Despite trap music currently being at the height of mainstream relevancy, the popularity of Symere Woods, known professionally as Lil Uzi Vert, is somewhat puzzling. That may seem like an odd statement, given just how closely the Philadelphian MC adheres to the typical trappings of the genre, but, for me personally, this is precisely why his success is so strange. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the quality of their music, many of the most leading trap rappers active currently, from Future to Gucci Mane, can undoubtedly be said to have a unique sound attached to their name, but one would likely be hard-pressed to make the same case for Lil Uzi Vert. Beginning with his debut mixtape from 2015, Luv Is Rage, Woods has seemingly made no attempt to carve out a singular voice for himself amongst his contemporaries, rather his work has seldom, if ever, strayed off course from textbook trap. Of course, having his name attached to Migos‘ viral Internet hit, Bad and Boujee, unquestionably saw a sudden and steep rise in his success and mainstream exposure, with memes being the primary means by which trap artists make it big nowadays, but given just how commonly the MC is used as a punchline, having been routinely ridiculed for his insipid rapping abilities and his vapid lyrical content, it’s hard to fathom how Lil Uzi Vert has even maintained a fanbase that has kept him in the industry. Then again, with the rapper having appeared on so many other MC’s material in recent times, he has an almost deceptive presence in the music world, with his name being more often listed as a feature than as a primary artist, to the point that, upon the announcement of his debut studio album, Luv Is Rage 2, I was taken aback at the fact that Lil Uzi Vert had not yet released his first full-length record, as I simply assumed that one of the many unmemorable projects of his that I had heard over the past two years was his debut album. Honestly, when it comes to Lil Uzi Vert, whilst an occasional song of his has shown potential, I have been quick to forget all of his full-length releases, to the extent that, upon the arrival of a new one, I will typically go into it with no real expectations, as it’s rather easy to forget the specifics of the rapper’s past material. Luv Is Rage 2, therefore, was no different, as, although I remember hearing his previous mixtape, The Perfect LUV Tape, I had no real recollection of any particularly strong opinions on the project. Of course, revisiting his past work for the purposes of this review quite violently jogged my memory as to why I have had such an underwhelming experience with Lil Uzi Vert’s music in the past, and Luv Is Rage 2 does little to buck this trend. Admittedly, however, there is perhaps reason to view Lil Uzi Vert’s debut album as one of his stronger full-length projects thus far, largely due to the fact that the production seems to have been slightly tidied up at times, but the record’s overall tendency simply sees the MC regurgitate the platitudes to have bogged down his music up until this point. As a rapper, Woods still lacks much in the way of any discerning attributes, bar his discordant yelps, whilst his lyrics are as hopelessly uninspired as ever, largely due to his apparent inability to stay on topic for any particularly prolonged period of time. Ultimately, it would seem that, whilst many MCs strive to make a definitive, striking statement with their debut records, Lil Uzi Vert has put little to no effort into advancing his artistry in any significant way on Luv Is Rage 2.
Production-wise, the beats to have appeared on Lil Uzi Vert’s previous projects have typically straddled the line between trap and cloud rap, although in far less of a consistent fashion than the likes of, say, A$AP Ferg, who are known for putting a similarly breezy, brooding spin on Southern hip hop. A trend across the artist’s past work saw attempts at ambiance amount to some smothered synth tones that were played against a rudimentary, bassy trap beat, along with a gaunt, repetitive lead line, for the entire duration of a track, which would typically clash quite harshly against the grainy auto-tune on Lil Uzi Vert’s voice. Thankfully, in certain places across Luv Is Rage 2, the production is ever so slightly more polished, as to at least come across as presentable or professional, although this is highly dependent on who is behind the desk for each cut. Maaly Raw’s contributions to 444+222, for instance, see some genuinely well-worked nuance between the chiming keyboard chords, the delicate melodies that flutter around at the back of the mix and the relatively standard trap beat, making for an overall smooth sound that accommodates for the constantly changing vocal effects used on Lil Uzi Vert’s voice, whilst the DJ also provides a warm beat with a syrupy, drippy keyboard melody on UnFazed that pairs well with the slick tone of The Weeknd’s guest appearance. In a similar vein, the sharp melodies that Pharrell Williams subtly melds into the background of Neon Guts, along with the gentle tinkles of bright vibraphone notes, make for one of the more vibrant moments amidst an album that is mainly rather grey and drab in its dynamic range. Indeed, with so many songs, including the likes of Pretty Miami, Malfunction and XO TOUR Llif3, placing clunky electronic tones against the gritty auto-tune that is piled onto Lil Uzi Vert’s screechy singing, with these components clashing rather abrasively for the most part, far too much of Luv Is Rage 2 feels monotone, mechanical and metallic. The scattershot nature of much of the songwriting over the course of the album only exacerbates this issue, with many of these beats making jarring left-turns and stopping and starting erratically with no real rhyme or reason, almost as if acting as a mirror image of Lil Uzi Vert’s impaired focus as a lyricist, which simply leads to the rapper performing in a similarly stilted and disjointed manner that does little to help his already abstracted style of delivery. Despite the producer contributing to some of the most coherent moments in the tracklisting, many of Maaly Raw’s beats are particularly guilty of this problem. As an example, not only does Early 30 Rager shoddily throw some dreary drones from Lil Uzi Vert into an instrumental that’s already hopelessly littered with tinny synth tones, erratic vocal effects and obnoxious ad-libs, but the seemingly random interruptions to the beat only underline just how cluttered it is, whilst the MC clearly seems to not know how to deliver a consistent performance atop this stop-start beat. Even 444+222, despite being one of the generally better sounding songs on the record, displays some oddly volatile tendencies that lead to quite the mixed bag in terms of Lil Uzi Vert’s performances, with there unquestionably being some moments wherein the rapper snowballs some speed in his flows, only to have the beat cut out, at which point he will resort back to his agitated shouting. It almost seems as if this technique was employed to distract from the lacklustre songwriting evident throughout much of the tracklisting, with the songs that adhere to a much more straightforward structure being notably underwritten. This is especially true in terms of the hooks across the album, with the choruses from songs such as Two®, Sauce It Up, No Sleep Leak and XO TOUR Llif3 crossing the line when it comes to what is an acceptable level of repetition, whilst The Weeknd’s refrain on UnFazed simply amounts to the singer crooning the song’s title ad nauseam, with little variation in his intonation. Taking everything into account, even if the production has been cleaned up in small chunks at certain points on Luv Is Rage 2, Lil Uzi Vert still shows little to no semblance of coherence in his performances or the beats over which he is rapping, with the MC seemingly flip-flopping between far more styles and techniques than he can handle, with the end product being an overwhelmingly dishevelled project that can’t sit still for its own sake.
