Future Drifts Off Into A Pleasant Oblivion
There’s a moment on Hoodie SZN, the new album from the young Bronx sing-rapper A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, where A Boogie delivers a few words of praise for Future, his favorite rapper, saying all the things he wishes he’d said when he was in the studio with the man himself. “Used to bump ‘March Madness,’ popping Addys because of you,” A Boogie singsongs. Something similar happened when Future recorded WRLD On Drugs, his collaborative album with the young emo-rapper Juice WRLD, and learned that Juice WRLD had tried lean after hearing Future rhapsodize about it. It reminds me of the way previous generations of artists used to gush to their own idols, talking about being inspired to pick up instruments for the first time. In this extremely depressing formulation, Future Hndrxx is Hendrix, and the pharmacy bottle is his guitar.
As I’m typing this, Hoodie SZN is the #1 album in America. When this week’s album charts come out, though, it’s all but guaranteed that Future will replace his young admirer in the top spot. Future’s new album The WIZRD is the first real A-list album of the year, the first full-length release from a genuine star. And yet its release doesn’t exactly feel like an event. There are singles, and there are videos. But a couple of revealing Future interview moments have, at least on my timeline, utterly overwhelmed the music.
There is, of course, the celebrity-gossip angle. In a Beats 1 interview before the album’s release, Future said some foul things about his ex Ciara and about Russell Wilson, Ciara’s husband, who is currently raising Future’s son. “He do exactly what she tell him to do,” Future said of Wilson. “He not being a man in that position… You not tellin’ her, ‘Bro, chill out with that on the internet. Don’t even talk to him. I’m your husband! You better not even bring Future’s name up!'” Ciara and Wilson responded by posting Instagram pics of themselves in defiant happy-family poses, a large-stage version of a parental Facebook feud. But at least to me, it was a lot more interesting when Future, in a Genius interview, talked about quitting lean but being reluctant to let people know about it: “I didn’t wanna tell nobody I stopped drinking lean… It just be hard when your fans so used to a certain persona, you be afraid to change.”
That’s sad, too. Future is 35 years old. He is an elder statesman. Over nearly a decade, he has changed the sound of rap music, bending it toward his fried, regretful, traumatized brain-fuzz blues. Virtually every young rap star to emerge in these past few years has drawn on Future’s sound, viewpoint, and persona at least a little bit. That Future persona depends on soul-deadened hedonism, and that, in turn, made him afraid to talk about even the tiniest break in that soul-deadened hedonism. All because he’s been “afraid to change.”
And judging by The WIZRD, Future hasn’t really changed. Future may have quit lean, and he may have walked away from music for the better part of a year, but he has not altered his approach. The WIZRD is a testament to that. It’s a comfort-zone album, an album that works in the same cyclical groove where Future has been ever since his holy triumvirate of post-Honest mixtapes. Samples of Future’s older songs appear throughout, reminders and callbacks to previous iterations of that groove. Future has made incredible music in that groove, like DS2, and he has made suffocatingly boring music, like Project E.T. The WIZRD is closer to the top of the pile than to the bottom. Maybe Future’s head was a little clearer when he made the album, and maybe you can even hear that in the album itself. But it’s still a dark, deep, nasty, heavy-hearted fog of a record.
“Got the whole world taking Xans,” Future mutters on The WIZRD, and it’s hard to tell whether that’s a boast, a curse, a self-recrimination, or somehow a combination of all three. Future devotes much of The WIZRD to celebrating his own influence: “You need to pay me my respects / Your socks, rings, and your lean / The way you drop your mixtapes, your ad-libs and everything.” (Future influenced your socks!) But as always, he also gives a lot of space to his demons. Again and again, he sings from a wounded place: “It’s so hard, it’s so hard, these Perkys keep me safe,” “I’m too rich to be sober,” “I done got rich, and it cursed me.”
