Evolve or die. It is an age-old tenet of life — really, one of the universal natural laws that govern all existence — yet it’s also something that music fans, for some reason, can’t stand artists doing. You see it all the time: An artist finally cracks the code for both critical and commercial appeal and fans lavish them with attention and love and the accompanying sales — only to turn on them the instant they try something even remotely experimental.
It makes sense, in a way. After all, fans become fans because they enjoyed something the artist gave them, a feeling or a moment or memory that endears the artist to them for all time. Of course, they want the artist to continue to deliver that feeling, over and over again, for as long as they can. That the feeling is associated with a certain sound from the artist’s catalog is just a function of how human memory works.
However, fans also hate when an artist stagnates. We grow up, we change, our life circumstances shift and transport us and transplant us to new, unfamiliar spaces, only to bring us back home. It stands to reason we want our favorite musicians to grow and change with us. When they don’t, they get discarded, left behind as a relic of a specific era in our lives, both as fans and as a culture. For reference, see “’90s, the.”
This is the conundrum facing Atlanta trap crooner Future on his upcoming, seventh studio album, The Wizrd. For nearly a decade, the spacey, husky-voice trap music pioneer has served fans his unique brand of pained recollections and stoned revelry over the murky, 808-heavy production he helped popularize with a collection of albums, mixtapes, EPs, and soundtracks that spans 51 individual pieces of music since 2010.
That he’s sustained his popularity for so long with that kind of volume and consistency is an impressive recommendation of how relatable he can be at his best — even when his fans don’t necessarily know how it feels to stay up all night trapping or co-parenting a child with Ciara. However, that relatability comes at a price. How long can he conceivably keep selling essentially the same product before his fans grow out of it? What happens when he wants to grow musically and personally but they won’t accept a remixed version of what he’s been selling them?
In a recent interview with Genius promoting the impending release of The Wizrd, Future admits that he hasn’t used lean in some time, yet feared that revealing that fact would turn his fans against him. He worried that if they could no longer identify with that aspect of his persona, they’d move on to another purveyor of that substance-filled narrative. It’s not a completely unfounded fear; after all, the game is now littered with them, from Lil Xan (who, it’s worth noting, is touting his own recent levels of sobriety) and Lil Skies to Trippie Redd and Future’s own recent collaborative partner Juice Wrld, with whom he released Wrld On Drugs last year.
There’s some genuinely concerning irony there, that Future would feel pressured to continue pushing an image he no longer lives — especially one that many in hip-hop, from Russ to Xan to DJ Mustard and Mozzy to the late Lil Peep’s brother and more agree has been dangerous to the most impressionable among hip-hop’s younger fanbase. Future fears changing his persona and losing fans, while his current persona has very likely already cost him a few due to imitating the drugged-out lifestyle he portrays on records.