Favorite Tracks: “Unicorn Purp (featuring Young Thug & Gunna),” “Faceshot,” “Ain’t Coming Back,” “Tricks On Me”
“Why is it that rappers don’t want to acknowledge all the vowels in the word “Wizard?” First there was Kid Cudi and Dot Da Genius’ one-off 2012 rock project WZRD, a sound and idea that Cudi has strangely been chasing ever since, and now we have Future, er, “Future Hndrxx” presenting THE WIZRD… so close. One day we’ll get there.“
That’s all I mentally had the wherewithal to come up with after an umpteenth listen to THE WIZRD, a not-that-clever gramatical observation, more a Tweet than an actual review.
Even after spending arguably too much time with THE WIZRD, I’m not sure what there really is to say about it other than that fans of Future will be pleased with this return to form even if the blandess makes it a long listen. After a 2018 that saw Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn take some pretty big swings, from the mostly unlistenable Juice WRLD collaboration WRLD ON DRUGS, to the soundtrack for the blink-and-you-missed-it remake of SUPERFLY, to even a sequel no one was asking for in BEAST MODE 2, THE WIZRD returns us to competent downtrodden trap beats and Future reckoning with success as he tries to outrun his past.
Nothing on THE WIZRD is bad, per se. At this point in his career, Future can do this exact dog and pony show in his sleep, but boy is this a pretty monotonous release for the most part. For the first 20 minutes we see the same ambient-laden trap beat recycled over and over, a homogenized and honestly dizzying series that is only broken up by the spacier Tay Keith-produced free-fall “Temptation.” When asked to, Future captures the essentialness of trap music better than anyone, and “Servin Killa Kam” and the Young Thug and Gunna-assisted “Unicorn Purp” feel appropriately big on an album that sleepwalks through competence. But mostly we are weighed down by sludgy, cavernous beats that cut the flow of Future’s bigger, more intentioned raps—find me the difference in “Promise U That,” “Stick to the Models,” and “Krazy But True,” because they’re shades of grey for a rapper whose colorfulness can be his greatest strength.
The best section of the record comes on its final sprint, starting with “First Off,” a track that admittedly is just the best version of the mid-tempo trap that came on the previous 16 songs and is elevated by a solid Travis Scott verse. The two Richie Souf-produced tracks, “Faceshot” and “Ain’t Coming Back,” are easily the highpoints here because they’re legit bangers, the former a big sounding flex that feels angry, the latter delivering a beat worthy of Future’s high-energy sadness. Closer “Tricks On Me” sees Nineteen85 do the most with his one production credit here, a euphoric and skittering video game flow that Future delightfully explores.
But here’s my biggest problem: We know Future can be more interesting than this. In a year where rap’s heavyweight class took some pretty big blows, against all odds BEAST MODE 2 was one of 2018’s few winners. At this point it seems like Future is the most palatable and excited when working with a single collaborator (Juice WRLD being a rare exception). From DJ Esco to Zaytoven to Young Thug to even Drake, whose WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE was perhaps the most high-profile and messy of his full-on collaborations, there is just something inherently more exciting about hearing Future as a gadget piece for a producer or one half of a duo than hearing his own full-length vision play out—I would gladly rather have heard an entire album produced by Nineteen85, whose sound makes Future’s raps seem otherworldly. For better or worse, THE WIZRD lives and dies by who’s at the production helm, and it’s pretty amazing to see just how affecting that is. Hopefully whatever comes next will have me personally more engaged and thinking less about vowels.