The decades since Lauryn Hill’s retirement haven’t exactly been great for female rappers. Now, the subgenre is in a bit of a commercial renaissance at the moment, and holds plenty of cultural cachet, but things have been a bit stagnant creatively. Nicki Minaj has been the helmsman for the subgenre since the early 2010’s, but I’m… not a fan, to say the least. She has exactly one good moment in her career– her verse on Kanye West’s 2010 hit Monster– and has been riding that high for twelve years. Otherwise, she’s a Kidz Bop rapper. I unironically enjoyed Cardi B when she first hit the scene, but she seems to have fallen off massively. I was initially bullish on Megan Thee Stallion, but her last few projects have been lackluster (she has a valid excuse, of course.) So, I admit to dismissing female rap as currently not being worthwhile.
That was until I heard Doja Cat’s sophomore LP Planet Her. It wasn’t a great year for music, but I sincerely believed it was one of the best albums of 2021, and the best female-led rap album in recent memory.
I was really, really impressed by Doja’s versatility, as she switched between reggae (Woman), fast-paced duets (I Don’t Do Drugs), and spacey crooning (Why Why). I also found her sense of humor very endearing, “Ain’t Shit” has one of the funniest choruses I’ve ever heard; “n****s ain’t shit, come up in your crib, all up in your fridge, can’t pay rent.” Even the more basic radio-friendly tracks like “Kiss Me More” had something to them. All of this to say that she won me over, and I was very excited to see how Scarlet would build off this momentum.
I was dismayed by the singles pre-release. I liked “Attention,” and initially thought Doja was presenting herself as a demon who feeds off of it, but…no, she’s talking about her vagina; “baby if you like it, just reach out and pet it…hungry, it needs attention.” The next two singles were deeply troubling as well. “Paint the Town Red” is an example of the extremely tame pop-rap that Doja should leave to her inferior contemporaries. And “Demons” is simply poorly written, with awkward flows and a beat that’s trying too hard. I was worried about this album, and was not looking forward to listening to it.
Now, these singles were misleading, but not entirely. See, Scarlet is a bit of a mixed bag, with an overall solid track list that is routinely interrupted by total garbage.
The first stretch of this album is extremely rough, opening with the latter two singles, followed by “Wet Vagina,” the worst song on the album– at least she’s settled on a theme.
But after this, we get “F**k The Girls (FTG),” which is personally my favorite track; she’s never sounded this aggressive, this clear in her convictions. She feels that other women don’t support her like they should, and she takes it personally.
After a couple more decent entries we get “Gun.” This song is an extended metaphor that compares a certain male body part to a firearm. Can you guess which one?
That’s probably the most jarring thing about this album, Doja has an almost Freudian obsession with genitalia and her own features that shoots past body positivity and into narcissism.
You don’t even have time to properly hate “Gun” before “Go Off” plays, which is a sweet self-esteem lullaby with the best instrumental and best chorus on the album.
But then that great song is sandwiched by another bad one! “Agora Hills” was her attempt at being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but she’s simply not a good enough lyricist to pull off what she was going for. There’s a weird bit in the middle where she calls her boyfriend and says “you are literally capping to me right now” through fake tears, it’s not that funny and I’m not sure who exactly it’s supposed to be poking fun at.
Then we get two good songs in a row. The left hook is “Can’t Wait,” a love song built on a really soulful sample. This one has a few lines that made me chuckle; “I wanna be the stubborn crust of barnacles upon you, if you were to become a middle American farmer I’d read up on every vegetable and harvest them around you.”
The next song is “Often,” a more sensual track, and the only attempt at sex appeal I didn’t find incredibly grating. We’re all adults here, I don’t mind this subject matter, but it has to be done artfully, like it is here.
Then you get the really boring “Love Life” and the underwritten “Skull and Bones,” two songs that could have been cut entirely or saved as bonus tracks.
“Attention” ends up being the penultimate track, and I actually like it a lot more within the context of the whole thing. Still, I thought this would have worked better as the opener.
And then we end with “Balut,” which opens with a really annoying and corny sample of Ric Flair saying “Listen girls, none of you can be first, but all of you can be next.” It’s very out of place, and I’m not sure why it was included. Anyway, “Balut” is fine, but very meandering, so the whole album just sort of sputters out.
It’s a bit difficult to wrap my head around the wild swings in quality, but I think I can hazard a guess. See, I think this is the album Doja wanted to make– a stripped back, darker, harder hitting project with a little bit of edge to it. This is mostly intact.
But then we get these songs that maybe Doja thought she needed to make. She’s not on the come up anymore, she’s a big name on a big label, and she needs to deliver. So…I don’t know, just crank the sexuality up to eleven and do your own vagina song a la “WAP.” Sam Smith had a big single with a satanic music video last year, do that too, I guess. Present yourself as a popstar, but not sincerely. Dear god, never do anything sincerely, that’s rule number one.
If this is the case, then I’m a little bit disappointed in Doja Cat. She’s very talented, and she had a good vision here. Why compromise it? Of course, no one aims to make bad music, but within the first minute of the first song, she delivers the line “I put good dick all in my kidneys.” What are we doing here?
I don’t know, man. There’s fifteen songs, five of them suck, the other ten range from okay to excellent. So, quick math, that’s a 66.6% success rate. I’ll be generous and round this up to a solid 7/10.