No one would be surprised to hear that Future is one of my favorite rappers. Some of his projects are among my favorite releases from any genre, let alone Hip Hop. His mixtape rebirth that began with 2014’s Monster began a trilogy of album-quality mixtapes with Beast Mode and 56 Nights that culminated in his opus DS2. I had already been a huge fan of Future before this stratospheric ascent but seeing this artistic growth at such an exponential rate only emboldened my adoration for the Atlanta rapper.
In the wake of the excellent DS2, Future went on a years long victory lap of sorts by releasing a relatively lukewarm series of projects such as participating in the underwhelming What a Time to Be Alive collaboration with Drake, the rock solid Purple Reign, the “just kinda OK” EVOL, and a mediocre self-titled album before dropping the surprisingly good HNDRXX. Then he took a short hiatus from solo-work in early 2017. He later collaborated with Young Thug on the 2017 release Super Slimy but the two rappers rarely had any real chemistry and definitely didn’t hit their own strengths on all cylinders.
It seemed that Future, after having hit an incredible peak had burned out. A lot of his music following DS2, released in such rapid succession, was beginning to become tiresome. Aside from the hiccup of HNDRXX the rapper never really continued to evolve his sound. So, it was a nice surprise that HNDRXX turned out to be as enjoyable and refreshing of a Future project as it was. That excitement was stifled by Beast Mode 2, his follow-up project that didn’t come remotely close to the highs of its previous iteration. “WIFI LIT”, the best song on Beast Mode 2, would have been one of the weaker songs on the excellent Beast Mode. There were no moments like “Real Sisters”, “Peacoat”, or “Layup”.
While these projects were far from bad, it was disappointing to see an artist who had gone through such transformational periods that formed the shape and sound of the region and the genre as a whole, relegated to someone struggling to find new and inventive ways to harness his creative energy.
When Future announced he was releasing a new album I kept myself cautiously optimistic. He had proven that he absolutely is capable of doing new and creative things but had been unable to exert that recently. HNDRXX, in the sea of EVOLs, seemed like an anomaly. But, the possibility was there. However, his latest album, THE WIZRD really just comes off as an album for people starved of that same sound.
Future is really good at what he does. There aren’t many rappers. At least in the mainstream, that harness autotune in the way he does or write introspective pieces with stories of failed relationships, self-destructive behavior, and addiction. A lot of this is heartbreaking. But a lot of it is things we’ve heard him do many times before. This might sound like a strange gripe, but while even the production on THE WIZRD is sonically excellent, there aren’t many moments that offer genuine surprises that his music was known for. Future is still working with industry production juggernauts like Southside and TM88 and there are some newer faces here like Rookie of the Year sensation Tay Keith, but none of them are often producing to the highs that are reflected in other parts of their production catalog.
That isn’t to say tracks like “F&N” aren’t good. They even have some of Future’s most clever wordplay in ages. “I just took an AK to a dinner date/I just put some VVs in a Richard face/And the presidential is a day date/Hit ‘em with the chopper first, Ray J” he shouts over a grisly produced beat by Southside that builds up to a pretty solid switch-up. There’s also the album’s best track “Baptiize” that has Future channeling a peak moment of his career that sounds like it would fit right into 56 Nights.
Future seems to connect with Southside the best on this project because he doesn’t seem to mesh well at all with the contributions from some of the other producers like Tay Keith. “Promise U That” is one of the lower points of the album and probably the only genuinely “bad” track on the project. While it and “Temptation” are great productions on their own, they just don’t lend themselves well to what Future does well. Not every match-up is going to connect. Future’s chemistry with ATL Jacob fares a lot better but even some of these tracks are just inoffensive at best.
And that brings me back to my central complaint with THE WIZRD and Future overall; in 2019 his music just doesn’t excite me the way that it used to. Where once I would anxiously await a Future release and spend the following dozens of hours listening to and digesting every track, I’m left rather unaffected by this release as a whole. Where some rappers can make music about the same topics like Pusha T but by changing how the music itself sounds, with a natural sonic evolution, it seems like Future traded that type of transformation for the insane run he had in the middle of the decade. THE WIZRD only compounds my reservations.
Make no mistake, Future is one of the greatest rappers of the current generation. His mixtape run leading up to DS2 might be one of the greatest runs for a rapper ever. But if there’s anything that the work after that run and THE WIZRD affirms to me, is that much of what comes out now will be music for those who simply want more of that. And that’s perfectly fine. There are some genuinely good moments on this album that will be returned to, but there are many more tracks that will collect digital dust because they are often indistinguishable from earlier works, that were often better. If there is a silver lining to the overall “ok” THE WIZRD, it’s that album closer “Tricks on Me” shows that Future does indeed have more room to innovate his sound. I hold Future to a higher standard than I do most other rappers and am disappointed in his recent output. HNDRXX is proof he can still innovate. It may seem like forever ago, but that album is just short of two years old. The flickers are there for a rejuvenation. I’ll just continue to be cautiously optimistic.
Highlights: “Baptiize”, “Tricks on Me”, “F&N”