The “Event Album” is maybe the most perilous type of record to attempt in modern music. It bears several crosses, from the insurmountable expectations of countless fans to the daunting passage of time, compounding these expectations with every day that passes. And that’s not even mentioning the personal struggle artists are tasked with overcoming, all in the service of something that could easily doom their career.
Yes, every once in a while an album emerges that truly transcends the hype. Black Messiah by D’Angelo was the first that came to my mind. But it’s far too common for these “Event Albums” to not meet expectations. Sometimes, they’re swiftly rebuked by fans (The Big Day); at worst, they’re utterly mopped the floor with by everyone in sight (here’s to you, Chinese Democracy). Is it any wonder that some artists refuse to release these records until decades later (as the Beach Boys did with The Smile Sessions), if they even release them at all (DETOX)?
For a while, the future of Eternal Atake, Lil Uzi Vert’s long-awaited follow-up to 2017’s Luv Is Rage 2, seemed uncertain. After announcing the record in 2018 and dropping the fantastic “New Patek” (a stunning 6-minute barrage of bars, punchlines and hysterical asides over a magnificent anime-sampling beat), Uzi effectively disappeared for almost two years—an eternity in Hip-Hop Standard Time—popping up intermittently to leak three songs and criticize his label heads for holding his music hostage.
At some point, it seemed that Eternal Atake was nothing more than another “what-if” question, either gone forever or (in my eyes) worse, a bloated shell of an album that no longer resembled “New Patek” and its marvelous idiosyncrasies.
And yet, even if “New Patek” is nowhere on the tracklist, Eternal Atake is a record that revels in the magnetic chaos of its creator. Over an hour that I can only really describe as absolutely bonkers, Lil Uzi stretches mainstream hip-hop to its outer boundaries, channeling the cosmic beats by Philly production collective Working on Dying into something that’s truly delightful. It’s focused, breathless and absolutely exhilarating.
Though Eternal Atake‘s loose concept centers on an alien abduction, it makes more sense to view it through each of its’ three six-song movements, titled after various personas of Uzi’s psyche.
The opening six song run of Eternal Atake, titled ‘Baby Pluto’, is quite simply, Uzi at his most unstoppable. The average Lil Uzi Vert song surrounds itself in nihilistic glee, filled with the cold, arrogant boasts pertaining to money, drugs and women, while never failing to mine a deep sense of melancholy within. The broken isolation of a lyric like “all my friends are dead” can immediately be juxtaposed with the description of an opulent Rolls Royce Phantom. This first movement is like the initial high of the record, with Uzi gleefully tearing apart every single one of these beats like he’s trashing a mansion.
Things kick off with “Baby Pluto,” which combines shit talk, smooth talk, and stick talk into verbal gunfire, gliding over a chiming beat with glee. On “Lo Mein” and “Silly Watch,” Uzi’s weaving through some of the best bars he’s ever rapped, tripping into each one while not losing step. There’s “POP,” where he ad-libs “Balenci” so many times that it stops sounding like a word. The horns of “Homecoming” take old-school hip-hop motifs and turn them on their head, and it’s almost like Uzi and the beat are conversing (especially when he says “pussy” and the beat meows in response).
After this initial rush, it makes sense that the next movement, titled ‘Renji’, centers on Uzi’s more melodic, earnest side. The songs here move slower, but they still sound elated. There’s the soft “Chrome Heart Tags,” a love ballad over a Chief Keef beat; followed directly by “Bust Me,” maybe the most downright filthy song here. On the terrific “Celebration Station,” Brandon Finessin and Outtatown create a perfect launchpad for Uzi, sampling vocalizations from Ariana Grande for an ethereal beat. The sound of Uzi’s boasts ricocheting off each other is nothing short of riveting.
By the time the last third—simply subtitled ‘Lil Uzi Vert’—comes around, the record reaches its human core. Songs “Urgency” and “Secure The Bag” sound less celebratory and more lost. These songs still have the veneer of arrogance, filled with shiny boasts and pointed shit talk, but they sound sadder, filled with lines like “chemicals make me heartless” and “keep somebody that I love close by.”
Now, it’s worth noting: the official version of Eternal Atake doesn’t include the two lead singles, “Futsal Shuffle 2020” and “That Way.” They’re relegated to bonus tracks, a decision that’s for the album’s best (even if I think “Futsal Shuffle” is one of the most unabashedly fun songs Uzi’s ever made).
Instead, the album ends on “P2,” a blissful, burbling callback to the song that first made Lil Uzi Vert a star, the now-classic “XO Tour Llif3.”
In a way, revisiting a song like “XO Tour Llif3” is an act of spiritual rebirth, from the “I’m starting over” that begins the song, to the thanking of his ex and his fans that ends the song. Whereas the original was near-incoherent in its expression of rage and hurt toward his former girlfriend, “P2” is a mature reassessment of a relationship and the sadness that permeated it. On an album that shows immense artistic growth, it’s “P2,” with the undeniable catharsis of its creation, that represents its creator’s growth, even if just momentarily.
Score: 🛸🛸🛸🛸 / 5