We’re at a crossroads. Or rather I should say we’ve approached, met, and run full steam ahead of the crossroads and are now safely looking at this junction from our jade “trunk rattlers”, blaring a mixture of sounds; from the cool and the confident, the rich and the reserved, to the devious and the defiant. This crossroads, which few dared to venture into but wished they could all-the-same is the new wave of music that has fully pierced the mainstream.

The Hopeful Audacity of Lil Uzi Vert

by Marvin Darkwa

Music video still from Lil Uzi Vert's XO Tour Llif3. Lil Uzi Vert is walking down a street, lightning and flames in the sky.

Like a Black knight through armour, this form of music referred to as “trap” takes minimalism to uber heights. Essentially “trap” music is a subgenre of hip hop indebted to just that “trapping”: that time when the subtle trust between dealer and buyer is broken and the dealer preys on patrons’ insecurities. Like said drug-term, to “trap” in music means to ascertain the emotions of an individual through manipulation. In rap music, said “manipulation” is a mixture of murky beats-and-rhymes, all-encompassing minimalism, and a healthy bevy of hedonism.

Which includes but is not limited to topics like: “bitches”, alcohol consumption, and “livin’ yo best life”. So… where does this leave “us”, the listener? Well, in this newfound space in hip hop music, where creatively, anything goes, sometimes there is too much to digest. One artist in this new trap space has sped through the crossroads with reckless abandon in a green saucer circa ATliens, and he doesn’t care who’s watching. His name is “Lil Uzi Vert”; and he debuted an exquisitely-weird music video, nay, artful short film.  Personal preference aside; he might just be the genre’s most electric ambassador. 

The video in question is Vert’s (real name Symere Bysil Woods) premature opus. Called “XO Tour Life”, the video is a full course serving of trippy/hypnotic visuals, weirdo post-apocalyptic settings, and experimental-narrative. The end result is a beautiful fuckin’ infection of post-expressionist “black excellence” that would make spiritual father, André Benjamin, proud. The brilliance of the video is trying to decode the meaning; or rather lack thereof. Put to screen in this Lynchian account of decadence are: Aramaic symbols floating precariously as subtitles throughout the scenes, cameos from Masters-educated architect and Off-white fashion mogul Virgil Abloh (who creepily “films” the video in a postmodern context). Such as in the video’s onset, and also with the demonic girls that would give the extras in Spawn a run for their money. Top all of this off with some weirdo surrealism that Lars von Trier would probably love to use for his next feature, and you’ve got yourself a video. Ultimately it all wouldn’t be so weird… After all, rap-exiles like “Kool Keith” and “MF DOOM” have ventured into strange out-of-space narratives/visuals before… But… That bridge… Connecting the dots that stitch the visuals altogether is a disturbingly beautiful hook. Which goes: “Push me to the edge. All my friends are dead”. Preceding this entire bridge is the statement “are you alright”? This confessional, this deep dive, this robbery of the senses showcases Uzi’s price for the cost of greatness. A nubile invader abducting the spirits of us all… 

The crossroads is far behind us: trap music IS essentially rap music right now. In fact, I can’t think of a single “rapper” (i use that term loosely) that doesn’t borrow at least a little from “trap'” conventions. Most embrace it whole. “Old heads” and “purists” will have to put aside their notions of rap music and EMBRACE the stylistic shift from linguistic dexterity in “bars” to ultra-minimalism.

An outsider. A loner. An E.T.. Symere’s persona is one draped in sticky otherworldly goo. Uzi’s “XO Tour Life” is more than some of its parts though… At the very least Uzi is more than the sum of his parts, which is probably what makes his persona so appealing and enticing to this new generation of rap listeners. He is at once an extra-“vert” (pun intended!) indulging in dalliance after tragic dalliance and an introvert looking for a friend. He is appealing to women (check out his “Luv Is Rage” mixtape series where he namechecks Ronda Rousey); but calmly declared on Twitter that he hasn’t had sex in years. He is frugal to the tee and only indulges in simple pleasure (like anime box sets). However, at the time of this writing he has a MASSIVE pink diamond pierced to his forehead worth millions (no I’m not joking… “Google” it). Uzi is a curious invader indeed.

From the eccentric cries for attention to the postmodern video “XO Tour Life” which shows how one copes with pain, it is clear that Uzi is in a league all his own. He has descended from his own godlily decorated mothership and is strolling Earth spreading a message of self-acceptance and “dopeness”. This takeover is indebted obviously to forefathers like the ones listed in the aforementioned essay as well as artists like Kanye West, George Clinton (of Parliament-Funkadelic), and the original alien “The Martian” himself: Dwayne “Lil Wayne” Carter. But the takeover is all Uzi. When this assault is all said and done, let’s just hope the flag he plants doesn’t completely remove Earth out the picture.

Hey all; from growing up in project-housing to making it all to the way to my white (“AF”!) B.F.A. Screenwriting program I’ve seen it all. It’s made me a cynical pop culture obsessive with a poets sensibility. Don’t take my perspectives TOO harshly; I hate “mostly” everything :).
All questions, comments, and concerns, and opinions, should be emailed to: marvindarkwa@gmail.com :).