“I’m not here to trick nobody,” Lil Uzi Vert told Zane Lowe during a recent Beats 1 interview. “It’s what it is — if you get it, you get it, if you don’t you don’t.” The rapper-turned-rockstar, born in North Philly and having found a home-away-from-home in Atlanta, has been carefully constructing his own universe through song since 2014. Uzi shares exactly what’s on his mind and heart through his music — songs that may not always express everything with words, but reveal what he’s feeling through soaring melodies charged with no-holds-barred emotional catharsis. With his official major label debut, the long-awaited Luv Is Rage 2, Uzi adds another layer to his universe by baring his soul, bringing listeners through the stages of a deeply public relationship gone awry, and overcoming that on what is his best-sounding project to date, at that.
Having dropped five mixtapes over the course of the past three years, Uzi has slowly but surely been accumulating a raging, die-hard fanbase of his own. But in the past year, he’s been blasting closer and closer to full-blown stardom. From his “Bad and Boujee” verse to the pain-drenched loosie-turned-megahit “XO TOUR LIif3,” Uzi has edged his way into the center of the culture. And Luv Is Rage 2 is official proof that he belongs there.
Of the 16 tracks on the album, there are a handful that convey the spectrum of pain and unease of Uzi’s heartache — the deeply confessional and naked bars of “Feelings Mutual” (“I can’t feel/ My body’s numb/ It because I am so hurt”); the clanging, tumultuously noisy bleeps and zaps of “For Real.” However, with emo-pop-punk sensibilities having informed his sound for some time (Uzi recently named Hayley Williams as one of his key melodic influences), album standout “The Way Life Goes” channels the sweet spot of Uzi’s signature rap-sung style. Covering the chorus of London alt-pop duo Oh Wonder’s 2015 single “Landslide,” Uzi croons on the hook, “I know it hurts sometimes but you’ll get over it/ You’ll find another life to live/ I swear that you’ll get over it.” As is typical of his music, he seems to at once to be addressing his former partner (his relationship with Brittany Byrd was a very public and fan-loved one that continues to be shipped by Uzi admirers), and easing his own anxieties.
Though he dives deeper than ever into these moments of vulnerability, there’s no shortage of songs that lend themselves to the turn-up that follows finally being over heartache. “444+222” is the perfect embodiment of the mosh-inducing, space-pinball-sounding magic of a Maaly Raw x Uzi collaboration. “Sauce It Up” is the snippet-turned-album highlight to stage-dive into and lose yourself within. On “X,” which features tag-teamed production from Metro Boomin and Pi’erre Bourne, Uzi talks through dealing with jealousy and pain but ultimately decides to shrug off the stress of being worried.
The highlight of the album, however, arrives at the midway point in the form of “Neon Guts.” The song, produced by and featuring Pharrell, sounds like what’s supposed to play when you shift your spaceship into an easy, slow-floating autopilot, after blasting through several galaxies. It functions as a marker of Uzi’s full transition into his post-breakup glow-up.
Hearing the pair trade lines and verses is an other-worldly feeling in itself, and exemplifies exactly what is so special about this album as a whole: that Uzi has stepped up from the role of emerging artist working with a long-admired role model, to that of a peer. He doesn’t take cues from Pharrell; instead, the two bounce energies back and forth. Often referencing the fact that he’s “in a matter of months, raised a lot of” the new crop of artists who aesthetically and sonically take cues from him, he’s cemented himself as this oft-maligned generation’s true pioneer.
Despite facing criticism from old heads and non-believers alike for being too out-there or not deferential enough to the genre, being true to himself has paid off for Uzi. “Uzi is unique. He is what every generation hopes for,“ Virgil Abloh told The FADER in a recent interview about their album cover collaboration. “He's completely a creative. He’s devoid of too many references, he's in his own world.” With Luv Is Rage 2, he’s confirmed that, “for real, for real.”