The XXL Freshman cover has an interesting track record when it comes to giving us the next up in Hip-Hop. Artists like Drake and Nicki Minaj have turned it down as it didn’t serve a purpose for their careers; they were already ascending the charts by the time they would have been recognized. It has helped launch careers for Wale, B.o.B., Big Sean, J. Cole, and Wiz Khalifa while missing the mark on names like Pill, Donnis etc. The Freshman Cover doesn’t make or break a career per say, but it is a helpful co-sign in terms of promotion.
A year ago I found myself amused with a Vine that Russell Westbrook posted after Kevin Durant fled to Oakland to join the Golden State Warriors. In typical internet fashion, people read into Westbrook singing “now I do what I want” as joy that he would be the team leader for the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 2016-2017 NBA season. The song that was playing in the clip happened to be from Lil Uzi Vert, ‘Do What I Want’. Partially from the clip, and knowing his name from the XXL Freshman List, I gave his music a chance. While not amazed by a whole project there was enough to keep me interested in future releases.
Sunday night, Uzi’s hard work paid off as ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ was crowned “Song of the Summer” at the MTV VMAs. The record is full of emotion, conveyed through painful yelps and screams throughout the song that manifest in the form of lyrics. ‘XO TOUR Llif3’ puts you in a conundrum: it’s a catchy song that you can dance to but the subject matter is dark, most notably as Uzi sings “push me to the edge, all my friends are dead”. At first I thought this would be hard for people to grasp. Then I heard this song in the sequence of his latest release, Luv Is Rage 2, and it began to make sense in the grand scheme of the project; Uzi created a dream sequence and the lead single is the ending of the dream.
Most people are willing to write off an artist who sounds like a “mumble rapper” but what Uzi has done with his music is dive into an emotional abyss. In the same fashion that Young Thug uses his voice as an instrument Uzi does this with emotion throughout Luv Is Rage 2. ‘Two®’ leads with Uzi’s lady friend trying to wake him up before he falls into a deep sleep of love, heartbreak, and anger; she ultimately fails as Uzi drifts into his own world of money and power. Casual fans may consider Uzi “trash” but for him to create a project that explores fantasy and real life at the same time is commendable, showing artistic growth from his previous projects. One of the more heartbreaking moments of Luv Is Rage 2 comes on the Don Cannon & Ike Beats produced ‘The Way Life Goes’. Through its upbeat hi-hats and synths we hear Uzi breakdown the aftermath of a failed relationship, chalking it up to “that’s just life”. The somber emotion is masked by the beat but there’s pain in Uzi’s voice on the chorus suggesting he’s not over it quite yet.
Coming in at 16 tracks there are moments where the project drags along and sounds like the previous song on a couple of occasions. Uzi is continuing to grow and for those of us who are new to his music will be growing along with him. Luv Is Rage 2 contains two big name features as Pharrell produces & joins the ride for the fantastic ‘Neon Guts’ while The Weeknd lends his vocals to ‘Unfazed’. The latter sounds like Weeknd before we knew he was a big pop star, which just so happens to be the route that Lil Uzi Vert is heading. We’ve seen footage of Uzi jumping into the crowd, enjoying life, and just overall being a positive person. All of these qualities and antics showcase an artist that will not be confined to one specific genre. Luv Is Rage 2 is a decent project from an artist that plans on making his name known everywhere before the end of his music career. At 22 he’s only scratching the surface on what he can do for himself and those who have believed in him since The Real Uzi days.
Repeatable: ‘The Way Life Goes’, ‘Neon Guts’ feat. Pharrell, ‘XO TOUR Llif3’
Skippable: ‘444 + 222’, ‘Pretty Mami’
By Joe Coad