It’s been pretty annoying lately to be witnessing just how much hip-hop music is stuck in a rut creatively, and quite a bit of that can be attributed to young artists trying to ride on the coattails of musical styles popularized by veterans of the game like Future. The man drops a lot of music, and he’s frequently inconsistent with just how much effort he puts into it, but his eighth studio album High Off Life proves that one of the OGs still knows how to do it the best as the Atlanta figurehead drops one of his better projects in a storied career. Interestingly, his sales have been reflecting that as it is projected to be his best ever first-week debut. While these are far from Future’s most creative instrumental palates ever and the album’s middle does lapse into some overdone trap music tropes, so much of what sells this one is Future taking some cues from close collaborators like Young Thug and Travis Scott and infusing his vocal delivery with personality and off-the-wall ad-libs and inflections.
The opening track “Trapped In The Sun” already shows off how much Future has been switching up his cadences – appropriately for an album titled High Off Life, although Future’s subject matter takes a few deep dives into the toxicity of his lifestyle and upbringing as always, he certainly sounds a lot more joyful and self-assured on a track like this one. Over a highly cinematic piano beat and some basic trap hi-hats, Future flexes his cars with a slightly melodic cadence that lets him take a different catchy approach to each verse and jubilantly throw away the ends of his sentences in the chorus. The most obvious influence from someone like Young Thug with the new injection of personality into Future’s tracks comes on the track “Touch the Sky,” which might be the best one here. A pretty straightforward but undeniably hard trap banger, Future has an audible smile on his face as he closes the chorus with an Andre the Giant reference in a slow triplet flow and applies a hilarious amount of melisma to his vocals that just comes off as confident and carefree on the bridge. At the same time, another early track in “HiTek Tek” showcases a whole different side of what can make Future so appealing – sometimes, he’s so straight to the point with his lyricism and shorter bursts of phrase that it’s actually pretty funny, especially when he sounds more like he’s in on the joke like he does here. The track also has one of the best beats on the album from producer ATL Jacob, the quicker-paced synths cascading like a rain of diamonds as Future continues to relish in his riches. If you’re looking for the trademark incredible beat switch on nearly every Future project, it appears on the track “Ridin Strikers,” the track suddenly getting darker with some distorted piano keys as a news report reports a bank robbery. After all the flexing Future does on this project, surely he doesn’t need to resort to something like that, but I digress.
Although relatively light on features for a high-profile rap album, Future always plays well off of his fellow superstars and the guest appearances – save for Young Thug himself on the uncharacteristically awkwardly empty and underwritten track “Harlem Shake” which easily could have been cut – make the absolute most of their guest spots and infuse some of their own personal style that Future’s newly malleable vocals adapt to surprisingly well. Travis Scott drops one of his best features in a while onto the psychedelic track “Solitaires,” seeing the two titans jump in and out of the track seemingly at random in a “Sicko Mode” style transfusion of their strengths, while “All Bad” with Lil Uzi Vert easily could have been one of the better tracks on Eternal Atake, zany carnival-style synths bouncing around the track as Future adopts Uzi’s gleeful and childlike vocal inflections. The track “Trillionaire” is one of the only real highlights of the middle portion of the album, and it makes me absolutely certain that NBA Youngboy should only drop tracks where he trades bars back and forth with someone else. This isn’t the first time this year that the young upstart’s boundless energy has complemented someone else well on a track, the two alternating catchy melodic lines over a calming and positive trap instrumental that serves as a nice contrast.
If High Off Life were edited down to a 10-track album – let’s say, take the first 5, the last 4, and “Trillionaire,” – it might easily have been a contender for rap album of the year. However, for all the great stuff Future does give us here there’s quite a bit of filler bogging down the middle that sees Future reverting to some of his lazier techniques. The track “One Of My,” which essentially sees him beginning every line with the titular phrase in a gravelly, desensitized voice, might have been much more exciting if Future didn’t sound like he was reading off his grocery list. “Posted With Demons” and “Hard To Choose One” are both pretty exhaustingly repetitive with regards to Future’s flows as well as his lyrics, which is unfortunate as both tracks have some pretty fantastic instrumentals – the sad violin that creeps into the mix of former is an inspired touch, while the latter makes use of quickly alternating high-pitched synths from Southside. Tracks like “Up The River” and “Pray For A Key” are perfectly serviceable trap cuts, but there’s nothing that immediately sticks with you like many of the other tracks here.
Luckily, things pick up in a big way in the album’s last couple tracks. Future dropping a fast-paced hook over the syncopated guitar instrumental of “Too Comfortable” is a great moment on a track that feels all too appropriate for our current situation as he discusses how quickly things can switch up in his life, while “Outer Space Bih” is just another one where it’s clear how much fun he’s having, stuttering his flow and breezing through a series of outlandishly quotable lyrics. For someone who his fans often jokingly refer to as the “father of misogyny,” Future’s genuinely adorable romantic dedication to his girlfriend on the track “Accepting My Flaws” is a fantastic way to close things out as he takes a single long verse to analyze his decision to leave his old life behind and stay dedicated to somebody.
Future wanted to rename this project from its original title, Life Is Good, to avoid being tone-deaf with regards to all the madness going on in the world at the moment, but a project with such a positive title and an artist having the time of his life making it is the kind of thing we needed right now. 2020 still hasn’t given us a truly great rap album, but I’ll take this in the meantime.
Favourite Tracks: Touch The Sky, Too Comfortable, Trapped In The Sun, All Bad, Solitaires
Least Favourite Track: Harlem Shake