Even the funniest line on the whole album — “I just took an AK to a dinner date” — has its own implications. I hear that line, and questions pop up: Do you just put the rifle on the table? Do you give it to the waiter to hold? Do you leave it in coat-check? But also: How sad and scared and traumatized do you have to be to even joke about that? What kind of fucked-up experiences shape your life so that you feel safer when there are machine guns nearby?
Musically, The WIZRD is very much a winter album: sparse, tingly, synthetically bleak. With 20 tracks spanning an hour, it’s too long. But its numbness also works to build an immersive mood. In a weird way, The WIZRD works as a nice companion piece to another album that came out the same day: Assume Form, the new one from Future’s “King’s Dead” collaborator James Blake. The two albums play nicely together, almost as if they’re in conversation. Blake sings about the redemptive power of love, while Future sings about its total impossibility, but those are two sides of the same coin. Both Future and Blake are singing architectural Auto-Tune melodies through synth-glimmers and seismic bass-swells. Metro Boomin, a frequent Future collaborator, is all over Assume Form both as a collaborator and an influence. And while Metro Boomin isn’t on The WIZRD, one person is on both albums, and that’s Travis Scott.
When Future sings about all the people he’s influenced, he might as well be erecting a gigantic blinking arrow and pointing it at Scott. Travis Scott is one of the world’s biggest rappers right now, and while he’s far from being the only Future imitator out there, his career would be utterly impossible without Future’s example. Scott started out his career as a full-on baby Future; his old straight up ad-lib was a direct bite. Scott doesn’t have Future’s melodic gifts or his ability to convey emotional devastation. But Scott does have a sense of vision.
Astroworld, the blockbuster album that Scott released last year, is far from perfect, but it takes the zonked-out haze that Future helped pioneer, and it builds a layered and detailed cinematic landscape out of it. Astroworld never sits still, and it never remains in one groove for long. By contrast, that’s all Future does on The WIZRD. The beats on Future’s album are lovely — his ear remains undiminished — but the sound is only a slight variation on what he’s been doing for years. And maybe that’s why The WIZRD, for all its strengths, feels like so much less like an event than Astroworld. It’s another Future album. We already have so many of those.
It’s not like Future is incapable of switching the script. He stole the aforementioned “King’s Dead” away from the on-fire Kendrick Lamar and Jay Rock simply by letting his goofy weirdness shine, falsetto-yelping a Three 6 Mafia reference about getting his dick sucked. Could he do something like that on a larger scale, something that could compete with the Astroworlds of the world? Or is he content to keep embracing oblivion on pleasantly low-key records like The WIZRD? Because honestly, that would be fine, too.
1. Shoreline Mafia: “Players Club” (Feat. AzChike)
The young LA rap underground remains unbeholden to what the rest of the world is doing or even to its own history. That is a beautiful thing. And Shoreline Mafia tracks, even the ones as low-key as this, just move.
2. DaBaby & BlocBoy JB: “Mini Van”
The beat is such a weird little gurgle, and yet it stays out of the way while two young viral stars project charisma all over it. Today, the news came out that DaBaby had signed to Interscope. I hope he gets more of a budget to make this type of silliness, and I also hope the budget doesn’t make him any less silly.
3. Queen Key: “Hey”
Between this and last week’s “Ratchett,” Queen Key is now the reigning champion of snarling hard, horny shit-talk over blown-out bass tones. I hope she keeps going with this aesthetic. She’s good at it.
4. Quelle Chris: “Brain Of The Ape”
“Your GroupOn flow’s something to poop on.” I hear a punchline like that and I just want to buy dinner for somebody.
5. Dreezy: “Chanel Slides” (Feat. Kash Doll)
I like to imagine that the young women of Chicago rap are all competing to see who can come up with the grossest way to talk about how you should eat pussy. Above, Queen Key said that you should eat it like Thanksgiving. Here, Dreezy says that you should eat it like Dracula. Dreezy wins this round.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
News Anchor: And that’s why it’s important to keep your dogs warm and out of the cold. Speaking of cold, Jim how’s it outside today?
Weatherman Jones: pic.twitter.com/1FGORMsfJV
— Nah, You Good. (@uglynewyork) January 22, 2019