Originally Appeared in FLAUNT Magazine August 2016
With forty-five minutes left to go before the ten o’clock curfew for the sold-out show at Chicago’s Metro Lil Uzi Vert is nowhere to be seen. A surprise performance from Lil Bibby and subsequent set from DJ Oreo keeps the crowd moving with a consistent offering of turn up songs that has the room moving in frenetic dance circles, albeit without the name on the marquee. With just under forty minutes to go and organizers looking around nervously, the small ball of energy that is Lil Uzi rockets onto the stage. Reacting immediately, the temperature in the venue seems to rise exponentially. As Uzi works his way through the first single joined by none other than Famous Dex, I prop myself up on a folding chair to get a better view. Reaching to the ceiling for support my hand slips on the condensation from the pure energy in the room. Looking around one can see the future of hip-hop. While everyone in the venue seems to know all the words to every song and dance move to boot, all seem to do so without ever looking at the stage. Instead, a sea of cell phones light up the room, most screens flipped inward, the fans watching themselves enjoy the music for their followers.
Such is the scene for a modern-day rap star. Lil Uzi Vert is a name that was birthed and grew legs via the Internet, and his presence in cities outside his own is a palpable glance into the power of the tool. Whereas “traditional” hip-hop was a manifestation of one’s own thoughts and feelings within an environment, this most recent wave seems to evolve from the never-ending universe that is the world wide web. Later that night, after the set that closes out right near the pre-determined 10 o’clock, Uzi will be joined in the Green Room by Dex, the first time the two have actually met in person. The two sit and talk like old friends, referencing names, songs and mutual friends with ease. While they may have not met in person, such an understanding of another is commonplace in the digital era where Tinder serves as a reasonable way to find a significant other.
For all his talk of being a rock star, Uzi is surprisingly for the kind of outward-facing aesthetic people associate him with. Talking in a lot in open-ended futures, he’s quick to humble himself before talking up any of his successes. Instead of chest-beating and bragging about the show he’d just wrapped that had literally the entire all ages crowd bouncing off the walls, he talks about almost being there, nearly making it and of what’s to come more as a possibility than an inevitability. For an act that came up and made it through the abstracted reality of the Internet age it makes sense. In the digital world, there’s always something that could happen, it’s usually up to the individual to do so.
(Figured you could wrap here with: “We caught up with Uzi after his show at The Metro while sitting with Famous Dex backstage.)
-You just packed out The Metro, I’ve never seen the place sweat from the walls and ceiling like that. Your live show has obviously come a long way, what was a Lil Uzi Vert show like a year ago?
—A year ago a Lil Uzi show, I didn’t really know how to perform like that honestly, that shit was hard. Your music, everything. I’m a rock star so it’s like it’s not just me up there rapping some boring-ass hip-hop shit. I gotta perform, I never got that. My music definitely got better but it’s always been what it is, from the beginning it’s always been what it is. When I finally started getting it and I realized I got to start performing this the way I was performing it on the track, I had to go out there and really perform the same way, I gotta interact, it’s gotta make sense, it’s all art. So once I really embodied and really, really accepted that shit, I got it and one day I just went out there and I remember what show it was. Ty Dolla $ign let me come out a long time ago when all I had was “What You Want” for real for real and he let me come out, it was at The Observatory and that’s when I recognized ‘ok, I have something going on with this performance shit. That time I really went out and performed instead of just walking back and forth looking at the crowd, I really went out and performed, I broke a sweat.
-What was it that clicked?
—They turnt up! They saw me turned up and they turned up too, they knew what it was.
-Is there anyone you look to as an influence with the performance side or someone you’ve picked things up from along the way?
—Well I know going on tour with Wiz Khalifa definitely showed me. And I went on tour with Wiz Khalifa and Fall Out Boy and all I had was “What You Want” and we’re going to all these places and nobody fucking know me. Like, first of all it’s a Fall Out Boy and a Wiz Khalifa concert so you know how many people was out there. So we go out there and it’s maybe 50 that knows me and a good 55 that’s familiar with the song, “What You Want” just off of DJ Carnage and the different shit going on and I don’t know, it got comfortable after awhile. At first it was real nerve-wracking but it got comfortable and I got to watch them and see what it was. Wiz and me is friends, but Fall Out Boy actually fuck with me.
