Lil Uzi Vert has proven to be one of the most interesting new artists of 2016, and that’s for reasons that go beyond his music. On the surface, Uzi is a prime example of this years new breed of “post-future” artists, but on a meta level, Uzi has become the face of rap musics boomer/millennial generation gap: a rebel-esque trickster figure who challenges the tyrannical orthodoxy of “real hip-hop.” Aging Pac fans and “Woke” teens gnash their teeth, declaring him the literal death of rap music, which only grants his music an iconoclastic appeal. While it’s true that Uzi doesn’t say much, his topics never drift from the subjects of money and his girlfriend, criticizing him for lyrical repetition misunderstands his appeal. Like most “mumble rap,” Uzi’s main appeal isn’t that he’s an MC in a conventional sense, rather it’s the sheer visceral thrill of hearing warped autotuned flows combining with glittering beats to form an intoxicatingly youthful form of internet era music.
The most striking thing about Lil Uzi vs. The World, his breakthrough mixtape, is how thoroughly 21st Century it sounds. In contrast to the scourge of Conscious rap regurgitating the 90’s, Uzi might be the first rapper whose influences are exclusively post Y2K; Trap music is the obvious bed rock of the mixtape, but its chilly autotuned crooning recalls 808s and Heartbreak and its darkly polished vibe brings to mind the hormonal rush of 2000’s angst rock. A cursory listen reveals that Uzi is not a particularly innovative artist, as he mostly works within the conventions established by Future and Young Thug, but he is a refinement of the new school sound. He cuts out the more annoying aspects of his contemporaries (Futures penchant for sludgy monotony, Thugs sometimes annoying vocal tics) and adds a real ear for forceful hooks, as well as a colorful selection of beats that charge at punk speed.
Songs like “Canadian Goose” and hit single “Money Longer” showcase Uzi at his best; catchy and ridiculous, buoyed by beats that sound straight out of a Square game, were the only thing that matters is the joy of hearing the human voice contorted in fascinating ways. The other songs find different variations of this formula, as songs like ‘Team Rocket” are compact and concise, with a limitless smorgasbord of sugary melodies. The only true clunker is closer “Scott and Ramona” a pillow-ey cloud rap ballad that aims for a kind of emotional depth that Uzi is unsuited for. Its placement at the end of the set prevents it from slowing the careening momentum, and the short, focused track-list keeps Uzis (sometimes limited) tendencies from becoming boring.
“Real hip-hop” fans won’t find much to like about Lil Uzi vs. The World, his wordplay as an MC is substandard and its themes are the definition of juvenile. But those calling it a “disgrace to hip-hop” are missing the point since this ain’t hip-hop, it’s the next evolution of Vocal Music. Lil Uzi, Lil Yachty and everyone else on the 2016 Freshman list aren’t trying to make the next Illmatic, they live in a “Post-autotune” reality where the human voice is simply another beat to be edited in a digital symphony of internet age instrumental music. Most importantly, Lil Uzi Vert’s garish, campy sense of youthful glee is FUN, something that’s proven to be rare in 2016.