Lil Uzi Vert has settled into the role of a generational talent. That’s not to say the strength of his catalog has ushered him there; such a verdict still remains to be seen. But few artists strike as whimsical a chord as Baby Pluto. Marching to the beat of his own drum, Lil Uzi has continuously stood ahead of musical trends. If anything, he played a pivotal role in creating a subgenre of melodic hip-hop, synesthetic in its display of parrotlike color. In the process he also happened to conjure a fantastical world around him, not unlike the reality-blurring fancies of a morphine-induced coma patient.
To fully buy into the movement one must first unlearn everything they have learned about Lil Uzi Vert. For many casual fans, who might have jumped on board following the breakout success of 2017’s “XO Tour Llif3,” the somber Luv Is Rage 2 closer became the definitive song of his catalog. Produced by TM88 and loosely chronicling Uzi’s mental space during his emotional breakup with longtime girlfriend Brittany Byrd. The alchemical formula behind the “emo” genre, which rose to popularity in the mid to late two-thousands. Perhaps more relatable to the suburban consumer than other hip-hop themes tend to be, “XO Tour Llif3” soared up the charts, its nightmarish Lewis Carroll-esque production scoring the road to seven platinum plaques.
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A song of such magnitude becomes an instant milestone in a young rapper’s history book. It didn’t take long for many to elevate “XO” to benchmark status, the bar future releases must surpass in order for artistic evolution to continue. As such, many fans were completely blindsided upon receiving the long-awaited Eternal Atake only to discover “P2,” a full-blown sequel. Tethered to the original by shared musical and thematic elements, Uzi’s latest closer was arguably the boldest musical move of his career thus far. One that showed a willingness to build on an existing narrative and revisit it with a renewed perspective. Suddenly, the similarities and differences become integral in understanding Uzi’s mind, a place otherwise guarded by cloudlike walls of fantastical imagery.
If “XO Tour Llif3” is Point A, and “P2” is Point B, it seems fitting to make note of any crucial differences. For starters, the first part is riddled with mentions of substance abuse, with Uzi openly calling upon Xanax as a means of easing the pain. “Please, Xanny, make it go away,” he pleads. “I’m committed, not addicted, but it keeps control of me, all the pain, now I can’t feel it.” Despite the song’s lyrics being otherwise focused on material dominance and polyamorous sexcapades, the aforementioned lyric makes his boasts feel closer to overcompensation than genuine flexes. Between the pained delivery and TM88’s haunting instrumental, it’s easy to analyze “XO Tour Life” as an emotionally devastating ballad. Even when he’s firing off lines that should feel celebratory, those darker elements keep the song within a stone’s throw of celebratory.
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While it retains several lyrical parallels to its predecessor, “P2” features no mention of substance abuse — overt or otherwise. Given that Uzi expressed interest in kicking his Xanax habit back in 2016, it’s no surprise to see him steering away from using it as a means of escapism here. The shift in perspective is evidenced within his cadence. Where “XO Tour Llif3” is a blurry, mush-mouthed, and pained — in other words, mumble-emo-rap– “P2” is blessed with clarity of voice. Dejected though he may sound, his newfound dedication to enunciation should not go unnoticed. Not only does it speak to his growth as an artist, as a more intelligible delivery requires lyrical refinement, but also as a man. Without overtly saying so, one might conclude that he’s no longer turning to substances to combat feelings of depression. It’s difficult to sincerely reflect on memories one does not remember to begin with, leading the emotional beats of “P2” to resonate on a much more personal level.
So what compelled him to continue the “XO Tour Llif3” narrative to begin with? As an update, it checks off a few boxes. He’s still struggling with his fractured relationship, still turning to materialism for therapy. “She left me right on read now, I’m walkin’ with my head down / I gotta keep my head high, I got a whole ‘nother check, not talkin’ verified,” he raps, pivoting from pain to pleasure in one bar. Upon suffering from emotional shortcomings, he immediately looks to his own financial accomplishments for validation. Yet juxtaposed against TM88’s sorrowful beat, the flexes feel hollow; is he trying to convince us, or himself? Even when he attempts to reclaim agency in the chorus, flipping “XO’s” iconic hook and turning it on his partner, it feels unconvincing. Blame that on the palpable sense of denial that seems to permeate the entire song.
With that in mind, it feels like “P2” is a critique on the culture Uzi seems to be celebrating. If everything is going so swimmingly, why is he choosing to close his album on such a sonically somber note? Perhaps he’s sending a message that not even success in the rap game can truly defeat the bad thoughts. Where “XO Tour Llif3” presented a landscape in which Uzi was forced to seek escapism from the pain, “P2” finds him wandering the streets in a reflective state, wondering where it all went awry. It’s important to note that Uzi remains driven by his failed relationship and no amount of rap money can remedy that. By choosing to bookend his previous two albums with this now-ongoing series, it’s hard not to look at Uzi as anything short of a tragic figure. One who wipes his tears with a stack of hundreds.