Lil Uzi Vert does whatever he wants.
Pharrell, who appears on Luv is Rage 2 standout "Neon Guts," has described the 23-year-old as “a guy that’s just not thinking about any kind of rules, is just doing what he likes, good, bad, or ugly.” Together, all of these characteristics have made Uzi one of the most polarizing stars in hip-hop today.
In his recent interview with Zane Lowe, Uzi gave insight into his effortless approach to music. Like many of today’s new generation artists, he freestyles almost all of his songs, and when it comes to putting together a tracklist, he takes no more than 30 minutes.
For anyone who has paid attention to Uzi’s rise over the last two years, this information should hardly come as a surprise, as he has always prided himself in not planning anything, and always living in the moment. As he toldThe FADER's Jason Parham last year, "I don't plan nothing, I just do it," adding, "You know who plan? Old people. I don't want to be old."
Recently, Pigeons and Planes published an intriguing article titled “Playing With Fire: The Science Behind Lil Uzi Vert's Effortless Flow.” The piece explored how Uzi’s instinctive approach to music consists of tapping into what psychologists call “flow state.”
Popularized by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the concept of flow state is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, while losing the sense of space and time. To confirm that Uzi was tapping into flow state, writer Erik Skelton spoke with expert Bill Cole, MA, MS, who confirmed that Uzi works “in flow.”
Furthermore, he explained why it's working:
"A high-level rapper like him can 'let go' of his technique and be more free-form and improvisational. When was the last time we heard a beginning musician in any form, do great improvisation? It just doesn't happen at that level… To achieve true creativity in the moment, an artist must transcend their technical skills. Once they do that, the creativity is unleashed."
Flow state is not exclusive to improvisation. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West often enter flow state, but in a distinctively different manner from Uzi or Young Thug. Whereas Uzi creates music off the top of his head, Kendrick and Ye might spend weeks, months, or even years entering in and out of flow state to develop concepts and sounds.
Uzi makes it a point to not plan ahead, which has worked for him thus far but raises the question of whether or not he’ll be able to rise to a higher level of musicality and success. Albeit an expectedly solid body of work, the newly-releasedLuv Is Rage 2 is exactly what fans have come to expect from Uzi. Since releasing the original Luv Is Rage in October 2015, Uzi's material, by and large, has displayed a noticeable lack of growth and is sonically repetitive.
A carefree “do what I want” attitude is refreshing in an era where artists go out of their way to act as a clone, but even more refreshing is watching an artist grow and evolve—something we have not seen much of from Uzi.
Is it possible that Uzi has peaked?
While his effortless approach to making and releasing music has, to date, been his biggest strength, this double-edged sword also serves as his biggest weakness.
In his interview with Lowe, Uzi says that once a song is complete, that’s it—he's done. On the flip side, an artist like Kendrick constantly revisits completed material, often making numerous changes before unleashing a final product out into the world. In his own interview with Lowe, Lamar detailed how he wrote seven verses for DAMN. track “XXX.” but the song only contains four. He has also recounted how To Pimp A Butterfly anthem “Alright” took countless months of meditation with the Pharrell instrumental before he was able to find the inspiration to begin writing what would become one of the most important songs of his career.
While an excessive focus on the future can be detrimental to capitalizing on present moments, the most successful artists have always displayed a balance between living in the moment and planning ahead. Uzi seems to only be interested in the former.
Even though I don't personally believe Uzi has peaked, the self-proclaimed rock star must begin to display the kind of growth he has previously communicated in interviews:
“I really realize, the world is bigger than motherfuckers that’s around you,” he tells me. “The world is bigger than that neighborhood, bro. That’s what I realized. I said, ‘Hold on, if y’all do this, y’all keep doing this, right? Y’all keep doing the same thing, your whole lifestyle: eating the same, thinking the same, doing the same activities, doing it everyday. It becomes a cycle. If it becomes a cycle, what are you learning now? Nothing.’” - Felipe Delerme
Uzi has unapologetically stayed true to himself, and it’s gotten him this far. Will he stay true to his words and continue to learn and grow? Only time will tell.