Album Review: Future – High Off Life

[Epic; 2020]

When Future announced High Off Life just a few days prior to its release, it may have been sudden, but it was hardly a surprise. There have been rumblings from the purple world for months now, and, moreover, a year without a Future release (or two or three)? Unlikely bordering on Ethan Hunt levels of improbable.

Many simply rejoiced, but some of us couldn’t help a nagging feeling of apprehension. For the same reason that it’s best Migos pushed back the expectation-laden CULTURE 3, the thought of Future rampaging through excess and extravagance was a risky prospect in the age of Corona. Was it really the time for a rapper telling us just how rich he is? Would a 21-track (phew) affair from everyone’s favorite lecher prove to be just the life-affirming moment of reckless abandon that we need, or an exhausting tour through everything most of us don’t have, just when we’d rather not be reminded? At no real fault of its own, High Off Life was at risk of feeling out of touch, even inappropriate.

The truth is somewhere in the middle. Yes, Future managed to drop an album with a song called “Trillionaire” the very week of the ‘Jeff Bezos is detestable and very, very rich’ news. Talk about timing. However, for those of us stuck in our small apartments, Future delivering self-help fantasies over some truly effervescent beats can’t help but have a certain appeal.

Future once seemed like he may implode from hubris or despair; there was simply no telling which – and that was half the thrill. He was the ego and the id, self-loathing and self-aggrandizing, often even within the same bar. He was undeniably an artist where you just “got it”: those unable to connect with the deep humanity within his foggy boasts could only shrug at the hype.

Thankfully, most of us clicked, sooner or later. The Honest naysayers (it’s one of his best, folks) hopped right back on board with Monster, and the remaining few somehow still not convinced were unable to deny DS2. Those within the rap world certainly took notice, with even Drake himself eventually calling on a Future-injection when his formula needed a facelift. Watching Future himself go from the guy the Six God blew off for the “Tony Montana” video shoot to the kingpin referring to their ‘friendship’ as “good business” is still a true vibe.

Well, that 2015 connection with everyone’s favorite Canadian feels like a decade ago. However dramatic his personal life can still be, the urgent Future of Monster has long since eased into his well-earned position as an industry leader. The likes of The WIZRD, while still possessing more than its share of charms (and hits), displays an understandably complacent trendsetter.

Even before his new album dropped, the title itself garnered reactions aplenty: High Off Life, after all, was dangerously close to the catchphrase of straight-laced kids objecting to marijuana, and Future has long-since admitted he’s calmed down off the lean. Would we be getting Future’s own Jesus is King-level left turn? Another unlikely prospect.

Surprising title be damned, High Off Life can’t seem to help feeling like a rerun – albeit an enjoyable one. Highlights include the dismissive-yet-plaintive (so, classic Future) “Comfortable”, the epic melodrama of “Accepting My Flaws”, and the thrillingly abrasive “Ridin Strikers”. However, frankly, especially in the era of COVID-19, there is only so far the ‘I was poor and depressed, now I’m rich!’ narrative can take you, and here Future seems pretty intent on running it right into the lean-soaked ground.

Future still possesses more than enough life and charisma to keep his material from sinking to Dark Lane Demo Tapes-level of fatigue, and has enough character in his pinky to make a passable album in his drug-addled sleep. But, for the man who elevated devastated depravity into his own art form, it can’t help but feel a bit disappointing to watch him continue to coast. His incomparable influence is a blessing growing closer to a curse, and lest Future find some new wrinkles in his once truly original formula (long since co-opted by just about everyone following his trail), one wonders how much longer stream-baiting, low-stakes releases of this sort will suffice. Then again, for a guy who set a record – two #1 albums in the same amount of weeks – and saw “Mask Off” get both a Kendrick remix and Rick and Morty feature, have we really given him any reason to change?