There is a argument that could be made that Trippie Redd has lost a step. It’s not a particularly well-reasoned one, but plenty have tried to make the case. “There is no time where I feel like I will fall off,” Redd told Rolling Stone last November, unintentionally predicting the swell of hate that would come his way. “I feel like I will always last. I will always do something new.”
Despite a growing contingent of Rap Twitter detractors, critics and armchair A&Rs who have soured on the Canton rapper, Trippie Redd is continuing to survive in a landscape that could just have easily consigned him to a role as an also-ran with a brief run of success. His successes are quiet, the wins small, but they’re there. His debut album, Life’s A Trip, sold 72,000 album equivalent units in August and netted him a platinum plaque for “Dark Knight Dummo,” his destructive hit with Travis Scott. He weathered a bad (albeit successful) Diplo song, managed to compete with Young Thug (a frequent feature killer) on his debut, and has turned in enough solid features to make him a considerable threat. Redd is now making some of the best music of his career, even if it isn’t necessarily the type that first broke him through the scene.
With A Love Letter to You 3, Redd is joining the ranks of rappers — Kanye, Lil Yachty, Migos — deploying more than one album in the same calendar year. Surprisingly, Redd seems rejuvenated, not depleted, by the increased pace. In a year when many of his SoundCloud Rap peers are creatively flailing as they pursue sustained success, Redd is now stretching the creative boundaries of his sound, rather than chasing the tired emo rabbit down the proverbial hole. It’s earning him less critical appraisal, and a noticeably less prominent place in conversation, but he’s retained an audience and keeps giving them reasons to listen.
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From a technical standpoint, Trippie is simply becoming a better rapper and singer. The bars are tighter, the wailing is less nasally and the beats are more interesting. On a song like “Topanga,” Redd’s strained tenor clashes with the helium-like sample of Maurette Brown Clark’s ‘It Ain’t Over,” creating a wonderful type of blasphemous dissonance. Redd pairs a song that’s mostly about shooting people with a portion of song that was originally about not giving up on God, and somehow makes it work. “Toxic Waste,” is less violent, but no less captivating. Diplo redeems his previous blunder with Trippie, giving the crimson-haired crooner a soft, lilting production to sweetly sing, “Baby, fuck my life, it is yours.” It sounds better than it reads, trust me.
“1400 / 999 Freestyle” features Trippie and Juice WRLD gleefully rapping for nearly three minutes about nothing. It’s gloriously carefree, opting for nonsense that sounds good over any sort of lasting coherence. Nevertheless, Redd’s verse is a speedy and furious tumble of syllables that crescendos when the Ohio MC perfectly ends the last six bars with transcendent “yeah” adlibs. Trippie and YoungBoy Never Broke Again have even more chemistry on “Elevate & Motivate.” The two sound at home over the OZ and Khrischordz’s jazzy, saxophone filled production, which is as welcome as it is surprising.
A Love Letter To You 3 isn’t perfect. At sixteen songs it’s unnecessarily long, meandering in spots, but it succeeds on the back of Trippie’s quest to make his next move weirder than his last. He’s not the rapper anymore, and likely won’t be again, but he’s managing to make some of the best music of his career in spite of that.