-That’s dope, this is also one of the first big stages Fall Out Boy played early on.
—Really? I never know that. But yeah, Fall Out Boy fucks with me, we had real-ass conversations with them, just regular stuff. I would never think that they’d want to talk with me.
-As an opener in that situation too you really have to fight to win the crowd over too, did you learn a lot from that experience?
—Yeah, exactly. Our first show I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. And then I got to stay around and watch their show and I was just like ‘oh ok’ and I kind of got it a little bit but I’m still getting it and haven’t figured it out all the way. But shit, I almost got it, I see something.
-What’s the weirdest thing you’ve come across traveling across the country with people knowing you and whatnot.
—You know what the weirdest thing to me that happened to me tonight? I’ve never been here before in my life, I’ve never been here, I’ve never been anywhere for real for real. I go to L.A. from time to time and I be in Atlanta but when I go to other places like Chicago and stuff I see a good couple hundred people on Twitter that say they rock with me and stuff but when I come here and I see that I have a sold out show and they know it word for word, it’s amazing to me. I’m really up there like ‘what the fuck’, it’s amazing to me. And that’s the weirdest thing: that I’ve never been here before and there’s that many people that really know me and that fuck with me.
-And it’s interesting because you and Dex here are part of a larger wave that seems so heavily influenced by the internet.
—(Uzi)I been listening to music, Dex been around. It’s just fly how he connects his thing.
—(Dex)-This wave right now, everybody know, it’s energy. It’s all about energy, how you bring it, how you’re gonna come you know what I’m sayin’? Is you gonna be consistent? I thank God I’m even here talking to y’all right now, everything right here is a blessing. Last year I was confused, for real for real. I’m from here, born and raised, Englewood, Chicago you know what I’m sayin’ and all this is a blessing. The wave right now, what we doin? It’s energy, young rock stars, niggas like havin’ fun, young bosses, ya feel me? Just like that, from nothin’ to somethin’.
—(Uzi) – It’s just all about being yourself, it ain’t nothing hard it’s just about being yourself, it’s all whatever.
—You two have also positioned yourselves as sort of fashion gods to a generation that follows you on the internet and everything, what’s that been like?
—(Dex) We’re weird (laughs) Look at us here, we weird, bro.
—(Uzi) You really think people look at me as a fashion god? I don’t know, I hope so I mean I try sometimes, I just like it.
-Talking about long journeys though, this is also the first time you two have met right?
—(Dex) – This my boy right here
—(Uzi) – When you just fuck with somebody, that’s it you just fuck with them so we clicked right away.
—(Dex) – It’s just that, you know what I’m sayin’ we’re both chasing our dreams, both trying to make it.
—(Uzi) – I rock with anybody that’s really trying to do something, it’s so much money to go around, everybody is so many ways, it’s whatever I’m just happy to link up with people in new places and actually meet them in real life.
-Despite all the recent success, you still talk as though you’ve yet to make it. That’s kind of an arbitrary term these days, what would making it look like to you?
—I’ll tell you now I’m doing well but a lot of the people that fuck with me is way richer than me off the top. Like everybody and they don’t understand that. They be thinking I’m just as rich as them from the outside looking in. I’m okay, I’m cool (laughs), but yeah I’ll know when it’ll be that time but it’s not there just yet.
-You talked about going new places and people knowing you off-bat, what’s that growth been like, how have you handled the new levels?
—I don’t know man, you just know. Look at the position you in. You’re in a great position, Flaunt’s fire bro, it’s people that wish they was in your position. But you already know when you’re in a certain position you just know where you’re going to be at, you just know even though you stay humble. I always knew. I knew when I was in my Grandma’s crib, I knew the whole time.
-I know about certain things on the fashion side and I’ve always been into it and now with everyone sort of embracing me, shout out to ASAP, they embraced me. Bari definitely showed me a lot of shit, but Brittany too though, she’s showed me a lot that I didn’t know about. Like this belt right here is Alex Studios, they made this for me the day of when we were in New York. She had it made for me and she’s very well-known and well-respected when it comes to that. And I’m not gonna lie, my nigga Dex been gettin’ it!