There’s always been a fascination with extraterrestrial worlds in hip-hop, even if the two don’t seem obviously linked.
Before Lil Uzi Vert released the wild two-minute trailer for “Eternal Atake,” abound with vivid imagery of UFOs and alternate universes, there was Playboi Carti and Pi’erre Bourne — the chameleonic rapper and innovative producer who made rap sound like an alien language. Lil Wayne has insisted countless times that he is a martian. OutKast released “ATLiens” in 1996, a sprawling record that compared inner-city isolation to living in outer space, which took inspiration from the psychedelic jazz-rap of Digable Planets in the early 1990s and their infatuation with the space-time continuum.
From Sun Ra Arkestra’s afrofuturistic jazz to the world-defying rap of today, elements of science fiction have often been used in Black artforms to depict the alternate realities of Black existence that are unrecognizable to the rest of America.
Lil Uzi Vert’s certainly not the first to incorporate outer space into his discography, and not the one to perfect it either, but for all intents and purposes--he’s the rap game David Bowie. There’s a reason why Uzi’s such a celebrity, and yet also a cult hero to Gen Z listeners; no one else can croon through a hook, weave between vivid personas and capture a generation’s angst through his eccentricity. Releasing the first part of “Eternal Atake” after keeping fans waiting for two years, then dropping the deluxe version , “Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2,” with another album’s worth of material a week later was just a testament to his stardom. Altogether, the expansive project spans 32 songs and 105 minutes worth of listening.
The Philly-based artist reaches new heights on “Eternal Atake,” though the album doesn’t quite reach the otherworldly expectations created by his three year hiatus. Outside of some awkwardly placed interludes, mentions of being from outer space and repurposing the Heaven’s Gate cult logo, the album doesn’t actually tap into the premise of the greater universe. Instead, Uzi takes common themes from his earlier projects — the highs of being wealthy and the lows in his relationships — and extends his creativity on “Eternal Atake.” Swapping out the syrupy ballads that populated his first album, “Luv Is Rage 2," with eclectic production and focused lyricism, Lil Uzi Vert gives us his best work yet.
The first release of “Eternal Atake” was a one-man marathon: 18 songs, two of them previously released singles, with only one feature. Uzi’s at his best when standing alone, pushing the limits of his rapping and songwriting while collaborating with the Philadelphia production collective Working On Dying. On “Silly Watch,” his delivery is percussive yet fluid — a slight syncopation provides constant momentum while Uzi invokes an array of metaphors, from Hugh Hefner to the Diddy Bop to Fetty Wap’s eye. He’s more direct with his braggadocio on “POP,” where he raps “I went to the store and got me some Vetements/Some Pradas, Balenci, Balenci, Balenci,” repeating “Balenci” fifteen more times to hammer the point through. It’s a bold, arrogant statement from a rapper who knows his status.
Lil Uzi Vert lets others join the party for the deluxe release, “Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2”, which feels more like a star-studded cypher. Pi’erre Bourne contributes delightfully wonky beats on a few tracks, including the much-anticipated “Bean (Kobe),” a much-awaited collaboration with Uzi and his idol Chief Keef. 21 Savage, Young Nudy and NAV provide solid verses through the project, though Uzi brings the best out of Young Thug and Gunna on “Strawberry Peels.” Put together, the entirety of “Eternal Atake” can be viewed as an amalgamation of two, or even four separate albums. Some songs start to blend into one another, and Uzi’s experimentation can sometimes backfire, like on the Keef-produced “Chrome Heart Tags,” but as a cohesive project, the album holds up despite its length.
Some artists try painfully hard to create a cult of personality, but for Lil Uzi Vert, it comes with the territory. It’s always been his unique stylizing of hip-hop and idiosyncratic personality that made the artist seem larger than life, not the other way around. “Eternal Atake” showed that Uzi’s goal is to transcend Earth, but the real artistry is in his control of hip-hop.