Future, in every sense of the word, is the figurehead of the current rap generation. The sounds he’s cultivated over the last 7 years can be seen everywhere: his autotuned crooning, codeine-laced lyrics and hi-hat-centric production make up most of the average SoundCloud rapper’s toolkit. Whilst the Atlanta rapper has previously spoken on his relationship to the rap game, it’s on The WIZRD’s Krazy But True that he fully embraces it: “You need to pay me my respects / Your socks, rings and your lean / The way you drop your mixtapes, your adlibs, everything”. No matter what breed of trap you adopt, you have Future to thank for paving the way.
Which is why 2018 was so disappointing for the trap icon. A mediocre sequel to 2015’s Beast Mode and a horrendous collaborative tape with Juice WRLD made for a forgettable year, especially following 2017’s SUPER SLIMEY, an album that fell massively short of expectation. The imaginative, crooning realms of HNDRXX, released just a year before, seemed destined to not be repeated, with Future reverting to a half-hearted echoing of his former self. With rap remaining the omnipresent behemoth of the music industry, Future’s children threatened to push him out of relevancy entirely.
To call The WIZRD a return to form would be somewhat misleading: whilst its quality is assuredly better than Future’s recent output, its innovation is missing. Future’s winning formula is once again put into play, with The WIZRD’s intense roster of bangers matching his historical approach to the album. Whilst it doesn’t take the formula in any new directions (there’s certainly no ‘la-di-da-di-da’ing), it’s hard to fault this: if you’ve got the formula and the persona already prepared, you simply need to translate it into actual substance.
And translate it Future does. The half-utterings and sloppy raps of the past year are entirely gone, with Future sounding crisp, clear and focused throughout the hour-long runtime. Stylistically, he adopts several tones, bringing together HNDRXX’s confession, DS2’s hedonism and Honest’s energy to provide a high-quality ‘taster’ of his vast discography. Whilst it doesn’t reach the pinnacles of Future’s career (there’s no new Codeine Crazy to obsess over), its consistent quality ensures its status as an enjoyable listen, if slightly repetitive.
As far as the album’s production goes, there’s fairly little to fault. Future has always been at the forefront of beat selection, working with present heavyweights like Metro Boomin, Southside and Zaytoven far prior their breakout success. Whilst the production doesn’t reach the chaotic heights of his best material, it is consistently engaging: tracks like Faceshot bring back the rawness of DS2’s bangers while others like Promise U That embrace newer trap trends to good effect. After the colossal success of SICKO MODE, the beat switch has finally infiltrated mainstream hip-hop, and Future is no exception, throwing beat switches on three of the album’s tracks. Future’s beat switches are less like Oh My Dis Side and more like DNA – whilst not creating a new artistic direction for the song, they add an unanticipated energy to the material, resulting in dynamic and engaging sonics.
It is one of these beat switches that makes for the album’s best banger: F&N. The production here carries the track from strength: initially starting in a moody haze, the beat quickly comes into focus, giving the track an ethereal, yet undeniably frantic pace. As Future compares himself to everyone from Frank Lucas to Mad Max, his characteristic lines shine through – “I just took an AK to a dinner date” embodies the charismatic vision of the storied trap star. But it’s not until the track’s second half that it truly shines. After a brief intermission of “F&N”, the beat dives headfirst into overdrive, with DS2’s pounding, fearful yet undeniably ephemeral vibe rises to the surface. The track’s only flaw is that it doesn’t last longer – at just 3:09, it’s hard not to be left wanting more.
The WIZRD, for all of its shiny new packaging, is essentially the same product. In the present moment, this is fundamentally okay – more high-quality renditions of Future’s formula are never a bad thing. But with thousands of teenagers clawing for their place in the trap market, it’s hard not to be wanting for some innovative gesture, some implication that Future can follow his contemporaries into new waves of hip-hop. Make no mistake, this is a quality trap project - but with the benefit of hindsight, its lack of innovation may poise it as the first step of a graceful retirement.