Future seems, at least creatively, in a state of arrested development.

By Gary Suarez
May 19, 2020 at 10:15 AM EDT
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Epic Records

Hip-hop wouldn’t be where it’s at in 2020 without Future. Over the course of an epic mixtape run in the mid-2010s — succeeded by five consecutive chart-topping solo albums in as many years — the Atlanta native transcended trap’s self-parodying machismo with a flawed relatability previously frowned upon in the genre. The archetype for a generation of Xanax-addled, lean-seeking rap mutants, his defensive yet confessional vulnerability propelled a barely legal set of emotional spitters like the tragically departed Juice WRLD towards stardom, which only further cemented his elite status.

Future clearly never positioned himself as role-model material, considering that his biggest hit to date conjured up a classic chorus from the words molly and Percocet. Nonetheless, the radio and streaming platforms stay saturated with singing rappers indebted to his deeply human catalog. Now inching towards 40, a milestone age that forgives but a few rappers who cross it, some might expect him to shrug off the bad habits that have often made his lyrics read like something from the back office of a pharmacy.

Yet, despite the irony of its titular cliché, High Off Life finds Future still in the thrall of Adderall, codeine, and promethazine. In an unsettling yet characteristic moment, he coldly refers to a potential overdose at the start of “Trillionaire” before moving past it to trade sung bars with Youngboy Never Broke Again. His continued toxic romance with drugs is only matched by his passion for jet-setting trysts and icy watches. He’s spent so much time in the spotlight that fame no longer appears to faze him, leaving him to nonchalantly rattle off the luxury cars he owns on “Touch The Sky” like it’s nothing. He’s still unrepentantly unapologetic about flaunting his luxe life but it no longer feels like a brag, certainly not the way that it used to.

While the commercial prospects for High Off Life remain high, Future seems, at least creatively, in a state of arrested development here. As was the case with 2019’s somewhat formulaic The Wizrd, his infamous studio work ethic and demonstrably tight inner circle has made it a bit too easy to play things safe. Those Southside and Wheezy beats hit as hard as ever, but the verses don’t necessarily keep the same energy. “Life Is Good,” his current hit single with Drake, recycles so many of his tropes into one tidy verse that it pales in comparison to the spirited one-upsmanship that defined the duo’s 2015 event record What A Time To Be Alive. Similarly, “Hard To Choose One” veers too close to comfortable redundancy for an artist who previously revolutionized the rap game.

Still, when High Off Life succeeds, it does so extraordinarily. On “Posted With Demons,” he lays out a compelling justification for living the way he now lives, glancing back at the suffocating darkness of his days on the block. If that track cautiously probes his scars, the cathartic “Accepting My Flaws” reopens those wounds all over again. Here, he struggles to reconcile the fulfilling promises of a loving relationship with the self-medicating and self-destructiveness he’s been unable to shake.

Thankfully, Future also finds commiseration and support from guests like Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert, who bring slimy synergy and youthful effervescence to “Harlem Shake” and “All Bad,” respectively. But when he’s left alone to wallow and flex in equal measure, there’s a looming sense that he’s walled himself in at a time when his artistry needs room to breathe. His capacity for career reinvention should be boundless, but the familiarity and fan-friendliness of High Off Life put such big creative decisions off for another time.

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