Lil Uzi Vert is not of this world.
But at long last, Eternal Atake is.
Back in July 2018, the Philadelphia rapper cryptically tweeted what was presumed to be the title of his follow to the wildly successful 2017 album Luv Is Rage 2. “Eternal means forever,” he wrote. “Atake means to overtake.”
Then came another hint. He shared proposed Eternal Atake artwork modeled on the logo of the Heaven’s Gate cult, whose members committed mass suicide in 1997, believing the Hale-Bopp comet would transport them to an extraterrestrial afterlife.
The message was clear: Lil Uzi Vert was headed to outer space, and Eternal Atake (Atlantic *** 1/2) would be the vehicle to carry him there.
For various reasons — battles with his record label, complaints of songs being leaked, the star’s claim that he was “done with music” — its arrival was long delayed. As recently as last week, when the rapper posted a two-minute film showing a UFO lifting him off the planet, skeptical fans doubted the album would ever materialize. It “should be called Eternal Await,” one YouTube commenter quipped.
Suddenly, though, that mother ship landed, at the uncommon hour of 10 a.m. last Friday.
There was much rejoicing, and justifiably so.
Born Symere Woods in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Francisville, Uzi, 25, has been a compelling, complicated figure in hip-hop since he began releasing mixtapes in 2014. He immediately emerged as a standout among emo-rappers unafraid to be frank about their feelings — a tendency he shared with Juice WRLD, the Chicago rapper who died of an accidental drug overdose in December.
He’s worn his sadness on his sleeve — or more frequently, his tattooed physique — on songs with such titles as “The Way Life Goes.”
But Uzi has combined introspection with an electrifying presence in high-energy performances that have seen him daringly leap off light towers and sprint through festival crowds, as he has done at multiple Made in America appearances.
The rapper has also scored some of the biggest songs of the recent hip-hop era. On “Bad and Boujee,” the massive 2017 Migos hit on which he guest-rapped, he boasted of his abundant material success, with trademark wit: “Countin’ that paper like loose leaf, gettin’ that chicken with blue cheese.”
Bigger still was “XO Tour Llif3,” from Luv Is Rage 2. An off-the-cuff, seemingly casual masterstroke, it was despondent to the point of nihilism. “Push me to the edge, all my friends are dead,” Uzi rapped.
Yet, the song is an undeniable earworm, almost impossible to get out of your head. On Spotify, it’s been played 1.2 billion times, making it the 29th most popular song in the streaming service’s history.
All that, and the long delay, raised expectations for Eternal Atake. Impressively, the album convincingly meets them, on 16 songs plus bonus cuts “Futsal Shuffle” and “That Way,” the latter interpolating the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way.”
Long rap albums often struggle to hold together as cohesive statements, due to a surplus of featured guests. On Eternal Atake, only singer Syd of the group The Internet drops in, on the hazy mood piece “Urgency.”
Otherwise, it’s all Uzi. He does, however, rap and sing under both his established Uzi persona and two new ones: an extraterrestrial presence named Baby Pluto, and a more sensitive soul, Renji. Musically, his prime collaborators are the Philadelphia collective of beatmakers known as Working On Dying, featuring producer Oogie Mane, who have also worked with local teenage rap star Matt Ox.
Cast as an interstellar being, he places himself in a long tradition in African American music, from Saturn-visiting jazzman Sun Ra to Parliament-Funkadelic landing their Mothership on stage in the 1970s to Atlanta rappers OutKast naming their 1996 album ATLiens.
On Eternal Atake’s “You Better Move,” the beat is built around a sample from the video game Space Cadet Pinball. “I live my life like a cartoon,” he declares, announcing he has no intention of playing by the rules. “Reality is not my move.”
He gets serious in answering a question about his unorthodox fashion choices: “They say why your chain look like a choker? / That’s for the slaves that had to wear the noose.”
Lil Uzi has been lumped in with practitioners of “mumble rap,” who can’t be bothered with old-school enunciation. And Eternal Atake has its fair share of mass-appeal songs carried by their melodies rather than banging beats. “I’m Sorry,” in which he makes nice with everyone he’s ever confused or been mean to, is a festival sing-along waiting to happen.
Yet, Eternal Atake also reminds hip-hop fans that Uzi is more than a charismatic star with extraterrestrial ambition. He’s also a skilled, high-speed rhymer whose talent is out of this world.