In terms of Lil Uzi Vert’s lyrical endeavours across Luv Is Rage 2, there certainly seems to be some semblance of artistic growth displayed in some of the broader themes of the album, at least on a stylistic basis, with the rapper playing up the attempted emotional intensity of his previous work, to the point of bordering on the emo-trap stylings of XXXTENTACION and Lil Peep. Unfortunately, however, Lil Uzi Vert’s explorations of topics ranging from relationship issues to suicidal thoughts are similarly shallow and vapid, albeit in a rather different fashion. Whereas the salient shortcomings concerning the way in which XXXTENTACION and Lil Peep tackle mental health issues circle back to their utter lack of subtlety and self-awareness, as well as their complete incomprehension of consequence, Lil Uzi Vert’s approach to such subject matter, whilst similarly unconvincing, falls short largely as a result of the MC’s tendency to go off on tangents, plus his ineptitude when it comes to committing himself to a single topic. Indeed, the artist often rattles through various subjects without connecting them in any way, as if the lyrics to many of these songs were conceived on different occasions, by different people and for different purposes. In comparison to the aforementioned emo-trap musicians, therefore, Lil Uzi Vert’s explorations of suicidal themes are at least not intrinsically insulting, but they are similarly superficial, whilst they also struggle to warrant any emotional investment from the listener. The record’s lead single, XO TOUR Llif3, could be said to be the pinnacle of the emo-trap influence that crops up occasionally throughout the tracklisting, with Lil Uzi Vert employing his shaky shrieking, as he seemingly pulls bars from the mid-2000s pop punk playbook, with lines like the main hook of, “All my friends are dead / Push me to the edge”. With the cut’s chorus evidently presenting disloyalty and the suicidal thoughts of both the rapper and his ex-girlfriend as the key themes of the song, the fact that, during the verses, Lil Uzi Vert’s references to these topics are perfunctory and in passing — with the MC instead focussing on flexing during the second verse, despite signing off the first verse with allusions to his propensity for substance abuse — leads to a song that struggles to stay on topic so much that it’s hard to discern what its intended topic actually is. Of course, abrupt topic changes can be used for great effect, especially when a writer is attempting to convey their fractured and muddled thoughts, but strong lyric-writers will find through-lines between these divergent subjects as to bind their fragmentary ruminations in similar tones or themes. The fact, therefore, that XO TOUR Llif3 is disjointed and directionless to the point that Lil Uzi Vert jumps around on a tonal basis as much as he does on a topical one leads to there being no interesting ideas nor endearing emotions presented throughout the song, as the rapper simply scratches the surface on every issue that he chooses to hastily mention. As such, if the artist himself lacks commitment to or investment in the key themes or story of the song, then the listener has no chance of being swayed by such a cursory portrayal of the track’s underlying concept. As for the rest of the lyrical content across Luv Is Rage 2, there is honestly very little to comment on. Just as Lil Uzi Vert has normally followed typical trap tropes to a T when it comes to his flows, his performances and the beats on which he spits, his lyrics, too, have routinely evoked the usual truisms of the genre, and the vast majority of his debut record differs little, if at all, in this regard. This is true to the extent that talking about the MC’s lyrics in any specific detail is rather arduous, as digging below the surface of his trite tales of break-ups, or his baseless claims that other artists have stolen his style, will reveal nothing new that hasn’t already been covered as a staple of trap’s overall aesthetic sensibilities, whilst, once again, Lil Uzi Vert’s inability to stay on topic for more than a few bars doesn’t even allow for any thematic depth in the first place.
With Lil Uzi Vert having seldom strayed at all from the fundamental underpinnings of trap music, instead often accentuating some of the worst habits of his peers, Luv Is Rage 2 is at least somewhat of an improvement from his previous output, in that it at least irons some of the recurrent creases in his style. Then again, the artist has painted himself into a corner to a degree, in the sense that, when stripped of his most glaring imperfections, Lil Uzi Vert doesn’t so much move towards making good music more than he moves towards yielding the bare minimum of quality that would be considered adequate for a commercial trap artist. As such, even when supported by some admittedly smoother and more cohesive production, the MC’s lyrical vapidity, off-key squawking and underwritten hooks remain, meaning that a solid beat can only carry a full-length record so far. Overall, therefore, even if Luv Is Rage 2 boasts some beats that overcome some of the more obtrusive kinks in the production of previous albums from Lil Uzi Vert, such improvements mean very little for the future of the rapper’s artistry if he himself is showing no signs of maturation.
The Vinyl Verdict: 4/10