This story first appeared in our 2016 Sports, Culture and Women in Hip Hop Issue, on newsstands now featuring our Yo Gotti and Hip Hop & Hollywood covers.
It doesn’t always take a full album or mixtape, or even a hit record. Sometimes the only thing an artist needs is a moment. A moment that connects them with fans on a level where their emotional intelligence is affected, and they can forever associate a feeling, or a sentiment, or an occasion with it.
Lil Uzi Vert, born Symere Woods, knows that, which is why his approach to recording music sounds chaotic but in his mind, there’s a poetry, ebb and flow to it. “I don’t write,” starts Uzi, 21, as he lounges at our office in Midtown. “You just go in there and you feel it.” If you listen to his Luv Is Rage mixtape, you can hear that in Vert’s cadence. The inflection of his voice is littered with staccato-like delivery, high-pitched shrieks and mixed moods, all of which align with the concept Vert has absolutely no idea what he’s going to do on a record, until he’s standing in front of the mic and the instrumental is playing in his headphones.
On his “WYDW” single, helmed by DJ Carnage and featuring A$AP Ferg (appropriately, it skeletally resembles Ferg’s breakout hit, “Work”) and Rich The Kid, Uzi delivers one of the most energetic performances in recent memory. He crash lands a high-octane chorus on the summit of an electric beat drop by Carnage and relative newcomer Charlie Heat, followed by a verse that sounds as if it were very much rapped by someone who didn’t previously outline it. It’s as appropriate an introduction to Uzi’s beautiful nightmare persona as any.
After Don Cannon heard one of Uzi’s songs playing on the radio one night in Atlantic City, he immediately sought out the Philadelphia native. Shortly after Cannon got in touch with Uzi, he flew him down to Atlanta, which is where he met DJ Drama (often Cannon’s A&R partner) who assisted with signing Uzi Vert to Atlantic Records, where he’s currently prepping his official debut. Still months from his major label launch, Uzi has his mind on the most inescapable characteristic of today’s generation of rappers: longevity. “The reason people fall off is because the team they have around them is used to doing something a certain type of way.” His eyes perk up as he makes his final point. “I’ll listen to something that I may not know. But when I do know, I don’t listen.”