Future and I have a complicated relationship, and by that I mean I have a complicated relationship with Future and he doesn't know I exist.
For years I just didn't particularly care about the man. While most of the internet was devoted to either declaring him the latest sign of hip-hop's apocalypse, or over-intellectualizing his "somehow austere and baroque sonic dissonance" because they couldn't bring themselves to simply write that they liked Auto-Tuned trap music, I wasn't particularly pulled in either direction. He had his lane, I wasn't in it, and if you were, happy driving to you.
But for whatever reason I decided to re-approach Future's music with an open mind when DS2 dropped and found myself pressing repeat. There was a level of emotion there that I hadn't heard before, and then when he was clearly the better half of What a Time to Be Alive I found myself slowly but surely merging into the Future-fan lane.
But right when I was about to fully dig in he'd admitted that he'd been lying about his drug addiction and I had to put my fork down. I can't say it completely spoiled my appetite for his music, but it certainly soured my taste for it. When you think you've been eating all-beef franks and then learn it's SPAM instead, it's hard to keep chewing with the same gusto.
And so Future's new EVOL album arrives at a time when my personal feelings about his music hang in the balance but overall he's never been more popular. He essentially pulled the project's album art from a Google Image search, it didn't matter, people still loved it. The whole "love backwards looks a lot like evil" thing is the kind of wordplay you find in teenage poetry. It didn't matter, people still loved it. He released the album through Apple Music, a service only a fraction of his fanbase is subscribed to, on a Friday night and then Beyonce promptly took over the internet hours later. So far, that doesn' seem to matter. As is so often the case, the only thing that ultimately matters is the music, so let's focus on the music.
Like I did with DS2 I'm approaching this with an open mind, ready to either say fuck it I'm a fan, swear him off entirely, or go back to not really caring either way. And per traditional 1 Listen Review rules, this will be my gut reaction as I listen for the first time, no pausing or rewinding, no editing, no rewriting. Just stream of consciousness reactions, let's go.
1. "Ain't No Time"
Pretty much exactly what I expected, the beat's on point. Southside blends those hazy bells with some really cutting drums, and Future matches it with some equally hypnotic melodies. This is some of that ultra low key stunting, like you can't even work up the energy to pick up the stack of cash and pretend like it's a phone, but trust, you could if you wanted to. Mood music, it's....fine. Basically the reason the dab was invented.
2. "In Her Mouth"
I wonder what this song could possible be about? My guess is Future's efforts to ensure that poor people receive the dental care they need. Oh, no, whoops, it's actually about fucking the District Attorney in her mouth. Stay classy San Diego. It just occured to me, has Future ever really been in serious trouble with the law? I'll have to Google that later, I'll also have to Genuis that "stacks on me like Alpo" line - am I hearing that right? Money like dog food? That can't be it. So far we haven't heard any of the pain/regret etc. that's run through a lot of Future's recent work and really made it stand out. He may regret that hook if he ever ends up on trial though.
Beast of a beat switch in style, consider my attention grabbed again. I'm starting to see how Future manages to crank out so much music - he's just making these stream of consciousness stunting melodies over and over again. That's not necessarily an insult, there's some real talent to being able to just catch some energy and go, but there's no way he's spending any real time on these songs. It's almost funny to picture him actually writing down these lyrics - "what rhymes with champagne bath? Hmmm......."
4. "Xanny Family"
Oh, wait, "Maybach" is over? My bad, I got caught up in imagining his recording process. "Maybach" was another high-energy vibe track, at the very least I appreciate "Xanny Family" for the Kanye-joke. This joint's fittingly far more laid back - really, Future should be writing for R&B singers constantly, he just can't help but crank out melodic hooks. (Remember he wrote "Body Party" for Ciara.) And just like that it's over.
