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Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, and More Conclude Milwaukee’s Summerfest

It’s only fitting that Summerfest — one of the world’s largest music festivals with more than 600 performances over nine days — should end with a massive show in its biggest venue, the American Family Insurance Amphitheater.

Hip-hop superstar Lil Uzi Vert closed out the Milwaukee fest’s largest stage Saturday, a noteworthy booking considering the only other place they’ve played this year was Coachella, and they have no other appearances scheduled this year (so far).

But with all due respect to Uzi Vert, that’s not what made this show massive.

It was the incredibly stacked bill leading up to the finale, with Lil Yachty, J.I.D., Rico Nasty, LIHTZ and a thrilling Milwaukee hip-hop showcase starring breakout rappers J.P. and 414BigFrank, with surprise appearances by SteveDaStoner and Mook G, plus Milwaukee spinner Djay Mando.

In total, there were nine rappers who performed at the amphitheater Saturday. The show lasted a full five hours, with 15 minutes max between sets.

That said, purists will scoff at the idea of Lil Uzi Vert being considered hip-hop, and their 45-minute Summerfest set wouldn’t convince them otherwise. Rapping isn’t the strong suit for the rap superstar, who went for long stretches across their songs not really rapping at all — including one somewhat tedious moment where they were trying to take a selfie on a fan’s phone while the DJ blasted “Fire Alarm.”

But Uzi Vert’s appeal is that they are a walking, (sort of) rapping embodiment of Freud’s concept of Id. And what they primarily wanted to do at this rare 2024 show is rock out.

For “x2,” from last year’s white-knuckle “Pink Tape” album — a song that sounds a bit like a Nintendo game soundtrack on steroids — Uzi Vert jumped the barricades to hang with fans at the base of a video screen, freaking out security. During “Amped,” they were so hyped up they tossed an (unlucky) fan’s phone that ended up on the stage some 20 feet in the air, then for the subsequent song “Pop,” flung a microphone across the stage in a fit of passion.

Then later for a song that can aptly be described as their life’s mission statement — “Do What I Want” — Uzi Vert dropped to their knees on a ramp on stage, in the center of a big ring of lights, where they were greeted with a deafening singalong. But it still wasn’t loud enough for Uzi Vert, who orchestrated the crowd from their knees with waving arms, the singalong, seemingly at peak volume seconds ago, reaching greater heights.

Uzi Vert put a lot of energy onto that stage and was paid back from the crowd in kind, who supplied more electricity than even the DJ’s bass-rattling song drops could muster singing and rapping along to Uzi Vert’s unstoppable bangers like “20 Min” (including, for a minute, a cappella); their superstar-cementing blockbuster “XO Tour Llif3”; and their latest tsunami-level rager “Just Wanna Rock.”

And while Uzi Vert’s team made the curious choice to not let their set be filmed to be projected on the amphitheater’s big screen, that didn’t prevent the crowd way back on the bleachers from wilding out.

Lil Yachty has earned a reputation for being one of mainstream hip-hop’s most admired weirdos, but even their recent output has managed to surprise, from last year’s “Let’s Start Here” album, which drastically switched up his style for a more psychedelic soul rock sound, and this year’s “Bad Cameo,” an often dreamy album made with Justin Vernon-loving English producer and songwriter James Blake.

“Cameo” didn’t make a cameo during Yachty’s nearly hourlong set, but it did begin with “Drive ME Crazy!” from “Here.” But Yachty at the start of his set was surprisingly passive, the crowd, from my perspective, seemingly more excited to see Yachty than to hear Yachty take detours with newer material.

So, after a few songs, Yachty vowed to “turn this (expletive) upside down,” delivering on that promise with “Slide” — a more straightforward, crowd-bouncing 2023 hip-hop track — and the audience transformed there for being happy Yachty was on stage to being thrilled to dance and rap to his music.

And that remained the mode, from both the rapper and his fans, for much of the rest of the set — aside from a touching moment when Yachty had the boisterous crowd join in a moment of silence in memory of Yachty’s “Yacht Club” collaborator Juice WRLD.

