Last week, Lil Uzi Vert unleashed two tracks onto streaming services: “That’s a Rack” and “Sanguine Paradise.” The songs’ respective content weren’t as fascinating as the frenzy that ensued following each release. When he released “Free Uzi” in March amidst rumors that he was barred from releasing official music due to label squabbles, the same fanfare followed -- only with these new songs, an Atlantic Records seal of approval is attached, instead of the word “leaked.”
It’s a testament to the foundation that the 24-year-old Philadelphia native has laid, in spite of a series of false starts, on the way to stardom. Now, with his long-awaited upcoming release Eternal Atake, the rising star may seal his fate as one of the new school hip-hop greats.
“Push me to the edge...all my friends are dead” was a jarring line, then a proclamation of sorts, when Uzi uttered those words on his 2017 hit single “XO Tour Llif3.” Here was an artist who vowed to not live past the age of 27 during a 2016 interview while proudly donning an iced-out medallion with Marilyn Manson in his iconic Mickey Mouse ears. Uzi stood on the cusp of what hip-hop was about to become as the SoundCloud-rap subgenre was ushering in a new generation of young talent.
Less controversial and more gifted than some of his contemporaries, Lil Uzi Vert spent the next two years steadily rising up rap’s ranks. His 2017 debut album Luv Is Rage 2 topped the Billboard 200 albums chart and spawned multiple top 40 hits after his feature on Migos’ “Bad and Boujee” hit No. 1, yet he was still heralded as the new guard’s best-kept secret, balancing mainstream appeal and insider cred. While many of his peers were often sidestepped by hip-hop legends, Uzi found cosigns within the genre and beyond: Philly natives like Meek Mill paid respect, while even Manson himself gave Uzi the thumbs-up. Soon, he was the one co-signing acts, from the late XXXTentacion to Blueface.
In the midst of this upward mobility, Uzi was seemingly figuring out a complex label situation. In 2015, he signed his first deal with DJ Drama and Don Cannon Generation Now/Atlantic Records. His musical output was solid: his album precursor mixtape Luv Is Rage was the first of the bunch, and then a series of projects followed, including the collaborative 1017 vs. The World with Gucci Mane in 2016. As Uzi’s fame was building, his music grew more sophisticated, and his fan base more rabid. Then, after Luv Is Rage 2, came the pregnant pause.
Various updates arrived as to what was causing the hold-up for Uzi’s follow-up album Eternal Atake, which he officially announced in July 2018. Rumors that he was signing with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang gave way to DJ Drama suggesting sole proprietorship of Uzi’s career over Twitter. Before we knew it, Uzi entered 2019 telling fans he would be retiring. Now, Uzi has returned from his brief retirement to (seemingly) deliver the album we’ve been waiting for. Can the same chart-topping streak happen this time around?
Based on the music that’s been released, the answer is: probably. The new official singles prove he hasn’t lost his touch, despite the relatively long absence from structured releases. Uzi has a keen understanding of his own fan base and the market at large; after all, he helped create the current sound of hip-hop. The record label “lockdown” campaign, coupled with the retirement fake-out, add to the excitement surrounding a proper return.
Any fan loves a comeback story, especially when it’s as successful as Uzi’s return is bound to be. Perhaps all of his retirement talk persuaded the industry gatekeepers to give Uzi more creative control; maybe now they’ll let their star’s voice be unfiltered. If that’s the case, he’ll do what he’s destined to do, especially now that Roc Nation will help him on the management side. Lil Uzi Vert will keep curating the soundtrack of his generation, and hopefully with a sharp focus on his music instead of his label situation, he’ll be able to deliver.