A friend asked why I liked Lil Yachty the other day. My response was pretty short: “He has weird songs like Makonnen and red hair.” After seeing Yachty’s fellow post-Internet rappers Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert in concert for the first time, I amended my response slightly: “[Lil Yachty] has a strong SoundCloud and great style.” You could say the same of Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert, and while that may or may not be the foundation of a lasting career, it’s enough to help them parlay social-media traction into sweaty, much-hyped late-night concerts.
Playboi Carti treats the stage less as a performance space than just as a platform on which to turn up. The Atlanta-based rapper, first known for being one of the youngest artists on the Awful Records roster, raised his profile last year with a string of minor SoundCloud hits. None of his music has been made available for sale or even for download on a mixtape. But none of that mattered once he was onstage, shredding through his limited discography, worrying less about the actual songs and more about getting the crowd amped up. He closed with “Broke Boi,” abandoning the stage entirely to walk the audience with a mic, which came as no surprise; the crowd couldn’t join him onstage, so he brought the party to them.
Next up was the Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who followed Carti’s priorities — party first, entertain second, lyrics approximately twelfth or thirteenth. Since sound issues plagued his entire set, that choice seemed particularly wise. Vert didn’t want this to be a solo experience. He called Carti back to the stage, brought out Young Dolph to perform his Southern-approved hit “Preach,” and pulled New York’s own A$AP Ferg (a role model for the leveraging of Internet fame if there ever was one) out of the crowd to perform his newest single, “New Level.”
Rap, more than a lot of genres, has long been overly concerned with the question of style versus substance. The rise of artists like Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert signals that in the underground right now, style rules over everything. Kendrick Lamar might be pushing the political conversation in rap, but kids in expensive clothes still need a place to mosh. No think piece makes quite the same impact as a Snapchat of Playboi Carti’s sweat landing on one’s Supreme headband.