Future may not have wanted to be the voice of a generation of brokenhearted rap fans, nor the avatar for their anxieties, insecurities, and pettiest fantasies, but for the better part of a decade, that’s role he’s been designated to play. While he was originally tabbed one of trap rap’s smartest innovators, a spaced-out, gravel-pitched crooner of luxury lifestyle and grimy drug game chronicles, since his breakup with Ciara and subsequent run of R&B-tinged, druggy trap soul, he has become something of a deity to his “Future Hive,” who project their hopes, dreams, nightmares, victories, and failures onto his carefully curated persona of the anguished hustler whose icy exterior hides a heart of gold.
Going into his latest release, The Wizrd, he peeled back the layers of that facade, both in illuminating interviews and with the release of the album’s companion short film of the same name. He told Genius that the anxiety of a potential backlash prevented him from admitting to his fans that he’d long since given up the habit of drinking lean.
Yet judging from the instant reactions from fans in rap’s ultimate snap judgement debate arena, Twitter, he needn’t have worried. The response within an hour was overwhelmingly, resoundingly positive. While nothing here is especially groundbreaking, Future has rarely ever set out to upend the status quo — he just does his best to bare his soul and connect with listeners. With The Wizrd, he’s done that — and just might be rewriting the book on Future in the process anyway and moving onto something new.
First things first it’s important to remind those listeners, as he boasts on “Rocket Ship,” that Future has been “poppin’ since my demos.” To that end, he spends the entire, hook-less intro, “Never Stop,” reframing listeners’ expectations. It’s a savvy move from a veteran who, as he points out himself, has had a gift for musical manipulation since before he had a record deal or an established persona. Since the wounded R&B lover-man has somewhat overshadowed the other aspects of his charm lately, he expertly manages expectations by rapping his ass off to set the mood.
Don’t get it twisted, though — it’s still emotionally assertive. “You can feel the pain when I’m rappin’ ’cause I’m ragin’,” he spits. “You can see my past and where I was on they faces / I done flipped the truck over and crashed, ducked the agents.” Of course, that’s only a piece of what Future is all about, so he immediately flips the script on the next track, the celebratory “Jumpin’ On A Jet,” with a stuttery, slippery flow that shows he’s having a lot of fun on this album too: “I was standin’ on the bar-ar-ar-ar / It was me and my squa-ad-ad-ad / We was drippin’ in a-a-agua.” It’s the exact kind of genre-twisting, playful fiddling that set him apart from the cadre of would-be trap stars he entered the game with and continues to distinguish him from the current cohort.
Of course, Future is more than capable of holding his own alongside them as well. He wrangles the menacing funereal rattle of “Unicorn Purp” with a jackhammer of a flow that sets the stage for his Super Slimey partner Young Thug and his protege Gunna to trade bars on a back-and-forth verse that highlights both their natural chemistry and just how much they owe to Future stylistically.
“First Off” with 2018 winner Travis Scott continues in that vein as Future accentuates his own quirky wordplay with Travis’ signature, yelping ad-libs, then switches places to let the younger rapper take the spotlight while he plays the background role. It’s a masterful gesture toward his impending transition, like Gucci Mane and T.I. before him, into a trap rap godfather role, mentoring the next generation while occasionally emerging to remind them just who paved the way.
It’s a philosophy that Future extends to his beat selections on The Wizrd as well. Handing over the reins of the driving, eerie bangers to rising production superstar Wheezy, who spent 2018 providing low-key heaters to Future descendants Gunna, Migos, Lil Baby, and 21 Savage, proves to be another win for Future, who doubles his investment on neck-snapping beats like the one on “F&N,” which pulls a slick changeup halfway through that may induce head-spinning dizziness and jammed fingers from attacking the replay button.
Likewise, the creeping “Baptiize” makes excellent use of The LoopHoles, Javar Rockamore, and Fuse under the guidance of veteran vibe conductor Southside, while Future snaps like a madman on ATL Jacob crushing banger, “Talk Sh*t Like A Preacher.” In the end, Future does exactly what he needed to do on The Wizrd: Prove to fans that his newfound sobriety hadn’t dulled the edge on his whip-smart wordplay and that he could still curate a collection of bluesy trap bangers without being in real-life pain himself.
Best of all, despite its hefty tracklist — 20 songs in all — it clocks in at just barely over an hour, making it digestible as well as cohesive, ending well before it overstays its welcome. That’s a magic trick trap fans can appreciate after the exhaustive experiences of 2018. In fact, The Wizrd proves that Future still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve and that no matter how many times we see them, they still have the power to impress.
The Wizrd is out now via Epic Records. Get it here.