For all the talk about “songs of the summer,” there’s only a select group of artists that can actually say they have a ubiquitous song that blazed the hot months. Lil Uzi Vert is one of them. His “XO Tour Llif3” smash was everywhere in the summer of 2017. The catchy song’s triple-platinum status confirms its near omnipresence. Those numbers helped drive his Luv Is Rage 2 debut album to two million units sold, evolving Uzi from a fledgling so-called “Soundcloud rapper” into a burgeoning star. But a weird thing happened with the surge of momentum Uzi had after Luv Is Rage 2: it screeched to a halt.
It’s only been two years since Luv Is Rage 2, but that gap can feel exponentially longer with society’s collective short-term memory. In that time, Uzi has had gripes with Atlantic Records and DJ Drama, who signed him to Generation NOW records along with Don Cannon in 2015. He’s also openly questioned his passion for music and creative direction. Those qualms worked in tandem to keep the uber-talented Philly musician from his calling as an artist, but it appears that he’s finally set to return to the game with his Eternal Atake album.
In May, Uzi announced that the long-anticipated album was done. On June 5th, a random video was posted to Reddit’s r/hiphopheads section in which Uzi told a fan that Eternal Atake was coming “in two weeks.” Uzi has been teasing the album for over a year. Last summer, he released the artwork for the project, referencing the infamous Heaven’s Gate Cult with an Instagram caption that simply asked, “wanna hear?” That was a cheeky rhetorical question to his devoted fanbase who regard him as one of the best genre-bending artists in hip-hop, adept at meshing his Philly-bred technical lyricism with earworm melodies. But those fans haven’t been able to hear much new music from Uzi, allegedly thanks to his label(s).
In December 2016, he announced that he had signed to Wiz Khalifa and Taylor Gang. Days later, DJ Drama, the co-CEO of Generation NOW, confirmed that Uzi was indeed still signed to him. That was the first public indication of miscommunication in a relationship that has since seen Uzi subliminally call Drama an “old person who doesn’t understand what’s going on right now” and tell young artists to “never sign to a rapper or DJ.”
Neither Drama nor anyone from Atlantic has been explicit about the nature of Uzi’s discontent, but it’s safe to assume that Uzi wants to release music at a higher rate than they do. The 25-year-old is part of a scene of young artists whose direct-to-consumer ingenuity and copious release rate won them recognition, which means he’s not a seamless fit for the methodical major label process of sample clearances and other clerical issues that can cause delays. The disconnect with his label goes back to 2017 when he frustratedly uploaded his star-making “XO Tour Llif3” to SoundCloud himself.
But even after his instincts were proven right to the tune of a Billboard No. 1 smash, his gripes with Atlantic and Generation NOW persisted. Those feelings may have played a part in the emotional angst that he explores in his music and expresses on social media. In the wake of Lil Peep’s tragic November 2017 death from an overdose, he tweeted, “We Would love 2 stop (using drugs) …..But Do You Really Care Cause We Been On Xanax All F*cking Year.” In January of 2018, the same month that he said he had “sold out” musically, he announced that he had quit Xanax, though it’s unclear whether he’s still sober.
Uzi started off January 2019 with another grand announcement: he was quitting rap. He took to his Instagram story to note that, “I’m done with Music. I deleted everything. I wanna be normal … I wanna wake up in 2013. You are free.” He later started a #freeuzi hashtag on social media, and slyly tweeted, “If you want your album 2 drop Number One rule don’t hang with the boss girlfriend…if you want your album 2 drop be patient let the guilty answer all the blogs. FREE UZI.”
The hashtag became a full-blown movement on social media after his fans and advocates got behind the term in a show of solidarity. Uzi’s fight wasn’t just a grassroots effort by him and his fans — a la Lupe Fiasco vs. Atlantic in 2010 — and he soon found help through the high-powered auspices of Roc Nation. Months after the industry giant offered to pay 21 Savage’s legal fees in his immigration case, Jay-Z and Roc Nation stepped up for Uzi and signed him to a management deal. With the Roc’s backing, it appears that Uzi is finally on track to release his sophomore album. In the past couple months, he’s released “Free Uzi” (a mildly controversial banger which was taken down from streaming networks), “That’s A Rack” and “Sanguine Paradise,” a single from the album that’s won a groundswell of attention and shown that his hitmaking potential is intact.