Lil Rap Column: Lil Uzi Vert is Trapped, Just as He's Finding His Voice | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Lil Rap Column: Lil Uzi Vert is Trapped, Just as He’s Finding His Voice

Plus: Remembering Nipsey Hussle

Apr 15, 2019 By Conrad Duncan Web Exclusive
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My enduring belief that Lil Uzi Vert will come good is based on one thing: No artist who makes a song as era-defining as "XO TOUR Llif3" does it by mistake. That said, the last few years have been tiring. Uzi has shown sporadic inspiration, but his official debut Luv Is Rage 2 was frustratingly bloated and forgettable. The chaotic rollout of his long-rumored Eternal Atake does little to calm concerns that we should expect another mess.

In recent months, Uzi has been trapped in an ongoing war with his label Generation Now over the album's release, threatening to quit music altogether and releasing a comeback single, "Free Uzi," which seemed to take shots at them. Amid that conflict, two new singles arrived last week, "Sanguine Paradise" and "That's a Rack," both of which were conspicuously not promoted on Uzi's Twitter or Instagram. But, if you can ignore the incessant gossip around his label drama, you might be able to notice that Uzi's new music is actually good.

That's not to say Uzi hasn't been good before. Although he is not a particularly dexterous rapper, he is an inventive one; blessed with an ear for gooey hooks and peculiar wordplay. And while his technical skills pale in comparison, his writing on his best recent singles ("New Patek," "Free Uzi," and "Sanguine...") recalls some of Lil Wayne's freewheeling lyricism. Each Uzi song is liable to contain a couple of dud lines, but his best go to places other artists wouldn't dare-see the gloriously distasteful Kaepernick reference on "Free Uzi" as a prime example. Uzi works best when he's skirting around the edges of sense, as he does on these songs, rather than trying to fit into an established trend.

Musically too, he's developing a more distinctive voice, generally favoring a glossy experimental take on trap over the icy minimalism utilized by his peers. Uzi's voice is well-suited to strange textures; his weakest single, "That's a Rack," falters because it feels too restrained. There's no escaping Uzi's goofiness and he's at his best when he leans into it. Even "XO TOUR Llif3," one of his bleakest songs, is so beguiling because of the balance between the track's gloomy intensity and his cartoonish vocals.

There is a chance none of these songs will make it onto the final version of Eternal Atake or accurately reflect the direction he's heading in. The stories of rappers who lost momentum due to label disputes and never recovered are well-documented. However, I am cautiously optimistic that he can be an exception. We may never see a great Lil Uzi Vert album, but his recent work suggests that he is both capable of greatness and beginning to focus his aesthetic vision.

A brief word on Nipsey Hussle

I didn't say anything about the passing of Nipsey Hussle last week, partly because many other people were able to speak more eloquently on his life and partly because his death feels profoundly more painful than usual.

As Nipsey's Celebration of Life made clear, the LA rapper was more than just an artist, he was a lifeline to his community. Although other rappers may fill the gap left in LA's hip-hop scene, few will be able to fill his space as a community leader. Nipsey built businesses, employed members of his community, and fostered a spirit of positivity and education for those around him. It is in this sense that the greatest loss from his passing will be felt.

It is an uncomfortable truth that senseless tragedy is much more prevalent than poetic justice, and so it goes that Nipsey was killed in the community he helped care for. Other artists may look at his death as proof that you should get out of the hood as soon as you can, but I hope people take more from the positives of his life than his passing. It is rare for an artist to bring together tributes as wide-ranging as Barack Obama, Stevie Wonder, and Kendrick Lamar, especially one who never had a bonafide hit. But Nipsey was always more than just an artist, he was a role model for his community. In that way, his influence will live on way beyond his music.

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Epoxy Floor
April 23rd 2019

The talent in this person is just immense