If you’re going to call yourself Future, you’d better have at least a tenuous grasp on modernity, and with his distinctive rap style allied to cutting-edge beats, Nayvadius DeMun Wilburn – for such is Future’s rather splendid given name – certainly fulfills that requirement.
You’d also better have, if not popularity, then at least a presence bordering on ubiquity, which Future is fast approaching, in America at least. In the R&B world, “heat” is measured partly by collaborative frequency, and in that regard, he’s on fire, with dozens of credits over the past couple of years, including a complete mixtape album recorded with Drake, What a Time to Be Alive, debuting at number one last September.
He’s prolific, too: since then, Future has released another mixtape, Purple Reign, this January, effectively as a promotional springboard for EVOL, the follow-up to last July’s chart-topping DS2. You can’t fault his industry, at least. Indeed, with that sort of output, he’s virtually an industry on his own.
The title EVOL, besides being LOVE backwards, also refers, according to Future, to the notion of evolution; though in what context isn’t exactly clear. His raps here still stick fairly closely to the trap-music conventions that have dominated the hip-hop scene in Future’s hometown Atlanta for the past decade or so. As he acknowledges in “Program”, it’s a world he can’t escape: “Married to the trap, that’s the program/My BFF is cash, that’s the program”. But within those parameters, he’s managed to stake out his own territory thanks largely to his languid Dirty South delivery, with its distinctive edge of autotune resonance adding a frisson of alienation to a drawl that recalls both Nelly’s libidinous charm and Snoop Dogg’s gangsta cool.
Swathed in echo and reverb, Future’s raps on tracks like “Maybach” and “Ain’t No Time” are miasmic flows of seemingly disconnected phrases, from which protrude the usual brand-spattered references to girls, guns, cars, bling and booze. And set against the stark electro beats of producers Metro Boomin and Southside, with their sinister, swirling synth figures, subterranean basslines and those incessant staccato electro hi-hats that sound like angry dolphins, it’s an effective enough method, especially when applied to the enervating confusion of the hip-hop gangsta lifestyle on tracks such as “Fly Shit Only”, “Photo Copied” and “Lil Haiti Baby”.
The last is particularly evocative, with its triumphal fanfare loop of tinny synth-horns, and Future getting increasingly frantic, blurting ever more desperately as the pressure of success grows. But elsewhere, things can become virtually unintelligible, as when his autotuned bleating is swept up in the whirlpool of fizzing synths in “Lie to Me”.
Other highlights include the mistrustful “Seven Rings”, with its backdrop of synth lines and eerie echoing voices deftly creating an atmosphere of paranoia; and the frankly ungentlemanly “Xanny Family”, featuring Future’s hypnotic monotone over squiggles and scrawls of synth and dark, spacious booming bass as he celebrates some carnal encounter.