Next Wave: Meet Lil Uzi Vert, the Next Phenom in Rap

Check out our exclusive interview with rising rapper Lil Uzi Vert—yet another young and talented MC based out of Philly.

Not Available Lead
Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Philadelphia hip-hop has produced a storied line of MCs throughout history. DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Cassidy, Meek Mill, and more have all left their mark, introducing something that embodies traditional Philly with their own sound. As of late, there has been a resurgence of talent taking the city to new heights. This crop of rappers are young, but all have what it takes for massive commercial success once it’s their time.

Lil Uzi Vert is one of those names to pay attention to in 2016. Born Symere Woods, Lil Uzi grew up in North Philly around the Francisville neighborhood, and only started rapping just a few years ago. Don’t be fooled by the short amount of time though. Uzi has a gift, found in his rapid-fire delivery and huge hooks that got him noticed by Power 99’s DJ Diamond Kuts and eventually industry legends, Don Cannon and DJ Drama. He stood out on Carnage’s “WDYW,” and then created more buzz when he released his Luv Is Rage mixtape last year. Lil Uzi Vert, whose name was formed from someone on his block who said he rapped “like a little Uzi,” is the type of no frills, no gimmicks rapper looking to explode in 2016. 

We caught up with the 21 year old to discuss his musical influences, Atlanta’s dominant sound, and what artists we should be looking out for in the new year.

On SoundCloud, there are hundreds of thousands of plays on your songs. When did you start to see that people liked your music?
Probably like last year [2014] I started noticing it. It wasn’t like how it is now. It was last year, it went from a couple hundred to a couple thousand. Just that couple of thousand felt so crazy. Just being at home—even a thousand people listen to your song. I’m like, “Damn, a thousand people heard it or know my song.” So, it was just cool. Now, that I see it in a day a song can get up to 100,000 or something, it makes me feel good. I guess I’m doing something right.

When you started out rapping, were you trying to do it just for the fame?
I’m already popular in my city. I was just trying to get rich. Man, I’m not gonna lie to you; I didn’t really want to go back to school. I mean, my family was mad about that. Because you know, you tell your family you want to rap and they look at you like you’re crazy. Like, “You really trying to take this hobby and make it a job?” I’m like, “Yeah.” So I really didn’t want to go back to school. I mean, don’t get me wrong, school is good and all, but school is way too slow for me. Like, super slow. So I didn’t want to go. I wanted to learn on my own with real life experiences. 

A lot of people like your music because of your rapid-fire delivery and melodic hooks. What makes you different from other rappers?
The thing that makes me different from any other rapper is that I usually talk real crazy in my songs. Usually, in my songs, that’s really what’s going on, especially a lot of stuff like talking about me on vacation or something, which I always do ’cause I’m always somewhere else. If I’m talking about girls and stuff, it’s usually the truth. So now, you know, if you hear my songs, you are gonna appreciate it differently because usually it’s the truth. When I’m talking crazy about girls—like I’ll talk about my girlfriend, and then talk about having like a threesome right after. It’s true. It’s usually true. I’m not gonna lie to you.

Who are some of your influences?
I got a lot of influences. I got relevant influences today. I got influences that you wouldn’t even think of. I’m very influenced by Marilyn Manson. His style is ridiculous. Like honestly, if you want me to keep it 100, Marilyn Manson has as much style as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. He has a lot of style. I’m telling you, it’s crazy. It might be a little darker, but it’s crazy. I was on his tour bus, but I didn’t get to meet him though. His tour bus is like fire. It’s got pictures of Marilyn Monroe all over it. It’s like crazy.

Of course, Kanye, Pharrell. And with Pharrell, he uses a lot of different tones and stuff. He’s a genius. I’m not gonna lie though; I got a lot of trap influence. It’s from when I was younger. My first CD that I had was the Ying Yang Twinz, and my grandma bought it for me. Honestly, I think my grandma got it from a thrift store or something. She just got it for me. It was in downtown Philadelphia. And I would listen to it. I liked it. None of my friends did though, but I liked it.

Definitely Wiz Khalifa, too. That’s my favorite rapper, and that’s my homie now, too. Definitely a lot of influence from him. He gives me a lot of game. A$AP Rocky. Young Thug, definitely him. He helped me a lot with tones now. I helped him with stuff too.

Atlanta’s producers are dominating rap right now. You’ve worked with guys like Metro Boomin, Southside, 808 Mafia, and more. How have they helped shape your sound?
Well, getting production from them helps my sound a lot because they definitely know being from here... this is the home of the young n***a trap beat. You’re in the home of it right now. There’s nowhere else to go. People can try to copy, but there’s nowhere else to go. You gotta get it from here, straight up. ’Cause they made it. I honestly skipped levels. I don’t think I should be working with them right now. I think it’s too early. But then again, I do think I’m that good. It’s cool though, don’t get me wrong. I was just at home and I wasn’t even thinking about getting a Sonny Digital beat or getting a Metro beat or getting like a TM88 [or] 808 Mafia [beat]. I never thought that was going to happen. I thought I was going to pay $100,000 to get a beat. But we all cool though.

Are there any other artists or albums you think we should absolutely look out for in 2016?
Yeah. Definitely Playboi Carti. I like a lot of ratchet, trap music. Definitely 21 Savage. We need some music like that. ManMan Savage. A lot of the Atlanta scene. But Philly too. Definitely Kur and PND Rock and stuff. Like all of them guys are definitely up next. Listen, they have more followers than me. They are the ones. They are good. And they look at me like I’m the one and I just don’t get it. I look at them like, “Y’all got it.” And they look at me like that. I’m just like, “Well, I’m flattered.” It’s a lot of young artists. There’s a kid too that a lot of people don’t know about from Virginia. His name is Treez Lowkey. Man, he’s really, really good.

As far as your legacy, what do you want it to be in hip-hop?
Remember when I told you earlier that I just wanted to rap to be rich? Well, it’s kind of different. All I ever wanted was money. Like, “I’m just gonna do this to be rich.” I’m kind of getting it now. Even not too long ago, even before Luv Is Rage, while I was in the projects making the first couple songs, I’m like, “I don’t care, I just want to get rich. I can do this to get rich.” But now, I don’t know. I’m kind of f**king with it. You know, it’s something that I’m good at and people are paying attention. I would love for them to keep paying attention.

I could easily make millions and millions of dollars and the people that are paying attention won’t be pay attention because I could go a different route. But now, I see that I got fans. I really, really got people watching me and people are really f**king with me. I just gotta keep delivering and keep this s**t going. It’s got to be a bit more than just money. So, it’s kind of changing for me a lot now.

View this video on YouTube

Be sure to tune in to ‘DC’s Legends of Tomorrow’ Thursdays at 8/7c, only on The CW.

Latest in Music