It’s safe to say that before Friday’s release of Life’s A Trip, 19-year-old Ohio rapper Trippie Redd was quite simply one of the most highly-touted rappers with the most eagerly-anticipated albums of the year. From his warmly-received surprise appearance at Coachella during SZA’s extended set to his appearance on the 2018 XXL Freshman list, to his invitation to appear on Jimmy Kimmel’s latest “Mean Tweets” segment — surely, the brightest indicator that one has finally “made it” — his rise from the primordial obscurity of Soundcloud has met all the criteria for description as “meteoric.”
In a rap landscape defined by the proliferation of so-called “Soundcloud rappers,” Trippie is perhaps the most Soundcloud rapper of all. It’s like someone built the kid in a lab for the express purpose of pissing off hip-hop purists. With his dyed locs, facial ink, multicolored grills, and heavy metal, punk rock-inspired wardrobe, he’s everything a raised-in-the-90s rap aficionado loves to hate, only he can rap way too well for their complaints to ever hold water. His multiple arrests over the course of the past year and proximity both musically and personally to controversial personalities like Tekashi 69 and the Xxxtentacion only generated more intrigue.
With all that said, it’s been difficult to get a handle on just who Trippie is behind his unconventional appearance and his trademark howl. His flow weaves easily between a carefree, lilting singsong and a disgruntled, unsettling, primal whine — at least when he isn’t giving traditionalists like J. Cole a run for their money with multisyllabic, stacked rhyme patterns straight out of the mid-90s New York alternative scene. He’s a veritable Swiss Army knife of styles and influences, but the one thing that’s remained elusive as he’s risen to prominence is a sense of autobiography. There’s the standard litany of Soundcloud rap tropes — depression, heartbreak, swaggering, rags-to-riches boasts, and yes, plenty of simulated drug use — but nothing that has set him apart from his peers aside from that throat-wrecking singing voice.
As his debut, Life’s A Trip provides the opportunity for him to truly distinguish him and define himself as an artist, justifying the buzz and potentially ingratiating himself with a broader fanbase that may be less familiar with his mixtape work. It doesn’t feel like he actually cares about any of that on the album, which may actually be the most endearing thing about him. Over the course of Life Is Good‘s fourteen tracks, it feels like the person Trippie Redd is most interested in serving is Trippie Redd, which is a good thing. Even if the audience doesn’t get a better sense of who he is, he displays an assuredness that suggests he’s well on his way to figuring it out himself and will let us know when he’s good and ready.
He proves just as adept at the beats-and-bars style of straight up spitting on short tracks like the Crash Bandicoot-referencing “UKA UKA” and the unexpectedly soulful “Missing My Idols” as he is at the brash caterwauling that initially broke him out onto the mainstream stage. On the latter he’s a veritable chatterbox of one-liners, spitting pop culture-laden punchlines over a Nik D beat with a crooning sample: “Might just have to drop a bomb, Han Solo / Got me bicken back being bool, Quasimoto.” On the same song he drops his guard just a bit as well, wondering, “I don’t know why I feel like nobody loves me / Or why they feel like my intention’s something ugly.” The contrast suggests the identity confusion extends from musical styles down to individual song concepts; he hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do and be on this song — a microcosm of the album as a whole.
Elsewhere, he leans into his tortured rockstar image, crooning on the grunge-rock ballad “BANG!” to sing Kurt Cobain down from the afterlife for his begrudging approval, and wailing his way through the Gothic trap of standout single “Dark Knight Dummo” with Travis Scott. He even holds his own alongside his closest stylistic precedent, Young Thug, on one of the album’s most standout moments, the lurching, pulpy “Forever Ever.” Life’s A Trip is at its most distinctive when he swings to either extreme. Otherwise, he sticks to the same cartoonish trap as his colorful, streaming service-bred brethren. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s just that we have plenty of those already and he shows his best face when he’s straining his vocals like a siren or embracing the futuristic boom-bap of “Oomps Revenge.” The tension between his seemingly opposed approaches and the way he struggles to reconcile the two creates a balancing act that is nearly impossible to turn away from — this is when he’s the most engrossing and distinctive. These are the album’s best moments and the times when it feels like Trippie is finally showing glimpses of his true self.
Life’s A Trip is out now via TenThousand Projects, LLC. Get it here.