There really hasn’t been a summer since 2011 where Future wasn’t a definitive voice. Even in 2020, during financial and societal turmoil at the hands of a global pandemic, “Life Is Good” served as an ironic anthem that was inescapable. In the two years that followed, Future went on an unofficial hiatus that, for the most part, was dragged out by leaks, features, and suggestive social media posts indicating that a new album was on the way. In fact, it was in the midst of his partial absence that he secured his first #1 single with Drake’s “Way 2 Sexy.” Nonetheless, Future’s absence created a void in hip-hop that was waiting to be filled as the general public regained a sense of normalcy.
Nearly two years since a global pandemic prevented anyone from leaving homes, Future is evidently planning to have a grip on summer ‘22 with the release of I Never Liked You.
As the poster child for male toxicity, Future previously attempted to flip the switch by calling the term “toxic” subjective. And while Future might have a strong defense for his case, he doesn’t necessarily put it to use over the course of 16+ songs. The Atlanta native does little to explore beyond his comfort zone on his ninth studio album, nor does he combat the public narratives surrounding his persona.
Take “712 pm,” for instance. The high-artillery production handled by MOON, MoXart Beats, TM88, and Wheezy turns Future into a towering menace on a path of destruction. The production is as grisly as it is luxurious, laced with pulsating 808s, and an enchanting vocal sample from Aura Qualic’s “Data 2.0.” Future basks in his notoriety and wealth, providing an all-encompassing introduction to his villainy on this album. He paints a vivid image of a mob-like boss sitting in the backseat of a truck getting chauffeured while simply making a call to get whatever deed he needs done. He brags about his accumulated wealth but it’s more of a testament to his longevity in rap. “Trafficking drug money and trap out this one lane/ Stepped all in mud, this bitch can’t wait to tie my shoelace,” he raps nonchalantly. Off the bat, the album’s protagonist is presented as a mix of an Atlanta oligarch and Lil Mexico’s John Gotti.
The first portion of the album doesn’t hold back from the eccentricities, the passion, and camaraderie that Future’s established with his go-to collaborators. Ye and Future’s collaborative streak continues with “Keep It Burnin.” The two deliver some incredible performances but the polished tone strips the gritty essence of trap similar to how “City Of Gods” watered down drill. Nonetheless, it’s a song that’s bound to set off at Future’s next Rolling Loud set.
“Puffin On Zootiez” remains one of the best singles so far – a perfect pairing of Future’s ear for hazy production and stream-of-conscious songwriting. Nils, Too Dope, and TM88’s spacey and atmospheric production would have been fitting for a moment of introspection. Instead, Future subtly promotes his forthcoming cannabis line with opulent flexes. Future’s vocals are at ease on the record, providing a calmness that sounds like a marriage between several Backwoods and a selection of Better House Fragrances burning in the studio. The haunting vocal sample that emerges on the hook is almost an artistic motif scattered across the album. These moments deliberately cut through the gravelly production, adding an ominous feeling that emphasizes Future’s mystique. Songs like “Voodoo” with Kodak Black or even “Holy Ghost” weave these operatic chants expertly into the production and add a bourgeoisie touch.
At this point, it seems inevitable that Future will release an actual album without the inclusion of his Torontonian counterpart, Drake. Their two separate collaborations on the project are vastly different from one another. Drizzy first appears on “Wait For U” alongside Tems, who stole the show on Certified Lover Boy. It’s hard not to think that “Wait For U” was, at the very least, inspired by “Fountains.” Meanwhile, Drizzy and Future bring the spontaneous energy of WATTBA to “I’m On One.” It’s a song that captures two rappers in their mid-to-late 30s looking for a collection of sugar babies to spoil on decadent all-expenses-paid trips to Europe. The pair of songs feel like companion pieces to each other. While Future and Drake reflect on failed romances and the reason why these relationships collapsed in “Wait For U,” “I’m The One” finds both unapologetically diving into their hedonistic ways, openly indulging in drug and sex-fueled escapades.
Future will always face the pressure of the standard he set with previous projects. Whether that’s the three-peat mixtape run that led to DS2 or the back-to-back releases in 2017 that drew a line in the sand between Future and HNDRXX. I Never Liked You offers room for both parts of his artistry to co-exist with one another but it also comes with a shallow surface. While Future’s seemingly embraced the online persona that his fans have created for him, it’s also a crutch that has led to few stimulating moments on his latest album. The lack of artistic and personal growth on I Never Liked You prevents the album from feeling like a proper breath of fresh air, which is particularly unfortunate after a two-year hiatus. Still, even when he doesn’t sound inspired, Future proves that he can still produce an album better than most.