Welcome to the first installment of 5 Chances To Convince Me, where a fan delivers five pieces of content to a skeptic about an artist to — hopefully — change their outlook, or at the very least to inspire a second chance. The fan this time around is Riley Wallace, and Jeff Dring is the resident skeptic.
For the jump off, we’ll be looking at the phenomenon that is Lil Uzi Vert.
Riley: One of the worst things you can do when approaching Lil Uzi Vert is to lump him in with the crop of other new artists out today — with a few exceptions. He tends always to get mentioned in the same breath as Yachty, who isn’t the same lane at all. This probably stems from his inclusion on the XXL Freshman cover, and a few viral pieces of content that worked to turn older listeners against him.
They’re the elephant in the room, so we’ll start by getting them out in the open.
He’s often referred to as a rock star. Even angry grandpa Joe Budden thinks he’s a star, which is telling. He seems to be open-minded and malleable enough to grow into musical territory that some of the more generic “mumble rappers” will never veer toward. Also, numbers don’t lie!
Why don’t you like Uzi, Jeff?
Jeff: Here’s the thing. Uzi (like his mumbling contemporaries) carries himself as if he’s been in the game for decades, when in fact, these guys are just now finding their way in this fickle, high-speed internet scene. And sure, their scene is catching fire faster than us old heads can put words to paper, but on the strength of what? Energy. Energy is the fuel for exciting art, and energy keeps the mosh pits bouncing, and the sweat pouring, but then what?
When asked about rapping over a Premier beat, Lil Open-Minded Vert said, “It’s just drums … and nothing else.” What else is there? Uzi stutters, I won’t say “mumbles” because that’s when all these teenage emotions flare up. When that energy runs out, and his fans are old with knee problems, he’s just another flashy dude with a pierced septum who rapped once for a minute or two when the iron was hot.
Here we go!
1. His Team
Riley: His team is incredible. Philly tastemakers DJ Don Cannon and DJ Drama were instrumental in ushering in the commercial and mainstream saturation of southern Hip Hop during the rise of acts like Lil Wayne, Jeezy, and T.I. They exist on the cusp of the shifting tides of the music industry.
They’ve been molding and directing his moves from the get-go. That should be enough to warrant an honest listen. They did a great interview with Pigeons & Planes breaking it all down. Uzi is also from Philly, which is a neat connection.
Jeff: I will always respect Philly. I was born there. But this scenario doesn’t add up. Uzi has only been rapping a few years. With co-signs from Drama AND Don Cannon, it’s nice to imagine a hypothetical conversation about the pedigree of Hip Hop, or at the very least, a conversation about what Hip Hop means in Philadelphia.
Sure, the kid has unique charisma, and he pushes all the right buttons for the tiny attention spans of 2017. He even spends racks on shirts with holes in them, but while Drama, Cannon, and Uzi himself are quick to throw around that “superstar” tag. All we’ve got is a few mixtapes full of monotony, and one breakout single.
2. Pharrell Co-Sign
Riley: Uzi purposefully tries not to sound regionalized or like what you’d expect. He spoke about it during an interview on OTHERtone on Beats 1, alongside Pharrell, which solidified how I felt about him. Pharrell seemed to relate to his “I don’t care what you think about me or my style” vibe and appeared to draw parallels to Uzi’s grunge/rock influence and his music — which I can see.
I feel as though if Pharrell gets it, there’s something there. He doesn’t co-sign a lot of these acts that older heads criticize.
Jeff: Pharrell said it best, “Uzi is doing what he feels. Good, bad, or ugly.” After that, he lost me. Calling Uzi “Seattle reincarnate” is baffling. Bucking Hip Hop norms does not put you in the class of Kurt Cobain and the Seattle legends of grunge. RZA, MF DOOM, Kool Keith and Ultramagnetic are all rappers who have pushed the boundaries of the culture, and none are as iconic as Cobain. Grunge came out of nowhere and exploded, much like these mumblers have, but grunge left behind timeless art that defined an era. I guess time will tell here.
3. “XO Tour Llif3”
Riley: “XO Tour Llif3” is — without a doubt — one of the best songs out right now. Don’t @ me! [*laughs*]
It’s a dark, emotionally fragile narrative of a fight between him and his ex-girlfriend. It’s a good example of the song-writing he’s capable of and it’s oddly addictive. In fact, it’s #4 on HipHopDX’s Top Songs Of 2017 (So Far).
You also mentioned one breakout single earlier, but this record is one of three standouts he’s had, along with “Money Longer,” and “Ps & Qs.” This song alone warrants you checking more of his catalog.
Jeff: The one single worth mentioning is “XO Tour Llif3,” and he’s got The Weeknd to thank for that opportunity. I will agree, the song is dope and does further the Uzi brand, but is it a song that will ring in anyone’s head a year from now? “Money Longer” is an utterly expendable example of this current wave’s throwaway hits. Change the “rapper,” change the “look, ” and it could be Thugger, Carti, or Swae Lee. “Ps & Qs” is a cute attempt to rap, but again, it lacks heart UNTIL you watch the video, which is pretty fantastic.
Riley: Luv Is Rage — which was a pretty solid project — included a bonus track called “Paradise.” I was drawn to how different it was from the rest of the project. Some of his fans have dubbed it his most underrated track.
Sway pointed it out during an interview with him. He explained that it was a bonus track because it was such a different approach than his other tracks both thematically and vibe-wise.
I think its Kid Cudi-ish sound shows how different this kid is — and could be.
Jeff: “Paradise” is further proof that Hip Hop’s new wave is an embodiment of emo music coming full circle. It’s background music at the Apple Store. Maybe the real discussion here is how much pop appeal Uzi has because that’s immeasurable. The kids buying and streaming his singles are the same kids who are comfortable playing Bieber and Migos back to back at their pool parties.
Riley: Pop, yes. I would say he has some darker rock influence, though. Nardwuar always does a great job helping you get to know artists better and his Uzi interview did a few things very right. One is that it brought to light Uzi’s obsession with GG Allin, a controversial figure in the (shock) rock world that most casual listeners might not know. It also really puts his age (22) into perspective, highlighting Ying Yang Twins and Mike Jones as heavy influences also.
Jeff: Uzi’s style is punk influenced, and why not? Punk music (like Hip Hop) changed the world. But you can get a GG Allin t-shirt at Hot Topic. None of it, including his influences, changes the fact that the kid can’t rap. Radio hosts put on a beat, and the result is cringe-worthy. But sadly, Uzi probably is at the head of this class full of style, flash, and endless energy. So go ahead and crown him the Emperor of the Mumblers, the leader of today’s Mickey Mouse Club rap game.
Riley: While a few concessions were made — which is a small victory — Jeff remains skeptical of Lil Uzi, and Uzi’s ability to ultimately produce anything that could be considered timeless. Time will tell if his highly anticipated Luv Is Rage 2 will live up the hype, define Uzi as an artist, and ultimately win over the Jeffs out there.