For Atlanta trap recording artist, Future, to release a studio album with no features is a bold move. Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn, known professionally by his stage name Future, entered the rap game as a member of Atlanta-based southern rap collective, the Dungeon Family. By the release of his debut studio album, Pluto, in 2012, Future had garnered enough attention to score features from some of the rap game’s biggest players, including Snoop Dogg, Drake, Juicy J and R. Kelly, amongst others, and has continued to employ many of the same names, as well as other notable artists, on future projects. In fact, one of the rapper’s most successful albums was his 2015 collaborative effort with Drake, What a Time To Be Alive, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified platinum by the RIAA. This new album, however, sees Future carry the entire hour-long runtime on his own, albeit with the help of some of Atlanta’s most significant producers, such as Metro Boomin, Zaytohven and Southside. Of course, FUTURE isn’t the first undertaking of Future’s to feature no guest rappers, as was the case on 56 Nights, the last mixtape in its trilogy, but an hour-long studio album of material is a much more daunting task to provide consistently high-quality bars for, compared to a mixtape not even exceeding half an hour in length. Personally, I’m yet to have been swayed by Future’s previous work, but I’ve certainly seen him display potential, most notably on his 2014 album, DS2. My salient issue with much of the rapper’s work is that most of his material sounds incredibly similar, from his rudimentary style of delivery to the textbook trap production that he would usually be rapping over. Trap isn’t a genre wherein I expect to hear astonishing diversity from any one artist, but that’s not to say I don’t take issue with hearing the same song 13 times over. Credit where credit is due, Future has established a brand and formula for making music that distinguishes him from his contemporaries, but using his aesthetic as a crutch doesn’t make up for a lack of substance when it comes to the material he has released. Ultimately, therein also lies what I wish to see from Future; substance to accompany the image he has created for himself. I hoped that a featureless studio album would give him the scope to do just that, as a lack of substance on a project with the ambition of this new release would no doubt fall horribly flat. Fortunately, on his fifth studio album, Future lays down the groundwork for a more meaningful approach to trap music. FUTURE is certainly a long way away from being a perfect album and it suffers from similar ills to his other material at times, but it has some solid highlights and alludes to better things for the rapper, provided he can keep up the focus he displays on this record’s high points.
The opening track, Rent Money, gets the album off to a solid start with a track that encapsulates some of the better elements of Future’s previous material. On the surface, this is a pretty standard trap track and doesn’t mark any change of pace for Future, but it certainly sees the rapper spit some strong bars about handling drugs to pay the rent. His usual auto-tuned delivery is fiery and nasty, and he makes sure to vary his flow as to keep the cut sounding fresh throughout, and it’s much better for it. Ultimately, I see Rent Money as an application of Future’s usual formula that nevertheless goes over well as a result of the MC’s ability to hold his own throughout this track, staying aware to switch up his delivery when necessary, as to not make the cut feel like it overstays its welcome. The album’s closing track, Feds Did a Sweep, is successful for similar reasons, but is made stronger courtesy of Zaythoven’s solid production that he brings to the cut. The track opens with a lovely flute sample and some warbling electronics that are applied throughout the rest of the track, adding a subtle flavour to the cut without overpowering Future’s urgent verses concerning the police attitude towards black people living in the projects. Future’s flow is considerably more laid-back on Feds Did a Sweep, and whilst it comes close to sounding a bit too rudimentary, his thoughtful and weighty bars make up for this. Interestingly, Mask Off, produced by Metro Boomin, also makes use of a pretty flute sample (lifted from Tommy Butler’s Prison Song) that goes over well. Using an instrument like a flute on a trap instrumental is sometimes seen as somewhat of a novelty, but the fact that it isn’t just resigned to the closing track, and is incorporated rather successfully, shakes off this presupposition and instead makes for a couple of tracks with some appealing textures. As for Future’s verses on this track, the rapper deals with the common hip hop topic of the journey from his arduous beginnings to his new-found success and, for the most part, his bars are pretty run-of-the-mill, but there is the odd stand-out line in which Future acknowledges some of his fundamental flaws that had prevented him from getting on in life, and potentially still do in some regards.
Whilst FUTURE certainly has its high points that are amongst the rapper’s best tracks, in my opinion, there are also some general problems with the album. For instance, whilst the better tracks on here switch things up enough to demand the listener’s attention across the entire cut, there is still a handful of songs that fit too comfortably within Future’s formula and thus display the issue of sounding like “just another Future track”. Zoom comes to mind as being one of the most humdrum tracks on the record, which is ironic given the subject matter. On Zoom, Future addresses the rappers that he claims to be ripping off his style, the most notable target being Desiigner, but the fact that Future resorts to some of the most mundane and tedious tropes of the current trap paradigm weakens his accusations considerably. Similarly, Super Trapper is an incredibly plain track that hardly fortifies Future’s bragging about the sweeping influence he has had on the current rap climate. Of course, the fact that FUTURE brandishes over an hour’s worth of material spread across 17 tracks brings about a common criticism I deliver, that being that this album could have easily been stripped of its less interesting tracks to make for a stronger project overall. Trap artists are often accused of displaying a ‘quality over quantity’ mindset and it certainly feels like Future will sometimes throw as much material onto a project as possible, with little consideration given with regards to how this will affect the album as a whole, as opposed to just on a track-by-track basis.
All in all, FUTURE is arguably Future’s strongest project yet, with the better tracks on here being amongst his most focussed and matured thus far in his discography. Whilst I have praised this album for many things, I may have sounded more optimistic about FUTURE than I intended; it is certainly a good album overall, but, as I personally have found myself largely indifferent to much of Future’s previous work, my enthusiasm was more directed towards the progress the rapper has shown, rather than this being an incredible project overall. Indeed, Future most definitely commits some of his recurring sins, and there is not yet enough variety demonstrated on this record for him to be rid of the allegation that all his songs sound the same. However, he has nevertheless demonstrated that he can actualise a more constructive approach to his music that could see for some much more impressive material in the future.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10