Long one of rap’s most consistent artists, for the first time he sounds confused.
An acoustic guitar and an animal cry of pain burble out of the viscous morass that is “Xanny Problems,” the opening track to Future’s latest EP Save Me. A down-pitched vocal sample sheds its skin to reveal the voice of Nayvadius Wilburn, employing a trick debuted on the Weeknd’s “Initiation” and adopted by Vampire Weekend on “Diane Young”—associated, either way, with self-destruction. The song fades out rudely after a minute and 41 seconds. Though Future has long chronicled the alternating flashes of pain and numbness that come with drug addiction, no Future song yet has so perfectly captured the feeling of being narcotized, of existing as in a thick soup, of being unable to get off the couch. Usually, Future likes beats that give a luxe contrast to his predicament. This one situates us inside the fog of his brain, and it’s one of the most jarring cries for help ever to open a rap album.
In a Rolling Stone interview last year, Future threw a wrench in the narrative for his last album The WIZRD by claiming he’d had an epiphany when his young collaborator Juice WRLD told him he’d been the inspiration for his trying Xanax as a seventh-grader. Future seemed to show remorse for writing so much about lean and pills in a way, as with many rock stars, that condemned them while simultaneously using them as ammunition for a cool, bad aesthetic. He was primed to, if not climb out of the stylistic rut of jets and pills and hi-hats he’d been stuck in since 2015’s definitive Dirty Sprite 2, approach it from a smarter perspective. Even at less than two minutes, “Xanny Problems” immediately joins the canon of Future songs like “Perkys Calling” and “Codeine Crazy” that work because they make doing drugs sound sickening.
Future has said he’s far from the addict he paints himself as, which isn’t surprising given the pace of his output. Usually, it’s hard to care; the skill of his writing belies its artifice. But he spends so much of Save Me perfectly happy we wonder why “Xanny Problems” even needs to exist. “Please Tell Me” and “Shotgun” show the alternate light-universe Future we saw on Beastmode II, his best post-Dirty Sprite 2 release, a man for whom consumption is a source of pleasure rather than a way to pass time. The man who once rapped “Imma choose the dirty over you, you know I ain’t scared to lose you” has never been nicer to a girl than on “Please Tell Me,” where he’ll get you whatever you want and actually seems sincere about it. Usually, he’d say that kind of thing to hang onto a girl who was slipping away.
Like “Wifi Lit” on Beastmode II, “Government Official” is about jetting around the world. He namedrops world leaders and nations like a spy movie (“I got some bad shit in Israel”). Then, he lets a hole open in the album’s ozone: “I like taking ecstasy, it made me a man.” Was the pain and remorse of “Xanny Problems” for nothing? How sincere was Future during that Rolling Stone interview? Did the interviewer catch him during a moment of clarity before he realized he was most comfortable just rapping about drugs and kept at it, artistic progress or impressionable kids be damned? Future has long been one of rap’s most consistent artists, but for the first time since his early shots at stardom, he sounds confused. The flute sample on “Please Tell Me” might be meant to evoke his biggest hit “Mask Off,” but the only mask we see here is the one slipping off his face.