By Sam Harris | @samewlharris
After draining every last drop of ‘XO Tour Llif3‘s sleeper hit success, Lil Uzi Vert‘s Luv is Rage 2 has arrived after a surprise announcement on Instagram. Following what may seem to Uzi fans like a Blonde-length wait time given the amount of teasing he’s done, the long awaited sequel-turned-debut studio album has reached our ears, dropping us deep down into his hazy subconscious only to be pulled out with a string of triumphant, celebratory tracks in which he bounces back from the heartbreak that has continued to plague him.
In the time since we last heard music from Uzi, much has changed. He’s transformed into a superstar, tuned into radio waves across the globe and incited yet another meme (quickly becoming the way we engage with hip-hop/trap music — take Migos with ‘Bad and Boujee‘s viral success that sent them to the top of the charts, or Future with ‘Mask Off‘ and his social media team’s capitalisation on flute memes for example) following that incredible stage-dive at Rolling Loud. LIR2 finds him with a new sheen, a tidying of his messy and idiosyncratic aesthetic. The album cover sports the usual collage of bombastic imagery that Uzi’s covers are known for, except here, the art has been greyscaled; purple swirls flaunting codeine overtones replaced by hard etched, white scribblings of song titles and tattoo-esque imagery. Perhaps most telling is that Uzi is no longer represented by his usual cartoon character persona. The central image is a photograph of him in the flesh, the reality of his image is brought to the fore; his most emotive self, sprawled across an hour of revelatory music. Additionally, he finds himself taped in by fashion designer and Kanye West collaborator, Virgil Abloh‘s OFF-WHITE tape, drawn straight from his industrial aesthetic and connoting a refined and polished, but ultimately off-kilter style that Uzi taps into sonically on the album. Abloh crafts a cover fitting given the album’s focus of unraveling of the darker side of Uzi, one that surfaced on ‘XO Tour Llif3′ (now with a new, nightmarish video directed by Abloh himself), and with his official debut, we are spiralled in a kaleidoscopic expulsion of Uzi’s leaned-out meanderings; sincere and soulful trap dressed in digital pop beats.
On LIR2, Uzi rollercoasters through feelings of dissociative euphoria and depression, often looping back to previously strung emotions with a focus on dealing with his breakup, his struggle for happiness following this, and the new, stronger Uzi that he now is. The album’s highlights centre around the middle of the track listing: on ‘For Real’, the 8-bit, laser show production crafts the perfect grooves for Uzi to channel his typical braggadocious self (“All of my diamonds for real / different colour like Pharrell’s”) before toning his ego down on ‘Feelings Mutual’, where Uzi enters an aural amusement park—a song that would feel like a welcome complement to the Safdie brother’s Good Time (2017). Producer WondaGurl lays a sickly carnivalesque array across the chorus, evocative of a warping mess of flashing lights as the production cycles from left to right (coinciding with Uzi’s apt “Not my first merry-go-round”). He comes out the other side a changed man—closing the song with “I’m doing fine now, I’m doing fine now / No I do not need nobody now”—and leaving the heartbreak behind him, before instantly transitioning to the album’s first collaborative effort. With Pharrell by his side, Uzi launches into the album’s hardest hitting production. Neon Guts is a definitive club anthem, with bouncy 808s complemented by ethereal xylophonic keys that dance underneath. Lyrically, he’s back on his shit, flaunting his newfound superstardom with the already iconic “Higher than Elon Musk” line, all the while proceeding to position himself as one with the stars as he trades bars with a characteristically laidback Pharrell, silky smooth over his own explosive beats.
Tracks like ‘X’ and ‘UnFazed’ highlight the new Uzi who’s overcome his misery and wrestled with the inevitable, with the latter delivering an infectious chorus from The Weeknd that blatantly emphasises just how much the two don’t care for the hate; nor should they with their latest albums both debuting at pole position on the Billboard charts, and buzz around their names only getting louder. Uzi, once “broke like Joe Dirt” (‘Malfunction’) now finds himself now with the swagger of Bogart (‘UnFazed’) and DiCaprio (‘X’), and ‘The Way Life Goes’ underscores Uzi at his most melodic with an incredible interpolation of Oh Wonder‘s ‘Landslide’ that’ll have you crying on the dancefloor—”You’ll find another life to live / I know that you’ll get over it.” The titular Luv of course acts as an acronym for Uzi’s full stage name, but the title finds another meaning given the ripples of the past relationship that he now wades through. Luv may indeed be Rage, but Uzi finds an outlet for this knee-jerk reaction and sonically spills his emotions in a surprisingly effective follow up project.
Uzi’s recruitment of A-list collaborators indicates just how far he’s come up and ultimately excelled above the rest of his XXL contemporaries and their 2017 studio album debuts. On ‘X’, he raps about the original Luv is Rage: “I cannot believe that I made this shit from a mixtape”. That tape may have piqued the rap game’s interest in 2015, but with Luv is Rage 2 he blesses us with a proper sequel, a cultivation of his rockstar aesthetic into an introspective grappling with where he was, where he is now, and where he’ll go from here—to the stars, it seems.
Photo credit: HipHopDX