Music Reviews

Bouncing Off Quarantined Walls with Lil Uzi Vert

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Genre: Trap, Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Myron,” “Silly Watch,” “Bean (Kobe) (featuring Chief Keef),” “Strawberry Peels (featuring Young Thug and Gunna),” “Venetia,” “Homecoming,” “Prices”

Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert has been stage-diving through the cosmos ever since his explosive come-up as a fun-loving pioneer of rockstar rap—the Flea of trap, if I may. The dude was different—in what is now a legendary XXL Freshman cypher alongside a cast of equally formative artists, he dropped his freestyle bashfully slinging a luxury messenger bag like it was a Roc-A-Fella chain. Uzi’s been the type to brag about getting dome while doodling on PictoChat, then taking your wife out to dinner at Shakey’s Pizza before a night at the Grammys in a hoodie and rave pants. His entire online presence is almost infantile, mumbling with mouthfuls of Sour Patch Watermelons then kissing you on the cheek and sprinting away into a Little Rascals serial.

He may very well be our greatest unifier in these hopeless times.

I sit in the four-wall confines of my bedroom wondering when the last party was, and how high I jumped. “Bean (Kobe)” has bass that recalls suburb houses uprooted from their foundations by a moshing group of 19-year-olds in the carpeted living room, smashing into drinks with full knowledge that there are three fresh handles in the kitchen, so spill away. Was that the last party? Maybe it was just the last one I remembered. Will I feel that again? Will I feel it again with others?

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ETERNAL ATAKE is Lil Uzi Vert’s reclamation of his rise in 500-capacity venue grunge pits, where the kids bashing together were clutching on to their mini Adidas backpacks so as to not fling their Nintendo DS across the crowd. Nowadays, Uzi’s headlining just about every Rolling Loud across the globe, catering to a larger jock demographic that wouldn’t know a Pilgrim from a Disick, but they’re jumping in synchronicity with the Reddit admins and e-girls who also bought passes. In the pit, there is no bureaucracy—only bodies in an enclosed shrine.

The last four years have been nothing short of emotionally exhausting, not to mention physically and soulfully taxing in every which way, our rockstars far from immune—Post Malone’s had on-stage burn-outs that veer on the edge of complete meltdowns, while the village that built Billie Eilish pumps a National Guard’s worth of songwriters into her vaguely sad, broadly “personal” records. But through it all Lil Uzi has stood as a testament to emotional productivity via artistic creation. Occasional interludes between songs find Uzi on the escape from captivity in an echo chamber. At the end of “Celebration Station,” he walks down what feels like an abandoned corridor yelping out a genuinely fearful “Hello?” Later on “Bust Me,” he’s another button press further into the dark abyss of parallel dimensions, further from stability but closer than ever to martyrdom. ETERNAL ATAKE’s through line is one of total discombobulation, culminating in a somber re-work of the legendary “XO Tour Llif3,” an already devastating single, rendered sadder by this track’s (“P2”) complete forfeit.

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Sure, rather than creating a bald-faced monolith of austere emotion, he’s shifted his efforts into making funny, fun, honestly comforting Newgrounds shorts when everyone else is trying to plagiarize A24, but behind the facade is a young man in crisis. Across ETERNAL ATAKE he’s plainly revealing what’s wrong, but it rests in our capacity for empathy to compute this music as, well… I hesitate to call it “a call for help,” but something akin to the throes of American audiences who saw THE WOLF OF WALL STREET as nothing but a three-hour, pro-capitalist party flick. There’s a deep well of sadness beneath the intentional artifice, but it requires active participation with the work to parse out. ETERNAL ATAKE’s thin concept manages to will the patterned beats and effortless flows into chants of perseverance. Between the frightful interludes is nearly two hours worth of vitality and exhilaration in the face of grave, unknown dangers.

