The Lowdown: My, how Lil Uzi Vert has grown! It feels like millennia have passed since 2015, when Vert was a cocksure but somewhat amateurish 21-year-old rapping in a silly vampire voice on “All My Chains”. Judging by new album Eternal Atake and its companion piece, LUV Vs. the World 2, Vert has retained his youthful exuberance (impressive when you consider what he’s been through in the last several years; more on that below). But he means business now.
Vert has unusual listening habits. He flaunts them constantly. More than once he’s decreed that Marilyn Manson is the platonic ideal of a musician. And like any shock-rock devotee, Vert loves him some conceptual razzmatazz. Eternal Atake has no dominant protagonist and is instead constructed around a sequence of interconnecting dispatches from Baby Pluto, Renji, and Vert himself.
So Eternal Atake benefits from the imprimatur of intellectual rigor. If it were a “mere” rap record, as opposed to a three-act rap opera, critics would surely be talking about it in very different terms. If you ask us, the album is special not for what it represents — Vert’s maturing sense of dramatic narrative — but for how it sounds. Vert is really good at bleating emotively over cotton-candy synths.
The Good: Not so long ago, Vert had the world by the you-know-what. In 2017, he released “XO Tour Llif3”, a genre-ambiguous power ballad that made suicidal ideation sound downright romantic. The song was a huge hit, appealing equally to hip-hop heads and mall punks, but ever since Vert has been trapped in a vituperative codependent relationship with his record label, Generation Now. How do you cope in functional captivity? If you’re Vert, you seethe on Twitter.
Years of palace intrigue threatened to torpedo Vert’s career, so it’s a relief to hear him back in his element. He sounds alert, refreshed, and sometimes thrilled on Eternal Atake, shifting between cadences and registers with the manic dexterity of Sada Baby. One moment Vert is grunting reedily (“You Better Move”); the next he’s rhapsodizing tenderly about his lady friend (“Bigger Than Life”). Somehow he has the stamina to keep this up for over an hour. And his sense of humor has never been sharper: “I ain’t fuck a bitch in so long/ I’d do it in a Honda Accord,” he jokes on “Baby Pluto”.
There’s no easy way to describe “Homecoming”, a raucous cacophony of synthesized horns, kitten screeches, and engine revs. But in general, Eternal Atake splits the difference between P-funk and electro. In an ironic twist of fate, the year’s most futuristic rap album comes courtesy of someone who’d been dismissed as a relic.
LUV Vs. the World 2, meanwhile, reveals the extent of Vert’s influence in the corridors of power. Try to think of a rap artist who commands $150K per show. They’re probably featured on LUV Vs. the World 2, which in terms of sheer star power is analogous to a Steven Soderbergh ensemble thriller.
Vert is no shrinking violet. Surrounded by famous friends (Young Thug, 21 Savage, Future) on LUV Vs. the World 2, he not only holds his own but outdoes himself. Vert delights in finding new ways to convey his sexual prowess: “I’ll fuck your bitch right out the sole of her shoes,” he warns on “Money Spread”, which features the jauntily nihilistic gangsta rapper Young Nudy.
The Bad: Eternal Atake has moments of heartfelt candor, including “Chrome Heart Tags” and “Spread the Bag”. LUV Vs. the World 2 doesn’t really. There’s no equivalent to the “Never Bend” remix from 2018, which hinted at a world of hurt behind the “project walls.” With a title like that, LUV Vs. the World 2 seems to promise self-expression, if not a scorched-earth airing of grievances. Only once does Vert satisfactorily address hardships in his personal life: on “Wassup” (ft. Future), he laments the bull’s-eye on his back that makes it impossible to visit the neighborhood where he grew up.
The Verdict: In the span of about a week, Vert has gifted us with two album-length projects, one of them (Eternal Atake) virtually blemish-free and the other, a mildly flawed but hilarious mixtape. Where he goes next is impossible to predict because Vert’s career has been marred by abrupt detours and long stretches of involuntary homeostasis. It’s possible that three years from now Vert will be back to twiddling his thumbs and rage-tweeting. Of course, this is no time for morbid speculation. Let us rejoice in the stirs of a sleeping giant.
Essential Tracks: “Baby Pluto”, “You Better Move”, and “Bigger Than Life”