saying? I want my fans, my supporters to look good and feel good and get the same shit for a cheaper price. It’s not cheap, but it’s the same fucking material as if you went to their store and spent $5,000. I want people to feel like they got on designer. That’s what it is.
What are you most excited about that’s coming up for you?
My son. His birthday is coming up in three weeks. I got him a crazy chain, too. He’s going to be a problem. That’s who you need on the next cover. He’s beautiful. And Iggy, she’s a great mom. I love her to death. I’m single. She’s single now. But that’s one of the best mothers in the world. And that’s what you got to put in the book, you hear me? I love her to death. She is the best mother in the world.
How would you describe yourself? That’s really such a broad question, but what would you say to that?
Adorable but evil.
Adorable but evil. OK. So, we got Opium. We got the clothing line. We got the next project. We got people who get their flowers. We got things that frustrate you. We got your goals.
Don’t say give your flowers. That’s so corny. Be like, “Tech N9ne, boom. He loves Tech N9ne.” I fuck with Tech N9ne. I most definitely don’t make music like him, but I would be an idiot right here if I tell you he didn’t inspire me with what I got going on right now. So, let him know on some humble. Tech N9ne, yeah, I’m fucking with Tech N9ne, for sure. What I got going on, he been did, you feel me? MF Doom. Same thing.
We said Tech is known for his live performances. Has that helped you enhance yours?
Not to be cocky, I never used to practice for it until we got to arenas because you can’t go in and just…the sound is different. So, I never did in-ears, before. I could have been doing in-ears but when we got to arenas, it’s like the sound bounces off the walls, and all that crazy stuff so I have to be on it. But to be honest, it wasn’t even the soundcheck that made me go to his shit. It’s like, my visual. I’m calling her [gestures to manager] to make sure she knows how to do all of that shit.
Erin Larsen is your manager for the past seven years, right? She’s been with you through all of it?
I love her to death. She can be a pilot as much things I done asked her to do. Yeah, I call her phone and be like, “Yo, I need the lasers” and she’s calling people in France and it’s done. Stuff like that, like just making sure my show looks a certain way.
A few times you’ve said things like you aren’t cocky or don’t want to be cocky. What’s wrong with being cocky? It seems like a lot of rappers are cocky.
I don’t want to be cocky because I don’t like that. That shit ain’t cool. That’s cringe.
Anything else you want to add?
Yeah, just make sure [put in] that I love my baby mother. It definitely needs to be known that [Iggy] is the best mother in the world. My son is perfect. He’s too perfect. I need to rough him up a little bit.
Look out for Playboi Carti’s new cover, and check out the other interviews in the magazine with Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Fivio Foreign, Latto, DaBaby, Hit-Boy, Denzel Curry, Joey Bada$$, RZA, Big K.R.I.T., Saba, Morray, Nardo Wick, Kali, Sleepy Hallow, SSGKobe, ATL Jacob, Pink Sweat$, Saucy Santana, Jason Lee, Angie Randisi and Colby Turner when the issue hits newsstands later this month and XXL’s online shop.