Future has always been an artist crafting songs, sounds, and languages for his own sake. Helping evolve and mold the Atlanta trap scene during the entirety of the 2010’s always felt like a byproduct of a rapper fine-tuning his own mythos. Tweaking his inherently guttural delivery into an emotive and signature rapping style only helped him dominate the charts with dozens of mixtapes and studio albums. Featuring Future became almost a necessity if you wanted to help boost your sales or lend your song a boost of menacing energy, whether that meant working with 21 Savage or Taylor Swift. Yet, his ability to never adapt to outside trends or new waves of rappers has turned him into a creative black hole. With High Off Life meant to serve as a celebratory victory lap after a decade of dominance, it’s never been clearer that Future’s insulated style has resulted in an exacting, if not taxing album.
Defining Future’s distinctive approach to trap music requires examining who he is as an icon. Digging into his prolific career, you’ll find a man who is openly misogynistic, stunningly braggadocious, yet ruthless with his self-lacerating gaze. His songs can be loud and unabashedly hype, then careen into murky self-pity. Any emotion is brandished with an unfiltered attitude delivered with a distinctively auto-tuned charm. Where Future truly shines is atmosphere; listening to Purple Reign and its desperate melancholy or the radio-friendly anthems of Hndrxx, the through line between every release is the rapper’s ability to encapsulate distinct moods without relying on strict concept-album conceits.
High Off Life bucks this trend to its own detriment. With its mechanical approach to songwriting, nearly all the 20 original tracks here rely on the stark combination of bass-heavy drums and unique use of melodic loops. However, this isn’t a failure by any means. The production shines due to the simplicity of its construct, quickly flaring with style and evaporating before it can wear out its welcome. “Ridin Strikers” brings noirish menace with its taut strings, and “Posted with Demons” combines wailing vocal samples with an ethereal flute, one of many genuinely moving production choices. These aren’t groundbreaking ideas, but they’re impeccable as backdrops for Future’s blunt storytelling.
Nuance has never been a tactic employed by Future, and it’s not surprising that it’s missing from High Off Life. It’s taken him a decade of providing a certain product to fans, and he delivers once again. Robberies, trapping, leveling up to another echelon of moneymaking, and all the joys and woes that come with it. What’s surprising is that this formula still, for the most part, works. When Future opens a verse from “Posted with Demons” with “I'm casually pimpin' these bitches/I don't give a fuck if the bitch is Catholic/I give zero fucks/You can worship the devil, bitch, just drop me these bricks,” it’s a monstrous set of bars that are as brutal as anything he’s written before. The final song before what are essentially five bonus tracks is “Accepting My Flaws,” an ode to his girlfriend, who’s helping him overcome his problems without him condemning what he’s done as wrong. Combine that with the rigid confines of his production choices, and High Off Life presents itself as a chemically pure Future album, one that banks on fans not asking for anything else than the myth he’s created.
As the album progresses to an energetic conclusion, Future implicitly takes a stance regarding his artistry. He seems at ease with simply easing coasting as one of traps most evocative artists, and, why shouldn’t he? What he does, he does well. He is who he is, and he is who he says he is. The problem arises when his image begins to engulf the very thing that made him interesting. Future’s music was engaging when his persona was that of a flawed man navigating his own unique struggle, rather than a facsimile with specific attributes artificially enhanced. High Off Life is an album from a carbon copy of Future, full of precise, hard-hitting songs and sentimental moments that lack artistic verve. When Travis Scott is featured, the song becomes a lackluster Travis Scott song. When Lil Uzi Vert is featured, it feels like a leftover from Eternal Atake. Even when paired with collaborators he’s had proven chemistry with, like Drake and Young Thug, the songs become lifeless imitations of themselves. Instead of this being a case of an artist resting on their laurels, we have something far worse: one whose laser-focused vision of themselves now warps anything that he touches.
The problem with etching your name in the hall of fame is that your audience will then look at you to evolve, stagnate, or retire. Based on Future’s track record, there are no signs of him stopping soon, but in the past he has shown signs of growth. Last year’s SAVE ME proved that Future could experiment with sound without sacrificing quality. Unfortunately, High Off Life states a different point: artistic growth is the antithesis to Future’s image. In the end, what we’re left with a collection of good songs that sleekly oscillate between ferocity and anguish, without any reflection from Future on the image of himself that he’s fabricated.