Three years ago, my life revolved around flip flops. I was a senior in high school, and there was plenty to be worried about: college applications, grades, girls, and a tornado of issues that I probably should have been paying more attention to. Sure, I was thinking about those things too, but at that particular point in time there was nothing more important than flip flops. These weren’t especially comfortable, or even great looking flip flops. They didn’t even come in different colors. I mean, they were Gucci, but they were also $210 (which feels like $2100 when you’re in high school). The point is: these Gucci flip flops had no right to be as popular as they were, especially not with 18-year old kids who could barely afford the Uber to the Gucci store in the first place. But there I was at 2:31, rushing out of school with my friends to get to the mall to see them in person. Having Gucci flip flops was one of the easiest ways to recognize who understood and who didn’t. I saw kids who wore those flip flops every day that year. I even knew a couple who graduated in those things. Not because they were naturally cool, but because someone made them cool.
This story is probably confusing to most people, but for others, it makes perfect sense. With “Thought It Was a Drought”—the intro to his 2015 album DS2—Future rapped about Gucci flip flops and immediately made them relevant to a new audience. That’s the kind of power that Future Hendricks had at one point. Since breaking out of the Atlanta trap scene in 2012, Future has continued to shift pop culture one hit at a time. That’s thanks in large part to the “more is better” philosophy that has fueled him throughout his entire career. Since his debut in 2012, he’s released seven major label albums. In 2015 he released an album and four mixtapes. In 2016 he dropped another album with two more mixtapes, before dropping 2 mixtapes and back to back albums in 2017. For most artists, a mixtape and a collaborative project with an up and coming star would make for a busy year. In Future’s case, it was one of the slowest years of his career. In an interview with Zane Lowe he talked about how tired he had become, saying “I never get a chance to vacation. I never get a chance to go nowhere, so 2018 was my first time going different places, and trying different, new experiences, and staying places over two weeks.” Future made a name for himself by flooding the streets with new soundtracks, and even in a year when he, “just didn’t want to do anything” he still produced a follow up to 2015’s Beast Mode and a collaborative project with Juice Wrld, the latest graduate of the Future school of music. Whatever the reason, 2018 was slow for him.
With this in mind, 2019 was all lined up to be his bounce back year. Within the first week of 2019, Future announced a new album The Wizrd, a documentary, and a new single. The single, “Crushed Up,” is classic Future, but the reception was less than ideal. The follow up single was even less eventful. The documentary, entitled The Wizrd is available on Apple Music and gives an in depth look at Future in a way that rarely see. It fully delivers in terms of the Future persona we’ve grown accustomed to, but it still somewhat of a shock. The movie is on par with everything we’ve come to expect from Future, but his previous lack of media appearances makes it hard to digest his newfound strategy.
As an artist who rarely gave interviews, Future thrived in the space between crossover success and mythical hero. His reclusive image kept his flaws ambiguous, but as long as he maintained his rapid output, it never hindered his success. For a person in Future’s position, exposure equates to relevancy, and relevancy is basically currency. In an era of “clout chasers” and “wave riders” the only thing that matters is your place in the hierarchy of cultural relevancy. Future hasn’t been expected to play the media game as a result of his intense output, but this new attitude feels like an attempt to reach the next level of stardom. He’s been around for almost ten years and influenced half of the biggest names in rap, but it still felt like he was struggling to map out the next part of his journey.
The press tour blitz that pushes artists on the media is nothing new, but for Future things are a little more complicated. The Atlanta hitmaker hasn’t been this exposed in almost all of his career. While this new publicity push has opened Future up to his fair share of criticisms—see the long list of Russell Wilson and Ciara conflicts—it has also added a level of depth that we haven’t seen before. This change is due, at least partly, due to the nature of hip hop. We’ve seen it happening more and more in recent years with Jay Z and Kanye West. Rap has always been a competition sport, but as your age increases, so does the competition. Future has avoided the “ageing statesman” image pushed on both Jay and Ye, but his evolving image is an attempt at further evading that narrative. While his contemporaries age and become more reclusive (Cole, Kendrick, Jay Z), Future is increasing his visibility at light speed.
On Future Hndrxx Presents: The Wizrd, the version of Future we get is a not as different as his actions would suggest. The content is the same, but the delivery is adjusted. With Wizrd, Future has taken the best parts of his previous efforts and compiled them into one of his best albums to date. It’s not as polarizing as HNDRXX, and it’s not as revolutionary as DS2, but it is just as good. The R&B influences of previous projects are still there. Tracks like “Temptation” and “Promise U That” double down on the melodic greatness Future has always been able to tap in to throughout his career. On other tracks, Future’s trap roots take center stage in the new and exciting ways that made him into a star. The standout “F&N” plays out as standard Future material before the beat switches mid-hook and morphs into a genuinely great window sample of what Future can do when he works with producers who understand him. On The Wizrd, there are highlights for each and every one of Future’s alter egos. His role as the rap game’s biggest spender jumps out in the form of mega flexes like “I just put my whole damn arm in the fridge” on “Crushed Up and “We can do yachts/we can do jets whenever we lunchin’” on Unicorn Purp. At other points in the album, he reminds us of the weird trap lines that cemented him as one of the greats. Not many artists can brag, “I just took a AK to a dinner date” with a straight face, but nothing is too insane when it comes to Future’s wealth of experience.
Along with his hit-making abilities and nonstop work ethic, one of Future’s greatest assets has always been his ability to transform depending on who he’s in the studio with. On 2015’s What a Time to Be Alive, he partnered with Drake and created a tape overflowing with effortless hooks and Instagram-caption classics. On Super Slimey, he and fellow Atlanta-native Young Thug brought out the best in each other while delivering some of the best memes of the year. While his solo productions have featured some of his most captivating collaborations as well (“Where Ya At,” “Low Life,” and “Selfish” to name a few), he has mostly kept the features slim on these releases. On Wizrd that trend continues, but when the select guests do appear, they make their presence known. Gunna and Young Thug help Future out with a noteworthy verses and a handful of classic Thug ad-libs on “Unicorn Purp.” The Travis Scott assisted “First Off” is sure to last, with Scott providing the magic that has made him one of music’s most sought-after collaborators.
Future Hndrxx Presents: The Wizrd is classic Future, with a surprising amount of new ideas mixed in. After a career’s worth of albums and more than his fair share of hits, Future sits at a crucial point in his career. Taking the next step up is difficult and tumbling down the mountain of success he’s built can happen with one wrong step. The Wizrd lacks excitement at the beginning and end of its 20-song journey. Future’s projects have always been longer than usual, but intro tracks are usually an especially strong part of Future’s projects, but the clumsy “Never Stop” misses the mark. On an album as long as The Wizrd it’s unlikely that every song will be a hit, but the beginning and end of an album are especially important part of an experience that fans have grown to expect from Future. That being said, it’s an effective and memorable offering from an artist who seems poised to take the leap in the coming years.
This album marks the end of his current record deal, but it signals brighter days ahead in terms of creativity and productivity. In his documentary The Wizrd, a voice off camera asks, “How do you think you got here?” Without expression, Future replies, “selling crack” before cracking a smile. The humor in this exchange is obvious, but so is the truth. Future has made a career out of playing with his image: drug dealer, lover, playboy, and R&B crooner to name a few. With The Wizrd those personas remain untouched, but his ability to mix and match them at will is a good sign of things to come. The room for evolution is there. Whether or not he grows into it is up to him.
By: Michael Miller