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When an album is delayed for as long as Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake was, it begins to build up expectations that in most cases it just can’t live up to. If it’s too long, it should have been shorter. If it’s too serious, it should be more fun. If it’s highly conceptual, it should lighten up. Whatever it is, isn’t, or can’t be, it will never be enough. Yet, Lil Uzi, who’s never been one for following rules or hewing closely to conventions, somehow manages to avoid these complaints with the long-awaited follow-up to his fan-favorite debut — for the most part. It’s absolutely too long, it’s unfocused, and it can’t seem to nail down its concept — but damn, it’s fun, and sometimes that’s enough.
By now, the details of the seemingly interminable saga should be well-known. In the wake of Uzi’s 2017 debut, Luv Is Rage 2, and its insanely popular breakout hit, “XO Tour Llif3,” fans almost immediately set about demanding a follow-up project, which Uzi himself promised. It came with apocalyptic cult imagery and all sorts of twisted promotional shenanigans, from Uzi leaving his Instagram login on a restroom wall to delivering short-lived retirement announcements via social media. Ultimately, fans became aware that his label situation had become fraught, leading to a management deal with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation that still couldn’t quite resolve the conundrum of Uzi’s album release.
What made it all even weirder was Uzi’s insistence on continuing to put out a steady stream of new songs, from the leaked “Free Uzi” to apparently legit singles like “That’s A Rack” and “Sanguine Paradise,” which both somehow failed to make the final tracklisting for Eternal Atake when he sprang the release on an unsuspecting populace shortly after sharing two new singles, “Futsal Shuffle 2020” and the Backstreet Boys-sampling “That Way,” as well as a short film based on the album’s intro, “Baby Pluto.”
There was a sense that he might be trolling fans with all the teasing and hinting he did, even as plausible as it seemed that he was being held back by label politics. The whole thing could have blown up in his face, like so many heavily-delayed albums before this: Dr. Dre’s Detox, Saigon’s The Greatest Story Never Told, or Jay Electronica’s Act II: Patents Of Nobility (which the latter is still threatening to release under the new title A Written Testimony).
Yet, from the first propulsive strains of “Baby Pluto,” Lil Uzi taps into an aggressive mode he hasn’t displayed since even before his breakout mixtape, Lil Uzi Vert Vs. The World. To many staunch traditionalists, Uzi was just another “mumble rapper” or emo crooner; they didn’t realize that he originally took his nom de plume from a rapid-fire flow that his former mentor Don Cannon said made him more than capable of “straight rap songs” — songs Uzi found “boring.” Somewhere in the last three years of album delays and paranoid, mid-interview freakouts, Uzi must have once again found enjoyment in getting bars off because that’s what he does on the majority of the 18 tracks that constitute Eternal Atake‘s runtime (minus the aforementioned singles “That Way” and “Futsal Shuffle,” which are included here as “bonus tracks” instead).
“Man, these boys ain’t believe me / They thought I believed in the devil, like ouija,” he smirks on “Baby Pluto,” making playful reference to the cult-like status he’s achieved over the years, as well as his reputation for referencing the devil in songs like “444+222” from Luv Is Rage 2. Later in the same song, he again references “444+222” with another snickering anti-boast that highlights the rapper’s penchant for thumbing his nose at rap conventions, even as he delivers one of his most conventional projects yet. “I ain’t f*ck a bitch in so long, I’d do it in a Honda Accord,” he quips.
Boasts like these offset the more traditional toasts of luxury and lavish descriptions of casual violence. On “Pop,” he goes back to boasting about his sexual prowess, but again, he comes off so charming that you can’t help but forgive him for the cliches — especially when the song devolves into a “Versace”-esque celebration of one of Uzi’s favorite designers with a similar repetitive name-drop (“Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci’, Balenci'”). He displays the same charm with a slower version of his flow on “Chrome Heart Tags,” while “I’m Sorry” gives him space to reveal a more vulnerable side. However, the most surprising song — and one of the best on the album — is “Urgency,” a mid-tempo duet with Syd of The Internet that finds the balance between Uzi’s more commercially successful crooning and his snappier rhyming. Syd, the lone feature on the album, contrasts Uzi’s grittier delivery with her softer, sweeter one — it’s a moment the album could use more of.
The album proper concludes with a callback to Uzi’s shining moment with “P2,” a spiritual successor to “XO Tour Llif3” that borrows the same beat (with a new sample) and a similar flow but a much more swaggering, confident attitude. Here he looks back, reveling in his success since, providing the most succinct summation of his career transition of anything on the album. It’s such a concise statement, you almost wonder why he needed 18 tracks to get the point across, let alone the loose conceptual framing device of an alien abduction narrative, but by then, you’re already being swept up into the hypnotic energy of “Futsal” and “That Way,” then you’re reaching for the repeat button.
Then, you find the layers — the quirky, unexpected samples, like Microsoft’s default Space Cadet 3D Pinball game on “You Better Move,” or Ariana Grande’s a capella from “Raindrops (An Angel Cried)” on “Celebration Station,” and you think, maybe Lil Uzi Vert really is an alien, communicating on a higher level than you initially thought. Maybe all the time he put in really was worth the wait. Perfect, after all, will never be quite as good as done.
Eternal Atake is out now on Atlantic Records. Get it here.
Lil Uzi Vert is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.