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Pink Tape and Ganger: On Spectacle vs Materiality
Two buzzed-about rap albums released within three days of each other, Pink Tape by Lil Uzi Vert and Ganger by Veeze are a study in contrasts. One is a major release by an A-list rapper off the success of his biggest hit yet, and the other is a head’s dream release, thought never to be released by a man who’s made his living off IG snippets. So it makes sense as to why the reactions on socials were so dissimilar. Yet, I’m unsure how that’s fair to both Uzi and Veeze, placing one under fire and the other blissfully out of harm’s way.
The Pink Tape makes no concessions. It is a Big record, the kind of album that would pack stadiums in the 80s for genres like hair metal, AOR rock, and pop superstars; those are the luminaries Uzi is aiming for on this project. It is unabashed, reveling in Uzi’s goofy rage persona, scowls, yells, growls and coos included. Uzi wants to be a rockstar. Why not dream big? In its gratuity, Pink Tape sheds the preconceptions of Uzi’s coolness. The “Chop Suey!” cover being a perfect example, a ridiculous attempt at a cover that has roundly been mocked. But in a landscape of lazy sample flips, it becomes admirable. Trying this ambitious corny shit still counts for something, however shaky the landing may be.
And it’s not like the album doesn’t have hits. “Suicide Doors” is instant mosh-pit material, Arca’s production deftly synthesizing with Uzi’s headbanging desires. “Endless Fashion” is the rare Nicki Minaj feature that actually improves the song, even rarer still with the flip of “I’m Blue” being charming and not disingenuously grasping for a hit. “That Way”’s previous success proves that Uzi is one of the few pop stars that can interpolate old hits in a refreshing way and he can still prove it here.
Inversely, there’s Ganger. For Veeze’s fans, it’s a wonder that this was released at all, and it shows in his music. Not careless, but effortless. Unlike the pastiche of Uzi’s newest, there is no artifice here. Veeze is a great rapper who’s put in the time and work to be so, but you wouldn’t know it from his tracks. He sounds like he was born with this shit, gliding on beats unbothered, moisturized, flourishing.
Ganger is laden with bar after bar. “Cup dark like the hair dye on Carlos Boozer / I can't fuck raw, her baby daddy such a loser” on “No Sir Ski”, “He talkin' 'bout money, I see him / he don't got it on him, I don't even think it exists (That nigga broke as fuck)” on “Robert De Niro”, basically the entirety of “Weekend”. Veeze lays it all bare, no persona, no fake braggadocio, just a love of rapping and maybe some flexing while doing it. He shys away from hyperbole and spectacle because that’s not him, still finding the time to showcase how deep his pockets is.
At first glance, Veeze’s album is far better than Uzi’s. And I won’t sugarcoat it, it is. It’s tighter, better rapped, tailored far more to Veeze’s strengths, and breezier by far. It is not, however, ambitious. Which is fine, but I think gets to something that’s been lost within Pink Tape. The campy theatrics that Uzi manifests are impressive, however well they actually work. There are very few rappers who would take this risk. Kendrick’s divisive act last year was still couched in self-consciousness, Drake is too focused on streaming, and Carti’s style who he’s ostensibly biting still has that stylistic mystery Uzi has no use for.
So what we end up with is this circus act of an LP, an easy target wherein it can be roasted for being derivative or goofy or just plain bad. But Pink Tape resists easy characterizations by just being itself—big dumb fun. Not to be “let people enjoy things” but it truly reveres Hot Topic-core scene music in all its self-aggrandizing glory, and in a culture that produces so many facsimiles, this is the real deal.
You can not like Pink Tape, though. If you find it insufferable or silly, more power to you. But it is hard to judge it on the same rubric as Ganger, a great album for sure, in that their goals are so different. Rap has a particular metric of viewing artists, hoisting rappers when their time in the spotlight is pure and magnetic and dropping them once they are deemed stale. Veeze is slick and does not miss, but give leeway to Lil Uzi Vert, the iconoclast, for whom among us does not want to swing for a home run?