2020 wasn’t exactly overflowing with significant (pop) rap releases, some of the genre’s biggest stars putting out absolute duds (Donald Glover, Drake), while others hyped up projects that, in all likelihood, quietly got postponed for a more “tour friendly” rollout window. Dependable figures like Future and Young Thug were undeterred, continuing to churn out music at their usual pace, but it was hard to ignore the lack of vitality in projects like High Off Life and Pluto X Baby Pluto, as well as Slime & B, Thug’s ethically compromised collaborative mixtape with Chris Brown. So yes, it was hardly a crowded field, but even were it not, Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake would still be firmly among the few contenders for essential rap release of the year. Both a piece of a larger, more expansive project (the “Deluxe” edition, which positions this album as a coda to the guest heavy “Lil Uzi Vert vs. the World 2”) and a self-contained work of its own merit, Eternal Atake was rightfully anticipated as the follow up to Uzi’s tremendous 2017 breakthrough Luv is Rage 2. The three-year wait in between these releases certainly tracks as unusual for an artist who found his initial successes on SoundCloud, but it’s clear that this extended incubation period has allowed Uzi to perfect this release in a way that doesn’t prioritize gaming of streaming numbers. This may make Eternal Atake sound like a stodgier release than it is, when in actuality it’s a very modern and refreshing reconsideration of The Album. There is a clear logic to the structure and sequencing of songs that goes largely ignored in the Spotify era, but at the same, time these songs are not so tightly bound together, mostly aligned based on temperament and vibe. Uzi builds a generalized narrative out of this (one that he has explicitly confirmed in interviews); a sort of escape from the fraughtness of terrestrial life that culminates in pointed self-interrogation out amongst the stars. The punchy aggression of early tracks “Lo Mein” and “You Better Move” (its angry repurposing of a Space Cadet 3D Pinball sample reflecting the album’s aesthetic in micro) gives way to the frantically horny “Homecoming” (which figures out a way to make “Baby Got Back” cool again), before drifting into regretful ballad territory with support from Syd, on the melancholic “Urgency,” and Chief Keef, in a rare guest producer turn on “Chrome Heart Tags.” Songs like these (and “I’m Sorry” and “XO Tour Llif3”-sequel “P2”) suggest that fame has come with its usual price tags for Uzi, his emo leanings still quite apparent all these years later, albeit for new reasons. But there’s no doubt that Eternal Atake takes full advantage of the rapper’s very high profile, working on an expanded canvas without losing perspective (surely aided by his career-long collaboration with production collective Working on Dying, responsible for 9 tracks here). It’s an album that manages to bridge the divide between two generations of artists while still working to define the future, an inspiring and necessary fulcrum in a year where artist and audience alike found themselves mired in a bleak present.
Published as part of Top 25 Albums of 2020 — 10-1.