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Future Recaptures His Dark Magic on ‘High Off Life’

On his new album, the rapper knows exactly what you want to hear and how to say it

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The notion of Future as “men’s Beyoncé” is an old one that no one takes seriously, first because it runs on the fuel of outmoded battle-of-the-sexes exasperation, and second, because being a Beyoncé fan and being a Future fan aren’t jointly exhaustive. (Beyoncé is alsomen’s Beyoncé,” Future created some of the melodies on “Drunk in Love,” etc.) Still, whoever had the notion first had a point. During his hedonistic zenith, Future became something like the full moon for otherwise harmless and agreeable men—DS2 came out in July 2015, and suddenly everyone was bedding someone else’s girlfriend in Gucci flip-flops, and no one had any manners for sluts. For embodying our worst impulses, “2015 Future” was soon talked about, though not as loudly, like “Mixtape Wayne” or “Feature Eminem.” You expected the worst of him, and he outdid even your expectations, once or twice a project.

Let’s call it an incivility fetish. To pull an example from his latest release, High Off Life, you will probably never, for instance, say “I wouldn’t care if I never seent your face again, you crazy bitch” (“Posted With Demons”) to an actual person—you may feel confident enough to say it only in the privacy of your own car, or on a dance floor surrounded by your closest friends, without a woman in sight.

In that sense—in the way that new Future drops to transformative, this my shit cataclysm and works on a listener like liquid courage—he is “men’s Beyoncé.”

You think of him maybe, at this point, as the bad influence hanging around the high school in a leather perfecto, tempting the seniors off their chartered course to a college-issued job and a nuclear family. On the cover of High Off Life, he’s actually wearing the jacket. However, if you consider last year’s Save Me EP, which felt, at times, a little hammy and melodramatic (even for Future), on his latest release, Future cuts a different figure. In my more lucid moments, like during the half-hearted collaborative efforts with Travis Scott (“Solitaires”) and Young Thug (“Harlem Shake”), he’s a weary showman, suffering through his popular routine once more—maintaining his ultravisibility, but not really seen; enjoying the benefits of megafame, but not really known.

That may be a projection, but there’s isn’t much to Future’s story. He sold crack before penning hooks in the Dungeon, at some point he wisely ditched the name “Meathead the Phuture” for just “Future,” something something something, he had an extremely public failed engagement with Ciara, and canonically, he has been waking up covered in strange women and avoiding his feelings ever since. What felt like genuine emotional turmoil on Monster scanned as kayfabe on Save Me, and finally, on High Off Life, “Future” has become a loose collection of revenge fantasies, and not like—I don’t know, what’s something you’d say about an artist you feel you’re learning stuff about—an extraordinary person experiencing ordinary pain. Around Thanksgiving or so, when Twitter users began sending fake texts to their exes online, Future completed his sublimation into a meme. When he actually says the word “toxic” on “Ridin Strikers,” it can pull you out of the song if you let it, like a character saying the title of the movie.

In fact, there may never have been a greater divergence, at any point in his career, between (a) Future’s image as a self-destructive, misogynistic cyborg who fills his heart cavity with lean and nudes and (b) the contentment he feels in his personal life. (The album was almost titled Life Is Good, until his team realized at the last minute how extremely not-good life presently is for most people.) If you were to look at this Instagram update (he’s wearing the leather jacket again) you’d assume “Accepting My Flaws” was about absolving himself of the responsibility of working on them, and it maybe sort of still is, but first and foremost, the track is a gushy love letter to Lori Harvey.

I always tell her she my therapy, I told her it was rough
She acceptin’ all my flaws, I got diamonds with the cut
I’ve been sufferin’ withdrawals, missin’ out on real love

All the biographical stuff aside, High Off Life is an occasionally lazy but intermittently amazing album that delivers overall. With a few exceptions like “Accepting My Flaws” and “All Bad,” a hyperactive joint effort with Lil Uzi Vert, High Off Life skews dark and mistrustful, with beat placements from Wheezy, Southside, and 808 Mafia and truly unscrupulous one-liners like “you talkin’ back to me I’ma cut you throat” (“Too Comfortable”). Obviously it’s the size of two albums and the themes are still largely the same. Future counts his luxuries and games out disproportionate responses to totally reasonable complaints of infidelity, but there are shades of the indefinable something that made the Future Hive a thing in the first place. Maybe it’s the stepping-on-hot-coals cadence on “Touch the Sky” (which could be a “Trap Niggas” B-Side) or the black-hearted posturing on “Posted With Demons.” Either way, catch me riding around scream-singing about things I’d never actually do.