One morning last October, 22-year-old FIU student Karlens Fleurgin anticipated the experience of a lifetime.
He had an $84 floor ticket to see Playboi Carti live at the James L. Knight Center and was poised for a raw, up-close-and-personal viewing of the show. However, security shut him out of the section he purchased.
Fleurgin had first streamed Carti’s latest album, “Whole Lotta Red,” when it was released the previous Christmas. At that moment, he envisioned himself rooted in the depths of a raucous crowd, psyching out to the music.
Back then, his life had been marked by isolation, self-reflection, and sudden realization. He had hit a rough patch with his family and distanced himself from his peers. The confines of his solitude had become suffocating. For the first time in his life, he had been depressed.
Over time, he found catharsis in Carti’s third body of work. The unfiltered aggression of the music became an outlet in the months that followed. “I always told myself I had to make sure I see this live,” he said. “This would be a moment where I could share how he helped me feel free.”
But the public’s perception of “Whole Lotta Red” was polarizing. Mid-quarantine, many first-time listeners rejected Carti’s newfound direction of hyperaggressive distortion and sanguinary lyricism.
The synergy of punk and metal filtered through the lens of contemporary rap deviated from anything out at the time. It wasn’t derivative of the rap-rock or nu-metal of the ’90s, either. Instead, Carti put on an eccentric display of lyrical brevity and visceral repetition over a synth-heavy, bass-boosted backdrop.
On track eight, “No Sl33p,” he repeatedly cries out, “When I go to sleep, I dream ’bout murder!” over a barrage of gunshot ad-libs and a malignant eight-bit instrumental. Not necessarily for the faint of heart.
Other listeners, including Karlens, rapidly latched onto Carti’s new sound. Internet stans built a voracious atmosphere brought to life the next October at Narcissist Tour, a two-month-long, country-wide expedition in support of the album.
On the day of the Miami show, the tour’s fourth stop, a family outing kept Karlens from reaching the concert on time at 7 p.m., but he was hell-bent on joining the moshers and vampires already wreaking havoc at the venue.
Until he was denied entry to his expected section.
Three hours after doors opened, security barred Karlens from entering the floor, claiming he needed a wristband that hadn’t been given to him in the first place. Confusion and anger set in, and everyone around him darted inside as the bass of the bone-shaking opus “Stop Breathing” exploded on the speakers. The show was underway, and Karlens was banished upstairs, far away from the stage.
Sulking in the center of the elevated seating area, he observed the thousands of concert-goers entranced in a haze of delirium below. The place would have been pitch black had it not been for the pulsating strobe lights above the stage.
“I needed to find one way or another to get down there,” he said.
Karlens approached a mob of adolescents hovering around a nearby stairway, jumping to the music. He suggested to a few that they rush past security onto the floor, evoking moral support and resounding echoes.
He sensed the group’s apprehension over making the first move, though. After all, if they failed, they’d definitely get kicked out.
He scanned the surroundings. After spotting a lax security guard by another stairway to the east, he bolted past him down the stairs. At the bottom, he was met by a tall, muscular guard in the crowd before pivoting right and running along a barricade until he lost sight of him in the darkness.
“Move!” he yelled to the crowd, prompting them to create space for him.
Free at last.
The crowd made way for over a dozen delinquents who had tagged behind and poured onto the floor. Enveloped by harsh, red lights, swallowed in the thick brume of the masses, Karlens felt everything and knew nobody.
Playboi Carti set the tone for anarchic bedlam with a punk-inspired stage presence: primal screams, frantic movement, sporadic ad-libs, all while his slender silhouette moved in and out of the luminous smoke clouds on stage.
As Karlens pushed and shoved his way through the crowd, adrenaline coursed through his veins.
And then came “New Tank.” The muddy, distorted bass of Karlens’ favorite cut off the album echoed throughout his skeleton, transporting him back to the times he had so deeply desired to hear “Whole Lotta Red” in concert.
He thought: “Now I can wild out, be whoever I want, and not be so constricted by how the people in my actual life view me.”
Everything came back full circle.