22 years old rapper, Lil Uzi Vert on Instagram has more than 2 million followers. The only follower he has is Marilyn Manson whom he calls his greatest inspiration. In just a year’s time, the North Philly artist born Symere Woods has captivated a social-media-obsessed young audience with tuneful rhymes warbled over trap-inflected, electro-brushed beats. His single “Money Longer” rose to a No. 7 peak on Billboard’s Rap Streaming Songs chart (and garnered more than 80 million streams on Spotify).
On SoundCloud, the seven tracks on his latest release — the 1017 vs. the World EP, a collaboration with Gucci Mane — accumulated more than 22 million streams in three weeks. This summer he’ll release his debut studio full-length, even as some elder statesmen of hip-hop call him out for rebuking rap’s traditions, like WQHT (Hot 97) New York DJ Ebro Darden did when Uzi refused his request to rap over a DJ Premier beat.
“It’s the evolution,” says Uzi. “There are always people who are into the old way of doing things. I don’t think it’s a bad thing necessarily, but things change — nothing stays the same. If you can stay true to yourself, you’re always going to be legendary.” Though he’s often grouped with irreverent peers like Lil Yachty and Playboi Carti, Uzi spits with an electricity and a pointed sense of melody he gleaned from listening to rock. “His style, his approach and his voice: I don’t think I’ve heard somebody as raspy since [Lil] Wayne,” says ASAP Rocky, one of Uzi’s idols.
“I don’t like to categorize Uzi with any other artists in his class,” says DJ Drama, the hip-hop gatekeeper who helped foster Wayne’s and T.I.’s careers. “I just think time will tell. You got to give these kids a chance to grow.” Drama discovered the young MC when Philadelphia DJ Diamond Kuts premiered Uzi’s single “Dej Loaf” (an ode to the Detroit rapper) in 2014; a year later, along with his business partners Don Cannon and Leighton Morrison, Drama signed Uzi as the flagship artist on his Generation Now imprint, going on to oversee Uzi’s debut mixtape, The Real Uzi.
Since then, Uzi’s rise has been coupled with criticism (J. Cole recently took thinly veiled shots at both Uzi and Yachty on “Everybody Dies”), but he dismisses those digs as “background noise.” Jay Z personally invited him to perform a solo set at the 2016 Made in America Festival, and Fabolous recently tapped him for the duet “Goyard Bag.” “I think he’s chosen,” says Rocky. “Especially with social media and technology, he has the opportunity to be very accessible to his fans, and that’s very important.”
Offset, Quavo, and Takeoff of Migos pose backstage during the kick off the 2016 Honda Civic Tour: Future Now at Philips Arena on June 29, 2016 in Atlanta.
As for his impending release, Uzi — who recently said he had been in the studio with Kanye West — says he’s trying not to overthink the moment. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on it,” he says. “I’m just doing me, and to me, that’s what got me this far.” He does have his eye on one feature, though: “Well, shit, man — Marilyn Manson on the debut album? That’d be dope.”