Alex Swhear been poppin’ since his demo, bitch.
“I really don’t take my fans for granted,” Future insists early on in The WIZRD, the recently released documentary accompanying his new album. “I’m trying to get through to the people who don’t speak English, the people who do speak English. Who grew up with a father, grew up without a father. Sold drugs, who didn’t sell drugs. It don’t matter…I’m trying to get in your heart, I’m trying to get in your soul.” If such a display of inclusivity seems out of character, in reality it’s key to decrypting the source of Future’s appeal; he is preternaturally adept at channeling a narrow set of personal hardships into something much more universal.
It’s also key to understanding why Future suddenly seems to be wrestling with the level of influence he’s wielded and whether or not he has used it for good. “How many other sixth-graders did I influence to drink lean?” he wondered in a Rolling Stone profile earlier this month. “I wasn’t aware of that influence, but now I’m aware of how much it influenced…It’s all I could think about. Like, ‘Damn, what have I done? What have I done to other people? What I did to myself?’” Self-examination isn’t a new angle for Future, but it appears to be casting an increasingly long shadow in 2019.
It’s in this context that he introduces his newest record, The WIZRD (technically his seventh or his 70th, if you’re still drawing a distinction between his mixtapes and albums). The WIZRD has no shortage of Future’s touchstones – a stew of menacing, scorched-earth trap, autotuned warbling, and sweetly melodic pop and R&B – but it resists becoming the cold-bloodedly complacent box-checking tentpole release that would put an end to Future’s streak of essential albums. Rather, The WIZRD finds Future bending his formula and probing himself and his legacy in fascinating ways.
Early reactions have pegged The WIZRD as a combination of FUTURE and HNDRXX, his last two solo albums. But this isn’t a particularly helpful lens to view it through. It is true that its blunt-force grit recalls his self-titled record and its bursts of sun-soaked pop are indebted to HNDRXX. And The WIZRD is knowingly self-referential at times, nodding to past Future songs with a wink (“Baptiize” lifts from DS2’s “Slave Master” and “Temptation” deftly deploys Honest’s title track).
But by most measures this is a compelling stand-alone moment in Future’s catalogue, one set apart by his unusually confident delivery and attempts to unpack his influence and stature. Additionally, most of these songs are curiously lean and concise, freeing The WIZRD up to move at a relatively brisk pace in contrast to the waterlogged FUTURE (despite its equally daunting raw number of songs).
The WIZRD spends long stretches reflecting on Future’s wealth and fame, and he seems genuinely conflicted about it. “You’ll get rich and have problems that you never thought,” he laments on the sprawling, ruminative opener “Never Stop”, just moments before claiming “I got so rich nothin’ matters to me.” On the topic of his influence, though, he’s far less ambiguous, thumping his chest and poking at those he believes are indebted to him. “I never depend on none of these rappers; they bitin’ me anyway,” he snarls on “Krazy But True”; “I’m god to you niggas, I worked too hard just to spoil you niggas…you need to pay me my respects.”
He seems defensive, perhaps worried that his commercial stranglehold is in danger of slipping away in favor of any number of younger, fresher faces. On “Ain’t Coming Back”, it’s clear that his critics have pierced his armor: “Tryin’ to give advice, you need to help yourself…tryin’ to save me, you need to save yourself.” Future’s music is as full of self-doubt as it has ever been, but he lashes out indignantly if that doubt comes from anyone other than himself.
As persistent as his insecurity (and even more troubling) is his drug dependency. While Future’s public statements betray an itch to move beyond addiction, it still looms large in his music, as if he’s straining mightily to elude its grasp. “It’s so hard, it’s so hard, these Perkys keep me sad,” he moans on “Temptation,” a smooth but restless Tay Keith-produced album highlight. “Got the whole world takin’ Xans,” he smirks on “Overdose” with what sounds like a curious combination of pride and regret.
“Withdrawals, pass my cup, I think I’m dyin’,” he croaks on “Call the Coroner”, straining to speak. He never quite hits the harrowing pit of despair that defined “Codeine Crazy” or “Perkys Calling”, but what transpires here is just as grim; despite genuine efforts to improve, Future never comes close to beating away the ghosts of his addiction.
Sonically, The WIZRD remains wedded to Future’s favorite tendencies, but not without adding color in unexpected ways. “Baptiize” and “F&N” both brandish unexpected beat changes midway through without feeling gimmicky or arbitrary. One of the most noteworthy developments on the record is Future’s relationship with ATL Jacob, who produced seven songs here (including the Travis Scott-featuring “First Off” and the Young Thug/Gunna collaboration “Unicorn Purp”), each of them comfortably within Future’s wheelhouse of blurry-eyed late-night debauchery. Across the board, though,
Future’s delivery here is as confident and nimble as it’s ever been, and his descriptions as colorful (he memorably brags about bringing “an AK to a dinner date”). He also still has the saddest brags in the game (“Ten milli plus on a crib and it’s vacant”).
The WIZRD, as Future tells it, intends to “close the chapter out of everything I’ve done so far”. It’s possible that this is simply a reference to his record deal with Epic, which reaches its conclusion with the release of The WIZRD. It’s also possible that The WIZRD is an inflection point, a moment where Future’s music breaks from the grim realities of his past and matures into something entirely unexpected.
To its credit, The WIZRD feels like a career-capping culmination without succumbing to the pitfalls of a transitional record. “I was letting the shit I can’t control destroy me,” Future croons on “Tricks On Me”, sounding sort of content for the first time on the record. It remains to be seen how long his newfound zen will last – the rest of the song is at turns boastful and paranoid – or, for that matter, what damage will be wrought by the things he can control. But it’s nice to hear him at peace, if only for a moment.