Lil Uzi Vert’s mixed emotions swirl towards the void

Chris Richards

THE WASHINGTON POST – In the Instagram age, we’re too awash in images for any one portrait of any one rapper to become truly iconic, so instead we get memes.

Young Thug is the great stylist of our time, but his most widely circulated photo finds him sternly gazing at a computer screen as if monitoring a ballistic missile strike in a Michael Bay movie.

Same for Future, human vortex of 21st Century rap pathos, who has been meme-d into oblivion through snapshots of him typing on his phone.

This is a shame, especially considering that there’s a photo of Lil Uzi Vert that deserves to be hanging inside every American dorm room or at least the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was taken at Miami’s Rolling Loud festival in 2018, and it finds our hero stage-diving off a lighting truss from more than 20 feet above the adoring crowd.

It could easily pass as a re-enactment of Yves Klein’s Leap Into the Void, a photograph taken in 1960 in which the French conceptual artist flung himself from a second-story window, generating a breath-taking metaphor for the artist’s journey into the unknowable.

This 2017 file photo shows Lil Uzi Vert performing in Washington DC in 2017. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Thing is, Klein’s leap was faked. Uzi’s was real.

But on the rapper’s new album, Eternal Atake, reality is a slippery concept. “I live my life like a cartoon,” he declares on You Better Move, a song in which everything feels tart and loud. Reality is not my move. His voice leaps an octave on the final word of each line, as if he’s trying to repeatedly jump clean out of his life, but the real world still casts its shadows. In the song’s first verse, Uzi defends his freaky sartorial choices with crushing rationale: “They say, ‘Why your chain it look like a choker?’ That’s for the slaves that had to wear the noose.”

In a Lil Uzi Vert song, anything and everything goes, with cosmetic emo sadness and profound ancestral trauma swirling together into a litany of brags that feel like high-fructose fun until you realise how depressing they are. Smothering his heartbreak in money on Chrome Heart Tags, Lil Uzi says, “I don’t ever wanna talk about it”, then consoles himself with a luxury shopping spree. Bust Me features an even bolder, sadder flex: “When you got this type of money, you are never ugly.”

On P2, he reprises the melody from XO Tour Lif3, a signature 2017 hit that finds two star-crossed lovers threatening suicide in the form of a pop hook: “Push me to the edge, all my friends are dead.”