Lil Uzi Vert, perhaps the defining rap star of the past few years, is a cipher, a whirlwind, an alien. An accident of history. A chemical recombination of what hip-hop success sounds, looks and, maybe most importantly, feels like in an era in which the old gatekeepers have been all but sidelined. Breakout hits? One or two. Radio? Not so much. Promotional dog-and-pony show? As if.
For a straight-to-the-internet age, he is an unmediated presence — a tough talker and an in-the-clouds dreamer, a visual eccentric who deploys mystery to his advantage. He’s as thrilling in the shadows as in the spotlight. Few artists in any genre inspire more fervor, more devotion, more curiosity, more exuberant joy.
It’s been three years since his last album, but raucous festival performances, occasional bursts of social media activity and an online black market in leaked songs reinforce his fame — he is a rapper far more successful than the sum total of his hits.
The release of his long-awaited second studio album, “Eternal Atake” — followed a week later by the deluxe edition, subtitled “LUV vs. the World 2,” with a whole new album’s worth of songs — is a relief: Finally, a new data dump. “Eternal Atake” topped the Billboard chart with the most streams for any album since 2018; this week, with numbers for the deluxe edition included, it holds strong at No. 1.
Of the rap surrealists of the last few years — Young Thug, Playboi Carti, Gunna and so on — Uzi is perhaps the most pointed, the most familiar with the structuralists who preceded him, and the one who still harbors affection for them. The sometimes blistering, sometimes disorienting “Eternal Atake” resolves these interests. It is part old-fashioned bluster, part flamboyant style exercise, all rowdy thrill.
As ever, Uzi’s rapping voice is a whimsical chirp. His melodic approach borrows from pop-punk and R&B as well as the digitally decaying style popularized by Lil Wayne in the late 2000s (though in a couple of places here, he appears to lean back from the affectation, rapping with a more conventional tone). And the production throughout is anarchic: video game and anime soundtracks, plenty of rough-edged low-end, the occasional elegiac pop flourish.
His lyrics rely on variations on a handful of themes: the particularities of his sexual escapades, the ease of relieving other men of their girlfriends, his enemies, how proximate his enemies are, the tightness of his pants. (It’s true, and comes up at least twice: “My pants they so tight don’t know if they for her or him,” “I can’t do my dance ’cause my pants, they from France.”)
Occasionally, how he talks about these things is surprising. “I look the moon in its face/me and the moon relate” is as psychedelic as any Jim Morrison musing. “Now statistically I can’t win every time/but you know the score prolly like 10 to 3” is a strikingly specific admission of humanity.
His most invigorating rapping comes during the first few songs of “Eternal Atake,” one blown-speaker tremor after the next: “Lo Mein,” then “Silly Watch,” and then “Pop,” a kind of free-associative narrative of excess with a casually blunt rhyme scheme. This is Uzi rapping at his most sturdy, using pacing and cadence as much as melody.
But that sort of orderliness isn’t an essential part of his arsenal — the typical Uzi song is one filigree after the next, lace not denim. He creates his own funhouse-mirror reality.
While the original “Eternal Atake” is an almost wholly solo affair, the deluxe addition includes a raft of collaborations, featuring the similarly melody-melting classmates Chief Keef, Young Thug, Nav and others. The songs here are a more motley mix, but almost as effective as the ones on the main album.
To his guests, Uzi offers a worldview to get lost in — he doesn’t cede an inch. For the outsiders, it’s a brief visit to an extraterrestrial land. For Uzi, the Earth never held much meaning.
Lil Uzi Vert
“Eternal Atake (Deluxe) — LUV vs. the World 2”