Album Review: Trippie Redd’s ‘A Love Letter to You 4’

Trippie Red album cover
Courtesy of Capitol Records

Of the SoundCloud Class of 2016-17, Trippie Redd is just about the last man standing. Lil Pump and 6ix9ine had flashes of mainstream glory but quickly combusted (or worse), Lil Xan and Lil Tracy never quite seemed to get off the ground, and two of the biggest, XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, are no longer with us.

Trippie, on the other hand, stood to inherit XXXTentacion’s cultish fanbase — the two were close friends, and Trippie’s punk-emo-rap often sounds eerily similar — which leaves him arguably the king of this sound, whether he earned the title or received it by default. With a voice like a video game supervillain — like how you’d imagine Bowser or an evil Teletubby might sound — he embodies the hormonal teen, at once depressed, furious and self-obsessed.

But sonically, Trippie’s last album, “!,” found him waffling between genres, pivoting toward pop-rap and ditching the style of his best work, like 2018’s “Life’s a Trip,” where he was lyrically visceral without sliding into clichés, and his melodies fit the beats.

And since then, he’s only gotten farther away from precision: On his latest, “A Love Letter to You 4,” he seems uncertain what to do — so he’s trying everything. The towering 21-track project is like a hoarder’s clean-up sesh: the number of different sounds and styles is impressive, as are several songs or at least moments, but hardly anything seems fully cooked.

The first batch of tracks may not resonate with anyone who hasn’t recently gone through a life-shattering breakup that has somehow also infantilized them. Trippie begins with “Leray,” a mostly spoken-word attack on his ex-girlfriend, Coi Leray that sees him inventing what may be a new genre: the diss ballad. Although you could probably trace the style back to Kanye circa “808s & Heartbreak,” Trippie’s use of acoustics makes it feel more like a descendant of emo rock. “When you got with me you were a genius/ Now without me you have to live life as an idiot,” he whines, which is a strange way to end an otherwise rather touching recollection of a relationship. Generic pop-trap abounds, from the bloodless “Love Me More” to the ironic “Love Sick,” where he raps about being sick of love songs, despite creating a bunch of them himself.

But “This Ain’t That” smashes the monotony with an excellent ChopsquadDJ beat and a guest feature from Lil Mosey, whose ethereal verse stalks across the soundscape like a flamingo. Indeed, things get interesting when Trippie ditches reflections on love and gets aggressive. Even though Kevin Gates flexed it first, Pi’erre Bourne’s menacing beat on “The Grinch” feels like it was made for Trippie. His voice transforms from sinister low register into frightening 6ix9ine-esque screamo. “I was outside being bad with the grinch,” he howls, soaring in the mix like a leering shadow creature. Trippie teams up with DaBaby — and Three 6 Mafia cofounder DJ Paul, who helped produce the track — on the pounding club banger “Death.” Reverb coils under Trippie’s chorus and DaBaby comes through with his trademark flow — which is to say relentlessly and breathlessly enunciating every word and line with razor precision.

But around two-thirds of the way through the album, things really go off the rails. The worst offender is “M’s,” which brandishes a Bourne-produced xylophone-type beat and sounds like the loopy lovechild of Dram’s “Broccoli” and 21 Savage’s “Bank Account.” The lyrics reflect the beat’s cartoonishly absurd texture: “She bounce on that d–k / so I call that b—h Tigga,” Trippie chirrups cheerfully, referencing the very unsexy pogoing tiger from Winnie-the-Pooh.

While “Love Letter 4” is oddly disjointed, it opens the doors to a whole universe of possible future directions for Trippie: emo ballads, pop-rap, gritty punk, off-the-wall screamo, xylophone meme-rap. Maybe his best course is to pick a path and master it.