It’s a sign of Nayvadius Wilburn’s remarkable run in the last few years that despite putting his name to four full-length projects (two solo and two collaborations), 2016 was considered a relatively low-key year for the Atlanta rapper known as Future. Having released a mixtape and an album by February, there was subsequently conspicuously little studio output from an artist who had released 3 albums and 5 mixtapes since 2014, refining a unique brand of nihilistic excess and dead-eyed arrogance that was genuinely unsettling to listen to, but impossible to look away from. After the pinnacle of 2015’s colossal DS2, the lifestyle reflected in Future’s music seemed poised to swallow him whole; 2016’s EVOL, in particular, was an exhausting slog of an album that retained the lean-soaked stupor of his previous work but seemed drained of any originality or enjoyment.
It’s encouraging, then, to hear his latest self-titled offering. On Future the album, Future the artist sounds reinvigorated after a year out of the studio. He’s described this album as a return to his ‘underground’ roots, a move away from DS2 and Drake collaboration What A Time To Be Alive, and back to his first few mixtapes and debut album Pluto. Usually, a rapper taking this approach implies a stripped back, less radio-friendly work, one for the original fans. In Future’s case, it actually makes Future musically one of the warmest and most accessible albums he’s made in years. Mask Off is a stunning transmutation of classic soul into trap anthem, and the standout track on the album; the beat is composed of a beautifully warm sample taken from Tommy Butler’s Prison Song. Similarly, Might As Well draws out a sombre piano line from an Arcade Fire track and provides a gorgeous backdrop for Future to reminisce about how he ‘was selling crack when Snoop dropped Juice and Gin’. This focus on melody is a side of Future we haven’t seen in a couple of years at least, and it’s when he’s able to balance his newer, darker content with his pop sensibilities that Future soars highest.
It’s been a long time since we’ve heard him having this much fun on record; he positively floats over the beat on album highlight Draco, occupying every free space in-between the glittering synths with ad-libs and backing vocals. It’s a bona fide pop song, every bit the equal of Pluto’s iconic Turn On The Lights. Even on the heavier tracks, like opener Rent Money and lead single Super Trapper, he brings an energy to his vocals that has been missing for a while; recently so slurred as to often be indecipherable, his voice is clearer than it has been in at least a year. This is either a conscious artistic choice, or just the result of drinking less lean, but either way, it’s a welcome change in style.
Future is by no means a perfect album; it lacks the clarity of focus of DS2 and his best mixtapes, and at over an hour long with 17 tracks, could definitely be cut down. Poppin’ Tags is a pretty generic attempt to recreate the success of Fuck Up Some Commas, and despite the great song name, Future’s vocal tics in I’m So Groovy grate after 4 minutes. Given the great production on so many of these songs, formulaic trap beats like the one on Scrape sound pretty uninspired in comparison. But Future is certainly a return to form for one of rap’s most charismatic and unique stars, and a sign that after 2 years of living a drug-fuelled fever dream, we might be starting to see the old Future again.
Words: Nick Bedingfield