How Lil Uzi Vert is Owning Hip-Hop
True icon across the Atlantic, Lil Uzi Vert has become in five years the most advanced embodiment of an idea that has made its way for many years in US rap: the rock star rapper. A look back at his journey and the accomplishment of "Eternal Atake".
Constantly postponed since 2018, Lil Uzi Vert's second official album, Eternal Atake, was finally released on March 6, just added to the 13th of March with fourteen additional tracks in its Deluxe version. Focus on a phenomenon straight from Philadelphia.
"If you sign, do it with a major, never with a DJ and a producer". Barely five months after the release of his first official album at the end of August 2017, Luv Is Rage 2, and while he is about to win a platinum record, Lil Uzi Vert is publicly attacking the makers of his label Generation Now on Twitter.
This conflict will then last more than two years, and even with the recent release of his second studio album Eternal Atake on March 6, the situation still seems confused between the artist and his host home. For the past three years, he has regularly accused his managers, DJ Drama and producer Don Cannon, of blocking the release of his music.
To which they retorted that the problem came from Uzi, who would have blown the budget of the studio sessions included in his contract.
Is he a capricious artist? Uzi Vert often gives the impression of being a turbulent teenager, that he runs away in the middle of an interview with Canadian Nardwuar, slams the door in the face of a journalist from The Fader during a report, or has fun running through the crowd of a festival in the middle of a concert.
It wasn't until the signing of Lil Uzi Vert on the management structure of Roc Nation, Jay-Z's company, that finally an agreement was reached, allowing Lil Uzi Vert to finally release his expected second studio album a week before the announced date, and which is expected to be number 1 on Billboard at the next update of the chart.
The streams machine should be revived with the release this Friday, March 13 of a Deluxe version of this second studio album, fourteen additional tracks that Lil Uzi Vert consider as the sequel to his mixtape Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, the one that blew it up in the world of rap in 2016.
A Rock Star in power
For some rappers, their path to music was a no-brainer, either out of passion or necessity. Not for Lil Uzi Vert. The young Symere Woods, whose real name was Mike Jones and the Ying Yang Twins as a child, but he mostly started rapping at his high school in North Philadelphia to impress his classmates, jealous of the attention one of his buddies was getting.
This need for popularity has created a snowball effect: after a few pieces with his classmate around 2012, the one who is then called Sealab Vertical continues to rap and turns into Lil Uzi Vert, a reference to his hashed and fast flow (the "Uzi" part) and his desires for social ascent (the "Green" part, for "vertical").
In 2014, the track U.Z.I. from his first solo mixtape, The Real Uzi, was broadcast on a local radio station. Producer Don Cannon, originally from Philadelphia but based in Atlanta, then visited his hometown, came across the title on the radio, called the station to get the young rapper's contact and immediately made a phone call.
This is a golden opportunity for Lil Uzi Vert: Don Cannon and his colleague DJ Drama have been real talent scouts for almost ten years thanks to their label Aphilliates Music Group and their mixtape series Gangsta Grillz. They accompanied artists like T.I., Young Jeezy and Lil Wayne at a time when mixtape reigned over rap.
Their background work allowed them to obtain important positions in record companies, and to create their label Generation Now in 2014. It is in this stable that they sign the young Lil Uzi Vert. And Drama and Cannon have a certainty: Lil Uzi Vert is a future rock star in power.
From there, the trajectory of the little Uzi (literally: he measures 1.63m) will undoubtedly be vertical. Lil Uzi Vert is not an exceptional artist in terms of writing, vocal performances or acrobatics in flow - he can have flashes in all three, without being a maestro.
But in a few years, he has become the icon of a part of the young rap audience, gradually shaped by the eccentricities of artists who paved the way for his generation of rappers. Imagining a frieze of the evolution of rappers modeled on that of human evolution, one could imagine that Lil Wayne gave birth to Future, who himself spawned Lil Uzi Vert.
All three, in an unconscious relay, have developed a hybridization of the rapper as a rock star, transforming the sentimental, hedonistic, consumerist and self-destructive excesses of the rock stars of yesteryear from the 70s to 90s as a standard for a part of rap, which had yet built largely in opposition to this white music.
Thus, Future's toxic nihilism and disenchanted romanticism can be found in Lil Uzi Vert - the mimicry is disturbing about his first mixtapes released by Generation Now, Luv Is Rage and Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, but more watered down and less destructive.
Thanks to the work of its leading producer at the time, Maaly Raw and his strident synths (Money Longer), Lil Uzi Vert's musical universe thus draws towards the electric psychedelia developed by Future from 2012 to 2015.
At Uzi, this melodious trap then takes on some dreamlike aspects, drawing towards the music of video games or cartoons, like other artists of his generation, notably Playboi Carti of which he was close for a while.
Above all, Lil Uzi Vert has assumed and asserts clear rock influences since the beginning of his career, ranging from My Chemical Romance to Paramore to Marilyn Manson, whom he worships - he once wore a pendant in his effigy and claimed Satanism as his idol (to the point that some imagine that Lil Uzi Vert was a hijacking of the lucifer name).
