If Lil Wayne caterwauled his way to hip-hop rock stardom in the early 2000s, then Lil Uzi Vert is the next evolution of the rockstar-rapper trope. His debut studio album, Luv Is Rage 2, makes a concerted effort to expand on this narrative, ultimately positioning Uzi as a high-flying artist who is always just a hair’s breadth away from courting chaos a bit too amorously.
If you’ve been following Lil Uzi Vert since 2016, you’d be forgiven for thinking his ascension was as sudden as it was meteoric. After all, it was post the release of his fourth mixtape, Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World, that things began to move at sonic speed for the Philadelphia rapper. First there was the death-defying stage dive at Miami’s Rolling Loud festival – the footage of Uzi’s jump and the audience’s adulation went viral. Then, he was tapped for one of XXL’s coveted freshman slots, and quickly followed that up by releasing a fifth mixtape, The Perfect Luv Tape, on July 31 in honor of his 22nd birthday. Through it all, Uzi seemed to be living the life he portrayed: late nights, newfound fame, non-stop shows and trying to survive the tumultuousness of a failing relationship.
Over the course of 16 tracks, Luv Is Rage 2 finds space to explore all of these themes, starting with the album’s disjointed intro, “Two.” “Uzi, not again,” a woman’s voice says before Uzi waxes poetic about being the G.O.A.T. who started it all. The sentiments might read like a premature (and confusing) victory lap to some, but to those familiar with Uzi’s rather lengthy discography, the off-the-bat flex will likely feel like the well-deserved posturing of an underdog who made good.
From there, the album sets out to solidify Uzi’s place as a rockstar in public consciousness. The first proper track, “444+222,” an allusion to the number of the beast and a clever homage to Jay-Z’s namecheck on 4:44, is a buoyant dive into the hedonism of the rap life. Between courting ass-shaking on the hook and references to diamonds and millions, we get the sense that Uzi is fully embracing the fast life and all that comes with it.
Many of the tracks follow in the same vein, worshipping at the temple of opulence, money and women, but with Uzi’s unpredictable delivery and natural penchant for showboating, while repetitive, never becomes unbearably stale. That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for a bit more nuance – there’s plenty for it, because if we’re being honest there’s only so many times you can creatively discuss sex and cash. However, tracks like the Pharrell-featured “Neon Guts” offer an unexpected one-two-punch, even with homogenous subject matter. The melody is as flashy and incandescent as the song’s title, and Pharrell and Uzi trade verses with an easy playfulness that highlights admirable lyrical dexterity, and a sense of mischief.
Conversely, tracks like “The Way Life Goes,” “Feelings Mutual” and “Dark Queen” seem to be Uzi’s attempt to contextualize his own recklessness. “I know it hurts sometimes but you’ll get over it,” he sings, sampling London duo Oh Wonder in the hook of “The Way Life Goes,” which, like “Feelings Mutual,” seem to follow the same backstory – a passionate relationship gone irreparably sour.
In truth, singles like “XO Tour Llife3,” (which went platinum three times in the US), and appears as the last song of the album, only contribute to Uzi’s growing mystique. They communicate his casual flirtations with self-destruction while feeling universally applicable. The now-infamous line, “all my friends are dead/push me to the edge,” wouldn’t intuitively feel like prime sing-along lyrics, but with Uzi’s atomic energy, they are. And like his mind frame, the project exists on the edge of contemporary hip-hop and something more futuristic. It’s in that place where Uzi is able to confront his own demons, even in the midst of celebrating material successes.
For more of our reviews, read what we think about ‘A$AP Mob’s collab-heavy Cozy Tapes Vol. 2: Too Cozy’ right here.