Uzi’s vision summons an ebullience I’d only felt possible in FYF moshes of yesteryear, back when Kanye took over for Frank Ocean and had the crowd constantly airborne for a relentless set of all-timer hits. At a certain point, I wasn’t jumping anymore: I was floating. So crammed between sweating, stunned bodies that I was wedged between shoulders before my feet could touch the pavement. ETERNAL ATAKE is a full-body hit. It is possible that I will run out of steam sooner rather than later during this pandemic, and bouncing off quarantined walls will be substituted for staring into the blue light of constant screens from dusk till dawn. I’m not sure when this will all start messing with my head. Probably when the complete idea of free will fades away, a ridiculous statement that suddenly feels like a threat on the horizon.

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If I had “Silly Watch” and “Homecoming” in high school, it would’ve been game over for you motherfuckers. Shit, if I had these songs my freshman year of college, it’d be over for y’all. Young Thug, Future, and Migos will most certainly never know my name, but I will remember the days and nights I spent exclusively listening to them in search of anything to inflate my sense of self-worth. The trouble with finding yourself in rap is that it often carries a healthy side effect of… what’s the best way to put this… intense misogyny. But I was never fully drawn to the lyrics. If anything, mumble rap was the most important musical shift of my lifetime. Rap as free-floating jazz and lyrics pulverized into scatting—trap rap shifted the genre into essence and mood like no other popular movement ever had. As a live act certainly, Uzi takes those atmospherics and elevates them to a status worthy of coliseums—his 2017 stage dive from the top of the tech tent at Rolling Loud might as well be the decade’s Hendrix at Monterey Pop.

Less than a week after dropping ETERNAL ATAKE, the deluxe edition was released with an entire additional album attached: the highly anticipated sequel to 2016’s LIL UZI VERT VS. THE WORLD. ETERNAL ATAKE  is mostly a solo affair, but on LUV 2, Uzi’s friends come to play. Chief Keef on “Bean (Kobe)” plays supportive big brother while 21 Savage’s prolonged appearance on “Yessirskiii,” a boldly chauvinistic, chiptune romp through unchecked toxic masculinity, is another W in the British rapper’s corner. Uzi, much like cohort Carti, simply brings new ingredients to the table for his peers; while protective personas prohibit Savage from giggling on the beat, you can detect the earnest dedication to Uzi’s established brand of cutie pie trap. Uzi is on his best behavior in front of his compatriots; even NAV, an impressively awful musician who I still cannot tell if his adoration from Rap Twitter is an act of irony, is fun on “Leaders,” and each guest is as stoked as Uzi is for the opportunity.

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It ain’t all roses on LUV VS. THE WORLD 2. “Wassup” is so irritating that I still haven’t been able to listen long enough to hear the Future feature, but the immediate follow-up of “Strawberry Peels,” a club-leveling heater featuring Thugger and Gunna, is quality whiplash of the third kind. The strained vocals on “Lotus” confuse when Uzi’s capability for arena rock crooning is more than proven, often on this very project! But hey, what’s the fun in really critiquing Uzi bars when he’s the type of dude to hop on “Myron” with a line like “Your girl’s a five / but your mom is a dime piece.” We’re all here to go fucking nuts.

ETERNAL ATAKE is helping me get through it. It’s for me as much as it is for us. It’s for those who don’t consider family members friends but don’t want to see them die either. It’s for those cooped up in overpriced studio apartments looking for respite from the dread of a collapsing gig economy, and for those who have been stuck in one medical waiting room after another nursing a pre-existing condition that’s now been relegated as fourth or fifth fiddle by the larger health care system. It’s for venting frustrations, but it’s also for celebrating the small victories. Entering a sonic Sodom and Gomorrah of ecstasy, starry warbles, and dangerously inflated ego has been life’s golden elixir since 8th grade. To a depressed, film-obsessive 13-year-old fatty like me, there was nothing more life-saving than FLOCKAVELLI and SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD. For there to be a rapper that personifies the purest combined distillation of both is almost too gracious a treat. With a blockbuster #1 album, it’s somewhat calming to know that during this unprecedented wave of trauma, we’re bouncing off the walls to the same rhythm.

Kevin Cookman
Deserted in a video store as an infant, Kevin was raised on Fulci, Tarantino, Kubrick, and Whoppers. Now he's a graduate of Chapman University who acts as a contributor for Merry-Go-Round on the side: what a success story.

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