“For real, I don’t even know how he famous.”

Your friends know you; they're often a reflection of your best (and worst) qualities. That’s one of Playboi Carti’s good friends—Lil Uzi Vert, in fact—summing up the dilemma of being Playboi Carti in 2017, during a VFILES question-and-answer event.

Born Jordan Carter 21 years ago in South Atlanta, Carti is handsome and personable, great at making and maintaining eye contact, and comfortable posing seriously or goofily for the camera. He uses the phrase “it’s lit” often, as a comprehensive explanation. He has a slanted oval of a birthmark on his face, and a habit of dramatically throwing his dreads back from his forehead with a whip of his neck, like someone emerging from underwater. He’s a rapper with the jawline of a model who has managed to linger on the scene with little more than SoundCloud loosies (2015's “Broke Boi” is the best known), breathable mumble rap tracks that anticipated the rise of his peers Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert. Until last night, that he had yet to release a full-length project had become a running joke in the industry. The “Jay Electronica of mumble rap,” as Carti once put it. (It's out now.)

I asked a number of friends, colleagues, and rappers to describe how they feel about Carti and, without exception, everyone is casually positive. The conversations, cooked down, almost always arrive at: “He’s cool.” Which is then chased by a nagging question: “What’s he doing, though?”

What was the story behind a project that had been so long in the making, and how had he managed to stay popular without it? What is his appeal?

This is one possible answer.

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