Lil Uzi Vert embraces his pop-punk spirit on "Luv is Rage 2."
Rap fans are spoiled. Our expectations are absurdly high and when they’re not met we react poorly. Lil Uzi Vert had to have known the lofty standards he was setting up for himself hen he first announced Luv is Rage 2 back in December.Luv is Rage is atop the shortlist of essential Soundcloud mixtapes, and Luv Is Rage 2 not only put the pressure akin to a debut studio release on Uzi, but fans also expected him to surpass the predecessor, Luv is Rage. Immediately, a change is noticeable on Luv is Rage 2. At the time of Luv is Rage, Uzi was a 21-year old kid that was deeply in love, and blinded by the glitz and glamor of stardom being within arm's reach. On Luv Is Rage 2, Uzi's position has obviously changed -- he is haunted by heartbreak, and fully engulfed in the ritzy culture he dreamed of, like a post-makeover Brittany Murphy in Clueless.
Heartbreak albums can sometimes be blatantly inauthentic concepts, where the artist forces in a couple of lyrics about a relationship gone wrong, but really it is no different from anything else they have released (not that we haven't actually seen true heartbreak manifest into masterpiece, Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak). Regardless, the essential of the genre that we’ll focus on for the sake of this review is New Edition’s crying-in-the-club, meme-worthy album Heart Break, filled to the brim with broken-hearted club anthems. The New Edition checklist on how to have a successful heartbreak album is: 1) Is it quotable enough for Instagram captions? 2) Can we still dance to it? 808s & Heartbreak does fall in line with our checklist, and Lil Uzi Vert more than meets the New Edition criteria, adding elements that intensify your emotional connection to the album.
Uzi’s lyrics can be disheartening and even sad ("I told myself that I wasn't gonna pop no pills no more, No, I can't feel no more" he raps on "Feelings Mutual"), but even if the lyrics are wayward, Uzi's animated delivery makes you want to perform karaoke instead of sulk. His delivery was one of the main contributors to “XO Tour Lif3” becoming one of 2017’s massive hits, he had everyone singing "all my friends are dead" with glee. (Conspiracy fodder for the forums: what if Uzi was created in a DJ Drama & Don Cannon-funded lab where a scientist meshed Brendon Urie of Panic At the Disco! and Chief Keef into a pint sized body?) Uzi’s lyrics are incredibly quotable, even when the line is nothing more than a throwaway. The Philadelphia native can hold a note, or slightly change his tone, to bring even more power to a record. On the Wondagurl-produced “How to Talk” Uzi says, “Heard she talk to a ball player (what) it’s cool,” and where most rappers would utter this line the same as any other, Uzi sighs through it and you start to feel as though you’re just as broken as he is.
Uzi is fueled with teenage angst throughout Luv Is Rage 2. The project is reminiscent of a tragic teen film, as if, after Uzi’s break up, he locked himself in a studio with a pad, a pen and DVDs of '90s teenage cult classics like Heathers and Cruel Intentions. In these types of teen films, there is often a character who falls in love, and when that love is rejected, the character becomes instantly spiteful and vengeful to a point. Although Uzi seems to care less about actualizing any exact revenge, since fame itself suffices more often than not (“Early 20 Rager”: “Nowadays I get like 80k a show” “Fuck your bitch, made her play double-dutch”; “Pretty Mami”: “I get money, fuck your bitch, stay real, ooh, that's three facts,” but still, the cracks show at times: “The Way Life Goes”: “But I like that girl too much, I wish I never met her”; “I had to get a me a new bitch to hold the pain”; “Feelings Mutual”: “Back then I saw no one but you / Gave you my racks and I splurged too”)
On the Pierre Bourne and Metro Boomin-produced “X,” Uzi is, similarly, too prideful to fight for his relationship and instead brags and attempts to stimulate her jealousy, “If you got options I got options baby who you?..So basically what I’m saying, I’m not scared to lose you.” Uzi’s hubris continues to drag him down, because much ike our teen-film characters, Uzi wants to be seen as a full grown adult. His justification for it is his bank account and the number of times his flow has been stolen, but his overwhelming pridefulness prevents him from reaching out to guardian figures when he needs it most, “You got the best advice but I won’t call/I know I’m grown so I do not need ya’ll.”
