Lil Uzi Vert's mixtape formula runs a little dry on "The Perfect Luv Tape," but his future's still undeniably bright.
Were Lil Uzi Vert's last three mixtapes planned as a trilogy? That much is unclear, but the connections between them are. Start off with the obvious (similar color schemes on the covers, minimal features, day-glo beats), move to the deeper ties that bind them (loose themes of "luv" rather than the trappier focus of earlier tracks like "Motorola," structures that place more standard beats in the first half and the experimental ones in the back end), and they seem to fit easily alongside each other. It's only been a little over nine months since the first, Luv Is Rage, dropped, but in that short amount of time, we've seen Uzi explode and tighten up his sound. The biggest leap came on April's Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World, a succinct, feature-less release where Uzi settled into a consistent sound that matched his neon hair and syrupy vocals, and although he's just as in-the-pocket on The Perfect Luv Tape, it doesn't feel quite as fresh and energetic as its predecessor.
Uzi's now attracted such a rabid following that he seems to have gotten more comfortable and loose, making references to past songs ("Money longer, different song bruh" on "Do What I Want" and "Lil Uzi Vert like who the fuck are you?" on "Sideline Watching (Hold Up)") and personal details like his brief break-up and social media preferences. The subject matter in his music locates him somewhere between reality TV/tabloid star and protagonist in an anime or superhero comic -- it's all aspirational goals, with some romance and drama peppered in. He's a somewhat unrealistic avatar who manages to straddle horniness and devotion, scornfulness and earnestness, street realness and approachability, materialism and rags-to-riches likability...and people eat that shit up. He doesn't yet have all the skills necessary to back this image up yet, but his best songs get by on sheer momentum and infectiousness -- see the urgency of "Canadian Goose," the deft updating of Chief Keef on "Top," his melodic mirroring of the unorthodox "P's & Q's" beat.
What Perfect Luv is missing, then, isn't a vibe (it's perhaps even more singular in its gooey melodies than ...Vs. The World), it's adventurousness on Uzi's part. Maaly Raw and Ike Beatz's "Original Uzi (4 Of Us)" is gorgeously hyperactive in a way that suggests an ill-advised but very trippy blend of adderall and molly, but Uzi's on the same flow the entire time, landing on some great lyrics like "That be my bye bye birdie/My new lil bitch she 30" and "I don't cheat/Me and my girl fuck bitches together," but staying uncharacteristically uninventive with his delivery. When he does untether himself from a standard vocal structure, such as on the up-and-down "You're Lost," he soars, living up to the superhero/rockstar image he rocks.
Although he was around much earlier, Uzi is now frequently mentioned in the same sentence as Lil Yachty. Maybe it's the hair, the youthful fanbases, or the furor they both inspire in old heads, but in reality, they're quite different in the vocals department. Uzi's less willing to take chances with his vocals than the more unhinged and pitchy Yachty is, and he's more in the lineage of Keef and Future than Young Thug or Makonnen, but clearly bringing enough new flavor to the table to avoid derogatory, Desiigner-style comparisons. In that sense, Yachty's the more forward-thinking one, but Uzi's strength is consistency -- there's nothing as awkward as Yachty's verses on "For Hot 97" and "Up Next 3" on Perfect Luv, but also nothing as transcendent as "Dipset" or "Life Goes On." Their music does share some common ground though.
Both guys inhabit drippy soundscapes that draw equally as heavily from indie subgenres like synthpop, chillwave, and IDM as they do from Zaytoven, cloud rap, and Chop Squad. Maaly, like Yachty's cohort Burberry Perry, brings the brightest, most lighthearted beats to the table, a clear sign of youth in their posi-minded reimagining of trap music. In addition, they bring a sense of romance that's starry-eyed, yet grounded in the realities of modern relationships, that wasn't just absent in the fashionable trap scene, but in hip-hop as a whole. When was the last time you heard a backpacker or a battler say anything as simultaneously cocky and devoted as "I can do anything and I won't lose her"? Triangulate the center of this lethal combo of queasy, slightly unpracticed-sounding vocals, uncommonly bright instrumentals, and bafflingly equal affinities for fucking groupies and expressing deep love, and it'll become clear why Uzi and Yachty are so threatening the many bastions of rap conservatives -- the "conscious," the "lyrical," the Eminem stan.
The Perfect Luv Tape may not have anything as earth-shattering as "P's & Q's," but it does have "Ronda (Winners)," the only track in 2016's faux-dancehall wave that adds anything inventive to the mix. Wouldn't you know it, it's Metro Boomin's first attempt at this style, aided by German duo CuBeatz, and Uzi perfectly adapts to their deft blend of double and half-time switch-ups. The very next track, the Future-assisted "Seven Million," shows (like "Too Much Sauce") that Uzi's perfectly capable of coloring within the now well-established trap lines, but if he really wants to make an impact, he's got to free himself of those confines and let his voice run wild. Winning over the current powers-that-be in hip hop can only get you so far; it's upending the system via droves of enthusiastic teens that'll really cement you as an undeniable, perhaps even a little confounding, success.