If Yachty, at this stage of his artistic evolution, doesn’t feel much connection with cutesy, nursery rhyme-like early hits like “Minnesota,” “Broccoli” and “iSpy,” he didn’t show it, seemingly having as much fun vibing to those songs as his fans did nostalgically belting out their lyrics.

And while Yachty, like Uzi Vert, coasted here and there without much live rapping, he offered more than the main headliner, like an a cappella spin through “From the D to the A.”

J.I.D. accomplished the impressive feat of making Imagine Dragons seem cool in recent years with his dizzying guest verse on their hit “Enemy,” and his Summerfest set was an even greater demonstration of his superhuman skill.

His words flew so fast — but the enunciation still sticking with every syllable — that his rhymes outraced the speedy scroll of lyrics on the screen behind him for “151 Rum.” One could quibble that he announced it was his time to bounce five minutes before his set actually was supposed to end — but J.I.D. brought so much energy to thrillers like “Stick” and “Surround Sound,” and did such a good job convincing old hip-hop heads that the art of rap was in good hands, that he earned the right to hit the showers early.

Rico Nasty was no-nonsense for her 35-minute set, barely taking a break or talking to the crowd. But her personality was loud and clear.

Her brash, punk-inspired flow went straight for the jugular — even while it was peppered with some throat-ripping yells, eerily cutesy delivery a la early Nicki Minaj, and the occasional butt shake.

She never coasted on backing vocals either — her head-spinning delivery for “Cold” was especially fiery — and hearing her rap her signature song “Smack a (expletive)” over the beat for Ludacris’ “Move (expletive)” was an inspired flip.

On paper, LIHTZ was the most out of place of all the rappers on Saturday’s bill. While everyone else on stage had catalogs filled with high-energy bangers, the masked Philadelphia rapper specializes in softer, slower, melodic pain rap, with pensive piano and acoustic guitar the dominating sounds on “Mixed Signals” and “Serenity.” But LIHTZ was such a passionate presence on stage, with such a luminous flow — even expressed a cappella for a portion of “Broken Spirit” — that he was impossible not to like.

Saturday’s amphitheater show at Summerfest was a celebration of some of hip-hop’s most exciting national talents — and that includes Milwaukee’s street rap scene, which has earned a place in that conversation.

For about five years, local rappers have earned hundreds of thousands, even millions, of streams for individual songs at a rapid clip. There have been record deals and glowing coverage from Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and other major outlets. And Saturday, multiple buzzy Milwaukee rappers played Summerfest’s biggest stage.

Milwaukee’s premier party starter Djay Mando set the mood first, slipping in local rap gems like Munch Lauren’s “Big Money” and AyooLii’s “Schmackin Town” into his mix. Then came 414BigFrank, whose big, fun-loving personality instantly emerged for this year’s lowend breakout “Eat Her Up,” with Frank and about a quarter of the large on-stage entourage busting into some synchronized dance moves.

Unannounced special guest Mook G took the stage next for “Pay Me,” with another surprise guest, SteveDaStoner, rapping by his side. Stoner essentially has become the mascot for Milwaukee’s rap scene — and a popular guy eager for a selfie roaming the stages through the fest this year — and when he took over the set for his signature banger “RWS,” it was clear how Ludacris could have charmed enough by the guy to join him for a viral “free concert” stunt at 3rd Street Market Hall last month.

J.P., effortlessly translating the charm and charisma from his TikToks to a big stage, closed out this 25-minute Milwaukee rap party — a fitting choice considering none other than Lil Uzi Vert was the first famous rapper to endorse the Milwaukee rapper following his debut lowend single “Juicey Ahhh.” Alas, it didn’t make the set, but J.P. has since had an even bigger smash, “Bad Bitty” — arguably the biggest song ever from a Milwaukee-based rapper, with more than 19 million Spotify streams and counting. You better believe even the people toward the back of the amphitheater rapped “Bad Bitty” back to J.P. at the top of their lungs.

To see the scene celebrated on the biggest stage of Milwaukee’s biggest festival was a joyful achievement after years of unprecedented accomplishments. Here’s hoping it marks the first chapter of an exciting new beginning.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel