“We are the nobodies, wanna be somebodies, when we’re dead, they’ll know just who we are” (Marilyn Manson, “Nobodies” from Holy Wood 2000). Since the emergence of Rock ‘N’ Roll in the 1950s, pop music has been charged by rebellion and youth culture, and has become a symbol of the adolescent search for an identity. That mindset persists in music today, and no matter which way music evolves, artists will always seek to emulate and take inspiration from the original Rock movement.
This influence manifests itself in the style that current rappers and other artists dress, taking from iconic rockstars with ripped jeans and merchandise from groups like Metallica and Guns N Roses, as well as in the unconcerned, confident attitude they carry. One rapper in the process of proving himself a paragon for both areas is Lil Uzi Vert, a 2016 XXL Freshman who prefers to be called a rock star, not a rapper. Like many other new artists, Uzi raps with a unique style, creating a subgenre that is difficult to define, but we’ll call it rock-inspired trap for now. Uzi enjoys rock music partly because of its focus on negativity, which explains why one of his main influences is the dark legend, Marilyn Manson. Among countless other rock bands and artists, Manson’s lack of concern for the opinions of others has had an apparent impact on the entire music industry, let alone Lil Uzi Vert. This general attitude has paved the way for artists such as Chance the Rapper to feel comfortable giving out music for free and remaining independent from a label, as well as for artists like Frank Ocean and Drake to have the confidence in themselves to spontaneously break away from their respective labels.
Lil Uzi Vert’s overnight rise to fame kicked off when Don Cannon, a hot Atlanta producer, heard one of Uzi’s songs being played on the radio by DJ Diamond Kuts. Uzi quickly signed a record deal with DJ Drama and Don Cannon’s record label, Generation Now & Atlantic Records. The twenty-one-year-old from Philadelphia has big shoes to fill, growing up in the hometown of legends like Meek Mill and The Roots. Uzi’s futuristic vision of rap culture makes him a new-age rock star, eager to take music in his own direction. He skateboards, wears expensive foreign brands, and embraces pop culture trends while simultaneously creating his own.
In 2015, Uzi’s sound spread across the internet. His trap beats and clever bars caught the eyes of big-name rappers and producers Carnage, A$AP Ferg and Rich The Kid, landing him an appearance on Carnage’s single “WDYW.” Next, Uzi collaborated with a fellow new-generation rapper, Young Thug, on his track “Big Racks.” Uzi’s exposure to successful rappers has allowed him to develop his epic signature style, “Skaters, skinnies, Etnies, Ice Creams, Hot Topic, Spencers, you know, all that type shit, all that dark shit,” Uzi calls it during an interview with Noisey’s Kyle Kramer in 2015. Uzi has also become a major endorser of the high-end brand Goyard, as well as Virgil Abloh’s new brand Off-White, as evidenced by his lyrics. Millennials cannot deny feeling rejuvenated by Uzi’s presence alone. He destroys his shows like a rock star, inspiring his audience to strut through life with the same attitude.
Late 2015 brought fire to Uzi’s success with the release of his third mixtape Luv is Rage. The album opener “Safe House,” provides an indulgent bite into the dark and unruly dynamics of this groundbreaking album. Beginning with the words “Oh no one’s safe nowadays (No!) You ain’t safe in the safe house (Noo!),” Uzi raps about the realities of life on the streets, where paranoia runs deep due to the dangers of gang-violence, drug abuse and other tragedies. This Atlanta trap vibe is raw, and Uzi doesn’t care if the world is ready for it or not.
Moving to 2016, Uzi dropped two more tapes, Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World and The Perfect Luv Tape. Songs like “Money Longer” and “P’s and Q’s” transform Uzi’s sound into a sort of groove-trap, enhanced by an eclectic sound, using fast-paced, light beats, 808s and synthesizers, and autotune over his already silky-smooth singing voice. Uzi continues to exercise his talents on The Perfect Luv Tape, with his project opener “Do What I Want” and the revolutionary song “Ronda (Winners).” Lil Uzi’s sound is constantly evolving as he works with producers like Don Cannon, Metro Boomin and Zaytoven.
Uzi does an outstanding job of holding a mirror up to our generation in his hit song “Erase Your Social” from his most recent album. His lyrics expose the replacement of face-to-face communication with social media addiction. In part of the hook, Uzi raps, “I ain’t got no Snapchat homie, I think it’s too personal, that’s what I got twitter for,” to exemplify how people overuse apps such as Snapchat to the point that they take the place of personal interactions, rather than being a social supplement. Uzi’s personal introspection allows his music to reflect his own feelings, which represent the sentiments of his fans and all others who relate in our society.
Lil Uzi Vert is one of the most exciting rappers on the market with his wide range of original sounds and ability to put new spins on his old influences. Uzi’s nonchalant, jovial attitude provides a refreshing addition to the rap world, and has gained him an extensive fan base grounded in our generation. Kramer of Noisey writes, “Lil Uzi Vert is an old head’s worst nightmare. He is the incarnation of hip-hop’s new youth mainstream, the center of the trap rap Snapchat generation gap” (2015). Lil Uzi is young and new to the music industry, but he will be a force to be reckoned with as he continues to hone his skills, evolve his sound and build his fanbase.