[Atlantic; 2020]

In September 2015, Drake and Future released the collaborative mixtape What a Time to Be Alive. Expectations were high; both artists were absolutely on top of the game, Drake having dropped the blockbuster single “Hotline Bling” as well the extremely viral Meek Mill diss-track “Back to Back” in the summer. Future had, so far that year, released Beast Mode, 56 Nights and DS2 (yes, those all came out in 2015). The results of their sure-fire collab? A resounding “eh.” Two years later, Future and Young Thug released the collaborative tape Super Slimey. A year after that, Future and the late Juice WRLD released another collaborative mixtape, WRLD on Drugs. Now we have Future and Lil Uzi Vert’s Pluto x Baby Pluto.

All of these projects are underwhelming, and not for lack of talent. Future, Drake, Young Thug, Lil Uzi Vert and Juice WRLD have all released much better full-length projects in the past, so what’s the problem? Is it the nature of these collaborative projects? Is it Future’s schtick wearing thin? Maybe it’s a bit of both. 

A thread that runs through all of these collaborative mixtapes is their complicated format. The rise of streaming services in the 2010s effectively blurred the lines between album, mixtape, and ‘project’ in rap music. Drake’s 2015 release If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late was billed as a ‘commercial mixtape’, reflecting the artist’s intention that it was not as heavily curated or artistic as his albums; it wasn’t advertised as the follow-up to Nothing Was the Same (thus not his next ‘album’), nor was it a free digital download (like most mixtapes). 

What A Time… and the rest of the aforementioned Future collaborations followed this format. Granted, not all ‘albums’ have an artistic statement, and not all classic mixtapes were released for free. But what we’ve lost in this gray area is the manic excitement of tapes like 2013’s Monster and the polished statement of albums like the following year’s Honest. Instead, we get releases like Travis Scott and Quavo’s Huncho Jack, Jack Huncho from 2017 – perhaps the most forgettable collaboration between two of contemporary rap’s biggest superstars. 

Pluto x Baby Pluto is certainly better than that, but it doesn’t really sound like an album or a mixtape. It sounds like 16 songs that Future and Lil Uzi Vert recorded together and threw onto streaming services without much consideration for sequencing or changes in theme and sound – because that’s what it is. And, although rushing out to buy a CD on release day is a thing of the past, that’s not what all new rap releases are today. The new 2 Chainz album, compared to Pluto x Baby Pluto, feels curated. It’s got features and sequencing (and by the way, Lil Uzi Vert sounds great on it).

So yes, this release suffers from its format of album-mixtape limbo, but I’m not going to let Future off the hook that easily, as he is part of what makes all of these projects weaker than they could be. His 2016-2020 run, while not without highlights, is simply a step down from his breakout years in 2011-2015. He usually revisits the same subject matter over the same production, while Lil Uzi has been doing more exciting things. 

Compare the two solo tracks here on Pluto x Baby Pluto. Future’s “Rockstar Chainz” is a bore, Fewtch repeating “Draco, draco draco” over a typical trap beat. Uzi’s “Lullaby”, on the other hand, is a little weird: there’s a melodic vocal sample in the back of the mix that can’t be deciphered, and he is rapping about an early exposure to violence causing his inability to love. Even if Uzi can be guilty of trap-rap clichés, his song is way more interesting.

I’m not a Future hater either, I love the guy, and he has his moments here. “Real Baby Pluto” and “Million Dollar Play” prove that Future and Zaytoven always works (see their full-length collab BEASTMODE 2, which I think is his best project of the past three years). Future sounds completely in his bag on these tracks; on “Million Dollar Play” he nearly runs out of breath rapping “Po up, po up, po up, po up, po up… go up!” – it’s a moment where he sounds genuinely excited instead of going through the motions. “Bankroll” is excellent, too, as Future effortlessly croons “I got more keys than a custodian / I could switch my cars every day,” and you remember he’s the Hendrix of this trap shit.

Lyrically, there are few surprises here – drugs, guns and clothes are the big topics. These dudes love getting high and they love wearing… Marni? Okay, if you want to spend $900 on a shirt that looks like a bad Yayoi Kusama, go for it. At least it’s not as horrendous as Palm Angels. “I Don’t Wanna Break Up” mines the familiar territory of Uzi’s “XO Tour Llif3” to some success, although that song has already received an actual sequel this year on Eternal Atake’s “P2”, so it doesn’t stand out here as something new.

Pluto x Baby Pluto could be better, but this might only be the appetizer from these two if Uzi’s recent tweets are any indication. It is entirely possible that he could repeat what he did with Eternal Atake, following the original release with an improved “Deluxe” version a week later. In that case, I might have egg on my face a week from now. Until then, we are left with a big collection of tracks that is sure to please some undemanding fans, but just misses the mark as a great release.

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