Like most hip-hop fans, the Philadelphia producer Ike Beatz went to sleep on Thursday night, doing his best to will a new Lil Uzi Vert album — the first since 2017 — into existence. Even though Ike claims he hasn’t seen the rapper in four years, the producer worked on some of Uzi’s most popular songs (“The Way Life Goes,” “Original Uzi (4 Us),” “444 + 222”). So when the rapper finally released Eternal Atake on Friday morning, Ike rushed to see if his contributions were a part of it.
“I kept saying, ‘I’m on this album, yo,'” the producer recalls. “‘I’m on this album, yo. If I’m not on this album I’m just going to disappear from Earth.'” Luckily Uzi picked an Ike co-production, the plinking battle-cry “Baby Pluto,” to open Eternal Atake.
This album has been a long time coming. Since releasing his double-platinum major-label debut, Luv Is Rage 2, in 2017, Uzi has gone to war with his Generation Now label bosses DJ Drama and Don Cannon over his contract, beefed with Rich The Kid in the streets of Philadelphia, cut off his signature dreadlocks, quit music, returned to the fold, and forged a new partnership with Jay-Z’s label Roc Nation, all while missing release date after release date. As Uzi remained silent, many rappers’ release schedules seem to have accelerated — Lil Baby, for example, has released two albums and five mixtapes since Uzi put out Luv Is Rage 2.
Producers who work with Uzi say the biggest obstacle to the timely release of Eternal Atake was not contract struggles but leaks. Uzi’s fans are fervent about new music — on Saturday morning, 16 of the Top 20 most-streamed songs on Spotify in the U.S. were from Eternal Atake — and determined to get it by any means necessary. Demand is so high that files keep sneaking out of the studio and onto the internet; many have actually appeared on Spotify under fake artist names like Lil Kambo. Confusingly, even songs that Uzi seems to officially release have been dubbed leaks by his label. Once a leaked track wriggles into the world, it’s often viewed as a lost cause from a commercial perspective and nixed from any potential album. (Though not in the case of Lil Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo.”)
Uzi “has been working on Eternal Atake at least since 2018,” says the producer TM88, the force behind the rapper’s most commercially successful single, “XO Tour Llif3.” “Leaks slow everybody up. Future and [Young] Thug are doing 10 songs a night. Uzi really takes a lot of time on his songs. If a fan leaks one or two songs, that’s pushing his album back another eight months.”
Kesha Lee, Uzi’s primary engineer, estimates that she’s been working with Uzi for the past five years, comparing the ease of the process now to playing a video game. According to Lee, the loose concept of Uzi traversing the cosmos throughout the album began coalescing over a year ago, and inspired her to start adding skits and transitions to flesh out the idea. “I thought it would be cool if there was a whole storyline with it,” she continues. “So I went ahead and started working on one. That version of it took me a year. There was some changes as far as some of the skits. When I only had two weeks to finish up everything I had to cut it down to a couple seconds.”
At 18 tracks and 62 minutes, Eternal Atake operates like the chaotic catharsis of a prolific rapper silenced by forces largely out of his control. It’s shattering one moment and slippery the next, a place where a jarringly saccharine sample of the Backstreet Boys’ 1999 hit “I Want It That Way” coexists with a jittery, steamrolling track built around the music from Microsoft Windows’ videogame Space Cadet 3D Pinball.
“For this album, he wanted his voice and his lyrics to shine more than the actual beats,” adds Supah Mario, who co-produced “Silly Watch” and “That Way.” “He’s used to using so many hard beats, and sometimes the beats will overshadow the lyrics. He wanted more of a simplistic vibe for this, but something that still had a lot of bass.”
Like many rappers, Uzi collects beats by the hundreds. Supah Mario estimates that he has sent the rapper “at least 300” instrumentals over the last few years. Outside of mixing and recording, Lee was partially responsible for wrangling the massive amount of beats Uzi needed to finish Eternal Atake. “He ultimately knows what he wants. So I kind of go off of the beats he do end up rapping on,” Lee says. “I even ask him ‘What’re you looking for?’ If it’s something really simple I’ll relay that to the producers or if he wants something really melodic I’ll let them know. But I try to feed off of him and see what songs he’s completing and what songs he plays a lot.”
Harold Harper, who earned his first major placement on the Travis Scott-sampling Eternal Atake track “Prices,” connected with Lee, when she put out a call for beats on Twitter. “I emailed her some and probably three days later she emailed me back like, ‘Uzi used this one, used that one,'” Harper remembers. “So I just kept building the relationship.” Eventually he sent so many beats to Uzi that “the engineer told me he asked, ‘why [is the producer] never up here? And she’s like, ‘he lives in Florida.'”
TM88 sent Uzi plenty of beats as well. But when it came time to perfect “P2,” the album closer that acts as a sequel to “XO Tour Llif3,” the producer hopped on FaceTime. “We were on the phone for a couple hours — he was like, ‘bro, we’ve gotta make something legendary today. Can you send me something like XO? I’m in the studio right now. Same drums, whole different melody.’ I sat down, I think it took me maybe 45 minutes [to make it].”
For the next few days, TM88 spent multiple hours on the phone with Uzi daily working on the track. “He kept telling me what he didn’t like about the beat and what he liked,” the producer explains. “He’s like take that out, do this, I’m doing it right now, sending it back. I’m telling him what I don’t like about the lyrics, what he should change and take out. The whole time I was babysitting my daughter, she’s in the back playing.”
Despite the direct contact, TM88 was in the same boat as Ike Beatz on Friday, unaware that Uzi was about to release Eternal Atake. “I honestly thought he was gonna drop it next week,” the producer says. “I woke up ready to work out, kill it in the gym. A fan hit me like, ‘P2 is crazy!’ I hit the fan back: ‘What’s that?'”