Alex Swhear can take Vicodin tonight, baby.
HNDRXX starts out as refreshingly direct and matter-of-fact as Future has ever been. It’s a quality that’s been curiously absent from some of his most recent output — though a staple during his finest hours — whether bottoming out (“I’m an addict and I can’t even hide it,” he admits on “Codeine Crazy”) or flexing (see: the entirety of “Peacoat.”) Throughout “My Collection,” he invokes his legal battles and rehashes his days dealing drugs from his grandma’s house. He’s suspicious that his inner circle would turn on him if he wasn’t rich. He doesn’t like all of these cameras he has to deal with. He’s even perturbed about his chains being too loud. Yes, he has some thoughts on Ciara too..
Future’s at his best when he’s being honest, and his most interesting when his emotions are complex, even contradictory. This is the playing field HNDRXX chooses, and with it, a lush and inviting pop landscape for its backdrop. The result is a record that offers all of the humanity and honesty of Future’s best work, unshackled from the confines of his usual sonic comfort zone. While the quality of his mixtapes render the album/mixtape distinction relatively meaningless, HNDRXX looks, feels, and smells like a capital-A Album.
If he generally treats mixtapes and albums as one in the same, something is different here: the stakes are higher, the scope bigger. He casually sprinkles Pink Floyd and Beatles references to boost his own mythology; instrumentals and their outros are tweaked in inventive and exciting ways; he bounces from wounded crooning to some of his most spirited, energetic rapping in ages. HNDRXX adeptly balances carefree pop songs like “Testify” and “Keep Quiet” with more introspective, emotionally resonant material like “Sorry.” If it sounds like a carefully calculated Best Of Future Buffet, its structure still feels totally organic. This is in part because of some masterful sequencing, but more importantly, each of these songs feels lived in and genuine—none are the sort of forced retreads that bogged down patches of 2016’s EVOL and Purple Reign.
While HNDRXX works with a varied palette, the straightforward pop songs are its backbone. This isn’t only because he executes them adroitly, but because he fully embraces the direction. If Honest—which mined similar territory—felt confused and noncommittal about its objectives, HNDRXX steps up to the plate fully confident and committed. Future refuses to overthink things, instead wielding simplicity as an asset—without ever settling for anything truly undercooked. DS2 sneered at the pop aspirations of Honest, but HNDRXX seems to refine and even perfect them. The Rihanna-assisted “Selfish” has a melody that would soar in a Disney movie, which I say in the most complimentary way possible. The Caribbean groove of “Fresh Air,” one of the album’s most irresistible songs, recalls “Hotline Bling,” but still feels decidedly unique for a Future song, bolstered by some of his most spirited vocals. “Fresh Air” sticks with you most because of its bulletproof melody, and it isn’t alone; “Incredible,” “Keep Quiet,” and many others are equally inescapable. The album tucks hooks away mid-verse—and sometimes even mid-hook.
HNDRXX also brings to the table an exuberant but weary soul music that had been lacking from his recent output music. Some early comparisons evoke the R&B leanings of Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, but that feels misguided. While HNDRXX similarly wears its emotions on its sleeve, it’s animated more by joy than pain. The aforementioned Drake comparison is a better fit. Several of the sunnier songs on HNDRXX, particularly in its middle section, owe a debt to some of Drake’s hits from Views, but Future wears it better. While much of Drake’s recent music has been mechanical and soulless, the Future that shows up on HNDRXX is often having so much fun he approaches giddiness. Mid-album sleeper “New Illuminati” is downright blissful, and “Incredible” sounds like it’s delivered with an ear-to-ear grin. “Hallucinating” finds Future wistfully reminiscing about his wise purchase of a Bentley truck—not unlike other narrators might reflect on their own coming of age.
Despite some early appearances in “My Collection,” Future’s uglier tendencies are largely muzzled here. That isn’t to say the Future of HNDRXX is neutered or reserved, but he certainly seems to have a clearer head than ever before. If Future’s previous high water marks showcased a man on the edge of a breakdown, HNDRXX is notable within Future’s repertoire for its remarkable stability. The vulnerability isn’t entirely gone; shots are lobbed at Rocko in “Comin Out Strong” (with a reliably on-point Weeknd feature), and the end of the album veers in dark directions—particularly “Sorry”, which finds Future at his most gripping and confessional, wracked with guilt for selling drugs to a pregnant woman, among other tabloid-documented sins. So while the album’s disposition is sunny, its content is strikingly layered.
The context in which HNDRXX arrives is important, considered it follows his self-titled album released just a week earlier. If FUTURE marked an incremental improvement over Future’s 2016, said improvements were mostly at the margins; FUTURE still plays like an artist content with treading water. It injects a humor and energy mostly absent from the grim, dour EVOL, but few risks are taken—most Future fans are going to enjoy “Super Trapper,” but it doesn’t have an original bone in its body. Entertaining as the record is, indications were that Future was opting for the Rick Ross route of wringing a style of its worth until rendered utterly bone dry. HNDRXX upends that dramatically, better utilizing its expansive tracklist (both albums are 17 songs long, but only the latter avoids filler), frequently employing new tricks and adding fresh twists to old ones. Easy as it is to make comparisons to previous Future incarnations, HNDRXX is very much its own beast, hitting a new, higher crescendo.