His strong taste for rock is expressed mainly in the sung parts of his songs, and will truly explode on his unmissable hit of 2017: XO Tour Llif3.
Recorded just before The Weeknd's European tour in early 2017, for which he performed the first part (some passages of the clip were shot in Paris), XO Tour Llif3 maximizes the aesthetics of Lil Uzi Vert: the melancholy production of TM88, that could recall the soundtrack of the video game Minecraft, the singing in two different heights from one chorus to another of Lil Uzi Vert, and especially this heart sentence flirting with suicidal thoughts drowned in pharmaceutical drugs and compulsive spending.
XO Tour Llif3 then offered a perfect canvas for Uzi's first official album, Luv Is Rage 2, released a month after his 23rd birthday. A victorious album, crowned with a major public success (double platinum record), yet born in pain.
An hybrid artist
On XO Tour Llif3, he recounted his complicated relationship with Britanny Byrd, his girlfriend since 2014. The adolescent passion that emanated from his laments was then perceptible. They were multiplied on Luv Is Rage 2 after their breakup in June 2017.
In the midst of songs where he strings the banalities on his unbridled life as a young rap / rock star, this disappointment in love but also his desire to overcome it stand out more vividly on titles like The Way Life Goes, Feelings Mutual, almost too confidently on X.
These moments of this first album have definitely made him in the category of "emo rappers", a generation of artists born between the mid and late 1990s who developed a hybrid music, taking up both the trap codes of the future and Young Thug as well as rock emo.
A little older than them, Uzi Vert then worked on musical motifs similar to those of Lil Peep, Juice Wrld or xxxtentacion, artists slightly younger than him. All died too young, caught up in their addictions or their inclination to self-destructive violence.
Uzi Vert, he stayed on the line, talking about suicide and devouring love passion while keeping his flamboyance - his "I can't die because this my universe" in XO Tour Llif3 finally gives the impression of an artist master of his aesthetic.
He remains a hybrid artist even in his own music, navigating between the melodrama and the ego, between the brilliance of his tears and those of his diamonds, between rock melodies and trap instruments.
On a larger scale, Lil Uzi Vert is also indicative of the global and dominant imagery of rap at a T-moment: if the 1990s were dominated by the figure of the politically incorrect gangster, the 2000s by that of the pimp and the player, the 2010 decade was finally the turn of the weird guy, the nerd, the weirdo.
And on the scale of strangeness, Lil Uzi Vert pushed the cursor away, with a manly rudeness but an androgynous deception and gestures, apparats inherited from the trap but an imagery drawn from rock (from look to vertiginous stage divings), a semblance of innocence from manga and cartoons covering dark thoughts and morbid images.
In three years of forced hiatus, the rap style worn by Lil Uzi Vert and his cymen has gained popularity while his most illustrious figures have, therefore, tragically disappeared. In his own way, Post Malone has become a sanitized version, adapting these codes into a more pop, less divisive music.
However, with Eternal Atake, Lil Uzi Vert does not change his formula. On the contrary: in a sense, he radicalizes her. The cover was once inspired by Heaven's Gate, a Uufological sect known for the mass suicide of 39 of its followers in 1997.
While his current members have expressed to Lil Uzi Vert a clear refusal to use his logo and threatened him with lawsuits, the rapper has kept the extraterrestrial theme: the album's rather non-binding narrative, mostly based on interludes, sees Uzi kidnapped by a UFO and gradually blossoming into space.
Thus, the first part of the album, during which it seems to live the takeoff, is the most aggressive in bringing together the rawest songs, especially the trio POP / You Better Move / Homecoming based on noisy and hard-hitting instrumentals.
The second part shows the more blue flower and melodious side of Lil Uzi Vert, especially on the title I'm Sorry in which he seems to revisit his story with his ex, piling up excuses, reproaches and painful memories ("Every time that you went out, you always linked up with a frenemy" [...] "Drowning all my sorrows up in rum") but also P2, softer rock cover of the XO Tour Llif3.
The music of this second half becomes more dreamlike and colorful, built on fluorescent melodies, samples of female voices and accompanied at times by almost gospel choirs on certain tracks (Celebration Station, Bigger Than Life, Bust Me, Urgency).
Working mainly with Working On Dying, a team of young Philadelphia producers, each track offers more advanced sound ideas than on the previous album.
If Eternal Atake proposes musically steps forward, Uzi Vert presents a paradox: he seems stuck in his state of three years ago, at once more decadent (he regularly spreads his collection of cases in the texts of Eternal Atake) but above all always affected by his break with his ex, without giving the impression of being on the move.
In Chrome Heart Tags, produced by Chief Keef, Uzi compensates for his heartache by slamming his money in Murakami paintings, and then in Urgency proclaims: "You fog my brain, them chemicals made me heartless".
Lil Uzi Vert is not in fact a "star", a star, frozen in a stellar position: it is a comet in full orbit that has succeeded in its revolution to return more spectacular than ever by approaching the atmosphere. If the dust he left in the tail of his comet, gathered in the Deluxe version, more likes of fan service, he manages with Eternal Atake to recall that behind his posture of exuberant diva, he is an artist with a clear trajectory. And vertical, of course.