Epic Records

If you only paid attention to the way it begins and ends, you might mistake Future's seventh studio album as his introspective masterpiece. For “Never Stop” and “Tricks on Me”—two songs that bookend the 20-song Future Hndrxx Presents: The Wizrd—rate high among moments in which the Auto-Tune super-rapper actually goes mask off.

The two longest, soberest and best-written tracks on the first major rap album of 2019 have Nayvadius Wilburn reflecting on where he came from (“You can tell I’ve been broke when you look into my eyes”), the pain he endured to reach this point and what keeps him from not totally succumbing to codeine and promethazine (“Probably lose my sanity if I ain’t have babies”).

The soul-baring “Never Stop”—co-produced by Billboard Hitmakers and ATL Jacob, a go-to boardsman for this project—flicks at so many rags-to-riches autobiographical details (getting shot as a teen, messing around with an unnamed pop star, convincing Grandma to serve dope) that beg for an elaboration that never really comes.

Fame and its fortunate trappings have swapped Future’s external demons for internal ones, leaving the Wizard (a nickname bestowed upon Wilburn by a late uncle) numbed by his own success and hardened by relationships that morphed into court cases.

“Love is just a word, it don’t matter to me/I got so rich, nothing matters to me,” he bemoans.

As sad and clear-eyed as those sentiments are, it’s strange how quick the braided tornado can flip the switch and dive headfirst into the types of no-brainer club bangers—thick with bass, tripping with drums and structured around a worming hook—on which he’s built a decade-long career in a genre that cycles through its stars like fast fashion.

Thunderous and gleefully materialistic, the second-single banger “Crushed Up,” for example, was literally inspired by Future’s excitement over a new diamond-encrusted watch he bought. It’s arrogant and obnoxious and pointless, yet you want to blast it 10 times in a row while running errands.

So although the 35-year-old artist keeps uncovering clever paths to boast about the women in his Rolodexes and the sparkles in his Rolexes—“I just put my whole damn arm in the fridge”—it’s Future’s underlying, unrelenting paranoia that’s more compelling.

“I just took an AK to a dinner date,” he hurls at one point—a wonderful left-field line that leaves a menu of issues to unpack.

Mistrust—of sexual partners, the media, other rappers—is the uneasy byproduct of this jumpin’-on-a-jet lifestyle that Future flaunts. He’ll rap, very well, about elevators and butlers and the Benz coupe with a fish tank large enough to house a shark. “Penthouse got a living room with a garage in it/I can park in it/Damn, that's crazy, but it's true,” Future boasts through filtered vocals on “Krazy but True,” one of a half-dozen standouts here.

Yet the leap from debauchery to decadence certainly ain’t seamless. How the Atlanta trap champ rhymes about the gated-community life he’s achieved, you can’t help but flashback to a line from one of his Dungeon Family predecessors, Cee-Lo: “But every now and then, I wonder if the gate was put up to keep crime out or to keep our ass in.”

As a whole, The Wizard’s aesthetic—with its predictably walloping thump courtesy of a production team including Wheezy, Richie Souf, Southside, Tay Keith—blends that of 2017’s double whammy of Future and Hndrxx. The lean guest list of trap all-stars Young Thug, Gunna and Travis Scott delivers solid if unspectacular support down the home stretch.

Diehard Future fans, of which there are legion, will be satisfied. But at 20 tracks, The Wizrd runs overlong. Jewels like “F&N” (with its nifty beat switch), “Promise U That” and “Faceshot” run the risk of getting lost in all the streaming.

Our protagonist’s quest to be as extraordinary as his latest nickname finally hits on Nineteen85’s sombre, searing closer, “Tricks on Me.” The urgency we’re so accustomed to hearing in the club-ready instrumentals weasels its way into the ink. The murder and tears, the pressure and toxic Sprite, it all gets too much.

“I was lettin' the shit I can't control destroy me/It was goin' too deep for you, baby, pardon me/I tried to treat that shit just like a party/I'ma feel weak if I tell you sorry,” Future confesses.

Seven albums in, there is a sense—a hint—that Future could evolve further for his next act. Taking that chance might come at the cost of a shiny new watch, though. —Luke Fox

See Photos of Future's Different Looks Over the Years