Future is wounded. It’s the kind of hurt that could launch a thousand ships and blow a thousand bags. Open cuts that can’t be healed by endless lurid sex or a bottomless Styrofoam cup. Nayvadius is a hollowed-out shell trying to fill the space inside with the fruits of his own opulence. Like so many damaged artists before him, the studio has provided some refuge. Champagne and promethazine are the fuel. And still he sees the darkness. This is a poor impression of a man who is OK.
Future’s post-break-up rush of creativity at first seemed like a kind of codeine-crazed lost weekend – a hazy stupor to be forgotten when the drugs wore off and dawn broke on a new day. But for 18 months now he’s been channeling turmoil into the best rap music in the world, and there are no signs that things are about to get better. His public fall-out with Ciara recently turned legal, and he’s purportedly been denied access to his infant son. And still the releases stack up. He needs the music now more than even we do.
Is lightning any less remarkable when it strikes twice? How about when it strikes repeatedly? ‘EVOL' (no apparent links to the Sonic Youth album of the same name) is the seventh full-length project put out in the year-and-a-half since Future spiralled off into the abyss and makes only minor tweaks to the sound that’s thrilled us to vividly. Regular producers Southside, Metro Boomin and DJ Spinz are all on board, serving a dazzling set of fluorescent synths, skittering hi-hats and punishing basslines. Again Future marshals the glittering soundscapes expertly, his tuneful flow reining in the beats while imbuing all the fragility, heartsickness and aggression that make it the most impressive instrument in rap right now.
‘EVOL’ might be the severest release of Future’s incontestable recent streak. Unlike ‘DS2’, his last commercial solo release, there are very few potential singles and almost no anthems. The substances hit harder, the sex is joyless and the extravagance is gaudy. He sounds more paranoid, isolated and distressed then ever. This is the height of a drug freak-out. The creeping ‘Xanny Family’ plays like a twisted lurch through the flickering lights and lasers of a basement club at 3am, when you’re feeling jaded, transparent and untouchable.
The paranoia too seems ramped up. The gothic dark wave of ‘Photo Copied’ sees Future firing shots in all directions – his ex, his doubters, general haters. On ‘Lie To Me’ he formalises his recent beef with Young Thug, one of the few artists standing in his way of being universally recognised as the best rapper alive: “Tell that lil n*gga to stay in his place before I expose you / You take one shot at me, you know that’ll cause an explosion.” ‘EVOL’ has this antagonistic streak. Rarely has Future been so concerned with rap supremacy.
There’s a couple of breaks from the norm to keep things fresh. ‘Lil Haiti Baby’ serves up a concrete Lex Luger-esque banger that Rick Ross was crushing a few years back, while Future teams up with The Weeknd on the downbeat ‘Low Life’. Unlike his collaborator, Abel Tesfaye is a pop star made from a monster. As Future fell into a purple haze, Abel grew towards the light, answering the door when celebrity came knocking. Here the spiritual kin find common ground, bringing The Weeknd —“repping for that low life” once more — back to the savage crawl of his 2011 output.
And so it’s another TKO for Future Hendrix — the streak rumbles on, but for how long? If ‘EVOL’ plays like the peak of a drug high, then next should be the comedown. If his run has proved anything, though, it’s that you can forget all traditional narratives. In 18 months, Future has cut the kind of catalogue few can claim at the end of their careers, and he probably won’t stop because he probably can’t stop. Enjoy it while you can. You might not see anything like this again.
Words: Dean Van Nguyen
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