Feels like a tremendous letdown.
It’s hard to say what’s more disappointing: that Future disappeared for a year and didn’t deliver; that Future self-titled his fifth album and didn’t deliver (if you know anything about self-titled fifth albums, you know how high the bar’s been set); or that he was scheduled to drop another album called HNDRXX a week later. Dropping two albums in a week just doesn’t work; look how Frank Ocean deflated the release of his long-promised masterpiece by dropping a grab-bag visual album days before. But the prolific rapper probably just needs a break, and that makes the impending release of HNDRXX less exciting than irritating.
In 2014 and 2015, Future’s mixtape marathon was rivaled by only one fellow Atlantean in terms of prolificacy and quality: Young Thug. Thug capped that particular run with Slime Season 3, retreated for six months and then dropped Jeffery, which was not only an exemplary rap album but a corrective to any accusations he’d lost his touch. By Slime Season 3, he hadn’t changed his style much from when he started, and his welcome was starting to wear out; that tape sounds far better now than upon its release. Jeffery wasn’t a huge leap forward, but it pushed the envelope just enough that any listener could tell he had plenty more tricks up his sleeve.
Future isn’t identical to Future’s past work, but the differences from his prior output are almost all for the worse. The most glaring fault is its length—62 interminable minutes, 12 minutes longer than anything he’s released since he started his golden era with Monster. During that time, there are exactly zero features; it’s Future, a rapper whose thing is monotony, going off for the length of Dumbo. Future could have been pared down by half and been a far better album. Instead, there’s too much shit here by anyone’s standards. HNDRXX will run 17 tracks as well, meaning the chances of it being much less of a slog than this one are slim at best.
There’s not much of the darkness or tension that defines his best work. He seems happy here, evidenced by lengthy skits of him and his friends (Future has friends?) laughing, talking shit and making gunshot noises. When he sings about perkys and molly, there’s joy in his voice rather than the resignation found on devastating cuts like “Perkys Calling” or “Codeine Crazy.” Simply put, happy Future isn’t that interesting—and it distracts from his greatest strength, which is making enviable decadence seem like part of the dull daily routine. One might be happy for him if not for his open admission that the leaned-out sad sack of yore was a made-up persona.
He also says some reprehensible shit on this album—yes, even for Future. A line like “grabbing that pussy like Donald” leaves a bad taste in the mouth; if ever a rap lyric was “too soon,” it’s this one. Future also features only his second-ever use of homophobic language on “I’m So Groovy.” Countless rappers have said worse things, but it’s a black mark on his record, and it’s especially jarring coming after Migos’ ugly response to fellow Atlanta rapper iLoveMakonnen’s coming-out. The Atlanta rap scene seemed relatively tolerant until recently; it’s a hub of gender-bending fashion, and anti-gay language is sparse in its music. High-profile homophobia from any Atlanta MC seems like a huge step back.
The only real change-for-the-better is in the beats, which are deeper, grittier, rawer and more psychedelic than any he’s rapped over before. “Draco” sounds almost like a Hi-NRG club cut, its synths sparkling out of the darkness. The chords on “Outta Time” swoon and squiggle like something Dave Fridmann might have programmed. “Mask Off” shows off its jazzy flute sample like a Stones Throw beat. And “When I Was Broke,” one of Zaytoven’s most audacious beats, traps the listener between lurching, rusty techno synths. Future rivals his 2015 apex Dirty Sprite 2 as his best-produced release; it certainly packs the most interesting beats, even if his once-symbiotic collaborator Metro Boomin only appears for a couple cuts (“Mask Off” is his).
At the end of the day, though, Future is not a terrible album. There’s not a lot that’s really cringe-worthy here, and Future’s actual rapping is excellent, and funny (“Syrup like Denny’s/ Bitch brown like a penny!” he raps on “I’m So Groovy”). But its advancements over its predecessors are too marginal, and its differences too detrimental, for it to feel like the major work it’s meant to be. Future comes after the longest drought between two Future releases since the span between 2012’s Pluto and 2014’s Honest. The anticipation for a new Future project hasn’t been this high in six or seven tapes. In a few years, Future might be seen as a harmlessly mediocre entry in the rapper’s catalog. Right now, it feels like a tremendous letdown.