Future has always claimed to have two sides. “Future” is the world-weary, streetwise drug dealer whose untempered aggression fueled many of the rapper’s early classics. But there’s also “Hendrix,” for whom emotional volatility and self-destruction are the guiding artistic principles. For the most part, Future has cultivated his split personalities separately, with 2017’s double release of FUTURE and HNDRXX being the clearest example of the divide. Those albums were both successful on their own terms, but it’s when he allows his personas to interact that Future really shines. On “Throw Away,” a highlight from his 2014 mixtape Monster, Future ingeniously used a beat switch for a musical illustration of this collision. And in the lean-soaked haze of Dirty Sprite 2, he turned this Jekyll and Hyde act into a single unified concept, resulting in his best ever album.
His new album The WIZRD, is meant to mark the end of one era and the beginning of another. Future has recently revealed that he’s off lean, and free from his seven-album contract with Epic Records. Compared with a project like Dirty Sprite 2 or the intoxicated Purple Reign, The WIZRD feels relatively lucid. Future sounds clear-eyed and hungry, exercising full control over the balance between his two personas. “Baptiize,” which features production credits from 808 Mafia veterans Southside and Fuse, is an adept combination of the hard and the soft, the unrepentant gangster and the vulnerable antihero. Over twinkling chimes, Future surveys his success with a vivid Fresh Prince metaphor: “Got a Bel Air address, but this money never changed me / I stay next to Uncle Will, but I’m still the same me / I done seen Jada Pinkett sittin’ out on her blanket.”
Like on “Throw Away,” there’s a beat switch. But here, Future inserts a short interlude before doubling down on his aggression. Sampling the heavenly strings from the intro of Dirty Sprite 2’s “Slave Master,” Future conjures up a brief moment of what qualifies in his world as emotional distress. “She done been in love before but I done got her icy,” he raps, as if trying to absolve himself. The spell is broken when a new beat comes in, twice as intense as the first. Stopping just short of full-on “Hendrix” mode, Future grits his teeth and continues the flex. It’s a clever play, and a perfect showcase for his emotional acuity. Whatever’s next for Future, he will be ready for it.