On Luv Is Rage Uzi was able to brush off the problems that he saw as inconsequnetial in the greater scheme of things, on Luv is Rage 2 Uzi is moody and allows his issues to linger. This is supposed to be his moment and all of his life has been building to this apex.
Wondagurl’s production on one of the strongest Uzi tracks to date, “Feelings Mutual” sounds like a prom gone wrong. Its harrowing Wondagurl guitar combined with Uzi’s borderline whine saying “I can’t feel no more nooo/I can’t feel no more,” sounds like Uzi’s world is internally ending. Uzi continues to play up the fact that he is a heartbroken rockstar, channeling the spirits of every 2000s emo-pop-punk band-- another theme within Luv is Rage 2 that speaks to Uzi’s youthfulness and era. He belts out cheerless lyrics “I’m so numb” and “Living life just with a curse/Before I go in the hearse.” Uzi could’ve easily written for Brand New as on “Degausser” Jesse Lacey says, “Take me, take me back to your bed/I love you so much that it hurts my head” in a shattering state similar to Uzi’s.
Pharrell appears on the opulent album standout “Neon Guts,” which is also the album’s centerpiece. Richly-layered with vibraphone chimes, I started to picture Uzi joining one of Pharrell’s shady societies exclusively for absurdly rich people (this isn’t true, but it sounds plausible). Uzi and Pharrell bounce off of each other jubilantly with Pharrell rapping the best he has in a decade, you can even picture Uzi bobbing his head in sync with every line and drum kick. Uzi is in the flex stage of the sadness, “I got some lights on my chest/Don’t confuse it with a heart” calling the listener a “Broke Boi” while longing for compassion. You understand why his heart is gone on “The Way Life Goes” where he is learning, “That just goes to show money don’t attract a thing.” All of these feelings are startling to Uzi who thought once you made it, it was supposed to be a fairytale from that point on. The Ike Beatz and Don Cannon beat fits Uzi perfectly as he says “get over it,” in his most serious of voices, over the gloomy keys.
Despite all these gut-wrenching tracks, Uzi doesn’t lose his high energy-- he emulates the formula which is damn near-perfect on the single “XO Tour Lif3” on Luv is Rage 2, exploring various avenues veering off from that single’s content and sound. Funnily enough, that particular record becomes less memorable in the grand scheme of Luv is Rage 2, although it still bangs, as the album closer it’s almost forgotten about it (and perhaps it’s there to simply boost streaming numbers). Wondagurl, Don Cannon and Maaly Raw who handle most of the production layer the beats with drum patterns over the more somber parts of the instrumental, guaranteeing they all are club-ready. “Unfazed” featuring The Weeknd is missing the bounce that let’s Uzi explore his eccentricities and, instead, is an unusual moment where it is no longer Uzi’s story-- it’s Abel’s. As an out-of-place song in the tracklisting, this addition too might be a ploy for streaming numbers.
Uzi is changed a person now, more weary of the world, less naively cheerful, and this is reflected on Luv is Rage 2. If he does have a heart, it may soon be blackened. Uzi is feeling vindictive, rather than just being “happy to be here” (as he was on Luv is Rage), he’s looking, now, for admiration and acknowledgement that’s deserved of him. “Yes I’m the one that really started all this/And you know I changed a lot of you niggas/In a matter of months I raised a lot of you niggas.” Over the last five to six years, as talents such as Chief Keef and Young Thug led the way to popularize a more melodic approach to rap, the question became how far would the boundaries be pushed? Luv Is Rage 2 continues the push, although there is still appears to be space left to push further (enter artists like XXXTENTACION). All Lil Uzi Vert wanted was to get over his ex-girlfriend, and along the way he made a definitive piece for his fellow generation to relate to.