The consensus of 2016 was that Future had a bad year, but it’s more accurate to say that his stranglehold on rap music simply loosened by a finger or two. While critics who were penning his hagiography the year before rushed to declare that Future was “over,” he was busy forming a symbiotic chemistry with the Weeknd over tracks like “Low Life” and “All I Know,” and managed to put out a perfectly concise and enjoyable album in the form of EVOL as well. Some may consider an output that is less than miraculous to be synonymous with failure, but from any sensible perspective Future hadn’t provided any concrete reasons for us to give up on him yet.
That said, while reports of his death may have been greatly exaggerated, his new semi-surprise drop FUTURE is a troubling indicator of where his music is heading. By attempting to try something different without veering too far from his trademarks, Future has accidentally stripped himself of much of his appeal, and the result is a bloated and incongruous mess of an album that feels incohesive and misinformed as to its own purpose.
Put simply, the familiar aspects of Future that remain on his self-titled release are worn out, and the new things he attempts are bizarre and nonfunctioning. You’ll find all his opulence, addiction, caustic misogyny and burnt-out introspection here, but without any memorable phrasing or context to go along with them. He’s not comparing a new car to a slave driver’s whip or sticking his finger up some poor woman’s butthole on FUTURE; there’s nothing even as simple and rogueishly charming as “I turned the Ritz into a lean house.” It’s just dead-eyed grumbles and growls with a few predictable exaltations thrown in for good measure, and while that can be compelling in some cases, there’s a new generation of Atlanta rappers that have put a far more interesting spin on the style than Future manages here. It’s little wonder that some attempts to shake things up were thought to be necessary.
But again: these attempts are half-hearted, strange and unpalatable. Future has a new callout where he saucily murmurs “MMM!” between lyrics sometimes, and it’s absolutely as disorienting and out of place as you’re imagining it to be. The skits were the worst parts of both Monster and 56 Nights, and while there aren’t as many on FUTURE they’re much longer, somehow even less funny than before, and paced in such a way as to masticate the flow of the record. The most tragic sacrifice to this buffoonery is “Flip,” the one track here that is exciting and musically well executed. It is icy and nervous and urgent, and makes Future sound genuinely combative for the first and only time across the album’s entire 62 minutes. But at two and a half minutes, it is punctuated by one and a half minutes of a DJ offering terrible record deals over the phone, crippling its replayability. It is such a self-sabotaging choice as to almost seem like an intentional kneecapping.
While we’re on the subject of “Flip,” it’s worth noting not only as the one track that (musically, at least) comes together effectively, but by extension the track that marks FUTURE’s only successful exploration of a new production style. Many of the album’s beats are less in the vein of magisterial trap, as on DS2 and 56 Nights, and closer to bottomed-out vaporwave, bass-heavy mutations of quiet storm, cool jazz and diaphanous synths. They’re not bad productions in their own right, but they sound oppressive towards Future’s boisterous delivery, and one can feel him constraining himself somewhat to match his oddly lackadaisical backdrop.
Perhaps that’s the core problem: FUTURE is an album that someone else should have made. It’s an IKEA couch of a record, appealing in theory with a lot of interesting parts that don’t actually seem like they were made with each other in mind once you get to the work of assembling them. And worst of all, it offers no clear answers on where to go from here: slink back into a derivative but compelling formula, or push forward into a swamp of inarticulate oddities that rarely hit the mark? I trust Future will find some other solution; I only hope he doesn’t lose that same trust from others by the time he finds it.
Christopher M. Jones is a comic book writer, pop culture essayist, and recovering addict and alcoholic living in Austin, TX. He currently writes for Loser City as well as Comics Bulletin and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators for his minicomic Written in the Bones (illustrated by Carey Pietsch). Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.