Is Future a versatile artist? Ask around and you’ll likely receive very different answers. Twitter searches for keywords like “Future same album” or “Future repetitive” bring up scores of listeners struggling to find any aesthetic shift from record to record. Ask any devoted member of the FutureHive, on the other hand, and they’ll probably launch into an in-depth breakdown of Future’s many different personas (Super Future, Future Hendrix, Fire Marshal Future, etc.). They might even illustrate their point by splitting up Future’s discography into distinctive emotional states — from Introspective Future to Romantic Future — as Noisey’s Trey Smith did last week.
Since 2014’s Monster, Future’s been locked into a highly productive groove that’s yielded five studio albums, five mixtapes, four joint releases with other rappers, a film soundtrack, and 20 Top 50 singles on the Hot 100 as a lead or featured artist. To some degree, you can see that he’s found a successful formula and stuck to it. But to say outright that Future has spent the past five years retreading the same ground belies both the depth of his content and his ability to subtly, continually reinvent himself.
His latest album, Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD, introduces a new titular persona whose perspective is so much more seasoned than any of its predecessors that it borders on near-mystical omniscience. Whereas Future spent 2014-2018 pushing ever forward, relentlessly recording and burrowing further into his own psyche, he’s now taken a moment to step back and survey his legacy. The WIZRD is deeply self-referential, going beyond Introspective Future’s usual self-evaluation and sounding at times like a hall of fame acceptance speech.
His gaze on the album spans his entire career, recounting everything from his initial glow-up (“Came from whippin’ out the bowl, [to] Tom Ford suit and tie” on “Never Stop”) to the ups and downs of his recording career (“I done been considered a failure, it don’t faze me” on that same song) to his enviable tax bracket (even among rap’s most wealth-obsessed albums, you’d be hard-pressed to find mentions of the words “rich,” richer,” and “richest”) to the darker side of his legacy (“Got the whole world takin’ Xans” on “Overdose”). And he hammers home his interest in looking back by splicing in samples of two of his older songs at fitting moments during the album: 2014’s open-hearted “Honest” (during the unapologetic “Temptation”) and 2015’s weighty “Slave Master” (before a neck-snapping beat switch in the middle of “Baptiize”). It seems fitting, then, that Future called The WIZRD — his final release under his current contract with Epic — something along the lines of a “final chapter” in two separate interviews from last week.
We all know how spurious rappers’ retirement claims tend to be, and — especially in the wake of recent end-of-career threats from Lil Uzi Vert and Rae Sremmurd — it seems more likely that a workaholic like Future is trying to kick off a new era of his career rather than ride off into the sunset at 35 (especially with rumors of a new $50 million record deal floating around). Despite all he’s achieved in his post-Honest second act — as he puts it on “Never Stop,” “I’m living my second life, it’s so amazing” — he seems ready for a change. In an interview with The FADER, Future said he was tired of the negative headspace he’s inhabited in much of his recent music:
“I wanna allow myself to grow, and I wanna look myself in the mirror and be like, Man, I can see the growth myself. But it can become a burden trying to relive those moments over and over again, when sometimes you might get bashed or being a certain kind of image or being portrayed this type of person. But this what made the best music. This what got the best out of me. I created off negativity.”
You can track that evolution on The WIZRD in a few ways. Future’s music covers plenty of darkness from his past, but one event that’s hovered like a storm cloud over much of his lyrical content is his much-publicized 2014 split from Ciara. Almost five years later, the toxic attitude of his that emerged after their breakup is still present: “Fucked a pop star after I got my dreads braided/ Never dropped her name but her head game contagious” he raps on “Never Stop.” He may never stop airing out his dirty laundry in his music, but those looking for growth in that arena may see it in the self-aware, semi-apology he drops on the album’s final track, “Tricks on Me”: “I was lettin’ the shit I can’t control destroy me/ It was goin’ too deep for you, baby, pardon me.”
The other common thread in Future’s recent interviews is a newfound remorse for normalizing drug use, spurred by recent collaborator Juice WRLD’s admission that Future’s music inspired him to try lean for the first time. Future also recently revealed that he was afraid to tell his fans that he stopped drinking lean entirely, which comes up on “Stick to the Models”: “I lost the feeling of drinking on syrup.” Like references to his romantic history, there’s not much on The WIZRD that suggests a dramatic about-face, but you can at least feel the gears turning throughout the album. “I think the music that’s coming gon’ reflect that change,” he told The FADER. “I think that’s me putting rest to the old, formally, the old way of making music.”
If that ends up being true, The WIZRD is a worthy capstone for the most prolific, successful spree of rap releases since the mixtape runs of Lil Wayne in mid-2000s or Gucci Mane in the late 2000s. It’s certainly more deliberately crafted than Purple Reign and EVOL, Future’s two rapid-fire 2016 releases, or any of the collaborative projects in his discography. Despite running for 62 minutes, the album flows at a brisk pace, thanks to thoughtful sequencing and some uncharacteristically short tracks. And the producers involved are a healthy mix of usual suspects (Southside, TM88, Will-A-Fool, Wheezy) young talent on the rise (Tay Keith, Richie Souf, Billboard Hitmakers), and almost complete unknowns (namely 20-year-old ATL Jacob, whose tag is all over the album and whose phone has probably been blowing up all weekend).
To many listeners, of course, that may still just sound like another Future album: croaky rapping about bedding models, Richard Mille watches and a heart that requires ecstasy to keep beating — pain spilled over trippy trap beats. But those willing to dig a little deeper will find the shades in what he does: the subtle shifts in mood between bars, the ways wealth, fame, sex and drugs are alternately held up as aspirational or detrimental and his own conflicted feelings about them.
Future doesn’t necessarily show artistic breadth from album to album — he shows it within each album. His versatility lies in his ability to convey a whole range of moods with a fairly limited palette, one he stretches to great effect on The WIZRD without overextending himself or requiring a theme or concept to rein him in. Whether he’s gurgling through some tough talk or reciting Juicy J’s “Slob on My Knob” in a squeaky falsetto, Future never sounds like anyone but himself. Maybe that will all change if he indeed puts his current way of making music to rest. But as it stands now, The WIZRD is an excellent, all-encompassing summation of Future’s five-year reign of terror — one final, dazzling trick before a disappearing act.