5. "Lil Haiti Baby"
Why does this song immediately sound like a DJ Khaled mixtape joint circa like 2010. Like...it sounds like Ace Hood should be starting out his verse right about now. Oh, now the bass kicked in and the beat goes to another level, nevermind. Oh shit, he just shouted out Khaled? Some prophecy on my part. This is the livest Future's sounded so far, my favorite vocal performance from him so far. He must have done a few bumps to dig him out of that Xanax ditch.
So far this album has been...if not underwhelming than just straight up whelming...but I'm finally feeling invested.
6. "Photo Copied"
Ok, I'm finally into this thing, let's go. Future declaring his refusal to cuddle; come on, don't front Future. You know you love to cuddle - he feels like a small spoon. You know how some Saturday Night Live skits start off with a really funny joke but then as the skit keeps going it becomes evident they don't have an actual skit, just one joke they're trying to stretch out for a few minutes? This is that. If "Lil Haiti Baby" was the best song yet this is the worst.
7. "Seven Rings"
That bass sounds like some Bay Area slapper shit. Is this kind of eerie sound a vocal sample? Damn, I'm digging it. And a Robert Horry reference? I'm all in. Man, this one's hitting. It's amazing how much just a little tweak in the beat can help a song stand out. Maybe this is just the blessing and curse of Future. He's going to shoot every shot he can and you just have to live through the misses to get to the hits. Forget Horry, he's the rap game Jamal Crawford. This one's a hit.
8. "Lie to Me"
What was I just saying about how we could be writing for every female R&B singer on the planet? Switch up the lyrics a bit and you could hand this to Tinashe and watch her run through the charts with it. Ad-lib game also on point here - full disclosure I have absolutely no idea what he's saying on that hook, but it doesn't seem to matter. My best guess is "I'm a mall bag of miles, I'm a mall bag of dimes" and you can't convince me that's not not what he's saying. My head's rocking back and forth like Mayweather dodging punches, I'll be going back to this one.
And now we're back to some of the more formulaic joints we were getting earlier in the album, but I'm in such a good mood after "Lie to Me" I don't even mind. No....wait...the seconds are ticking by and I'm getting increasingly bored. It's crazy how something can be so loud and make you so tired at the same time. The song is good, but it's good in the exact same way all his other good songs are good, which is almost the same thing as bad. It starts feeling less like music and more like a program.
10. "Low Life" (ft. The Weeknd)
The most successful fake drug addict in music swings by for some guest verse action. I'd just like to take a moment to acknowledge that Metro Boomin has The Weeknd on his beats now, that young man's really doing it. In classic Weeknd "guest" fashion he absolutely takes over the song. There has to be some rule Abel has that says if he guests he has to get the hook and first verse. Remember that Wiz song with The Weeknd where you don't even hear Wiz' voice until like four minutes in?
Nice "I can't feel my face" reference by Future, this one's pretty damn good. His rifle count just jumped from 10 rifles to 20 rilfes in the space of four bars. He must have received a new shipment in mid-track. Nice switch up at the end of the song with the string section. I'd take a whole EP from Future and The Weeknd, they could call it What A Time To Pretend To Have Substance Abuse Issues.
11. "Fly Shit Only"
Those guitar strings are bringing me back to the mid-90s, I dig how they blend into the rest of the beat. "All of this is about living lavish" - that sums it all up right there. Those cymbal crashes are a bit much - I'VE GOT A FEVER AND THE ONLY PRESCRIPTION IS MORE CYMBALS - but on the whole it's still a hypnotic track. Nothing incredible, but at least it's a nice change of pace to close out an album with.
For an album presumably about love, or the opposite of love, this album really has nothing to do with love. In fact, nearly all of the emotion, pain and confliction that have elevated Future from a reasonably popular rapper to one of the most popular rappers in the game are missing here. There's not even a glimmer of "I choose the dirty over you," not a glance of "I see hell everywhere." This is codeine sanity.
Good but nowhere near great, if Future had combined all the best tracks off Purple Reign and EVOL we might have had something great. But instead EVOL feels more like a placeholder, not capable of driving off existing fans or grabbing new ones, including me.
[By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]