Taylor Swift’s two biggest direct contributions to hip-hop—being an inspiration for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and giving Kendrick Lamar his first No. 1 hit—were mainly incidental (unless we’re also counting her collaboration with T-Pain as T-Swizzy), with those rappers entering her orbit simply by being just about the most famous artists in their genre. Swift is one of the least hip-hop adjacent major pop stars of her generation, but she’s still a gravitational force, a sun that pulls everything towards her.
On the surface, the only thing directly linking Future with Taylor Swift—aside from sheer frame—is that they’re both a compilation of contradictions packaged together with sharp cheekbones. Future told Rolling Stone last year that DJ Esco motivated him to return to his street roots, but this year, he released HNDRXX, his pop-flavored creative peak, and said it was the album he always wanted to make. Nine months later, amidst the autumnal foliage, we’ve arrived here: Reputation, track 2, “End Game” featuring Ed Sheeran and Future.
Most of Reputation is fine because even though it marks an even sharper turn into villainy for Swift, it carries a familiarity that feels specific to her. Future made a similar shift following his break-up with Ciara, but he leaned into that lane so aggressively that he fully owned it, making him a bizarrely good fit for a modern day Swift song, though one who could easily overshadow it. Sheeran, who’s in an intense battle with his accent in his anchoring verse, is as quaint and inoffensive as a half-empty mayonnaise jar. His voice just does not have the grit necessary to make any of the implicit drama of a rapped line like “after the storm, something was born on the 4th of July” convincing. “End Game” is about attempting to find love in spite of real or perceived enemies (“real big enemies,” as Taylor calls them), but Future has already made far better songs and verses about this concept—full albums in fact. Coming in at eight bars and with known Future truisms like, “I got a bad boy persona, that’s what they like,” his performance on “End Game” is a high-priced microwavable ration. Don’t cheat yourself—treat yourself to the readily streamable full course.