A decade and 16(!) projects into his career, Future’s influence cannot be disputed. It also means there’s nothing left for him to prove, as most of his recent output has been truly hit or miss, sounding at times like Future is on auto-pilot in the studio. Case in point – his last solo project High Off Life contained some of his quirkiest bangers and an overall sense of fun that hadn’t been present in a while, but his collaborative project with Lil Uzi Vert released in the same year was one of the blandest, most forgettable major releases of 2020. While there’s still not a lot of structure on quite a few of these new tracks, I NEVER LIKED YOU at least veers closer towards the former. We’ve reached the point where some of the best trap beats in the game will inevitably be sent Future’s way, and his style is so classic and defined that he could do almost anything on the beat and it’d still achieve the desired result for many of his fans. It’s hit or miss again, but there are a couple tracks on this project that will be played for years to come.
The opening track “712PM” has a level of ambition that I truly wish continued throughout the rest of the project. Trap wizards TM88 and Wheezy link up and show that the genre doesn’t have to get stale as they blend together a sample from Hatsune Miku, a creepy violin loop and a combination of trap hi-hats and some old-school percussion styles that has made such a resurgence as of late. As previously mentioned, it almost doesn’t matter what Future does on this track – but it’s one of his better performances, as his voice cracks genuinely add to it and give the impression that he’s giving his all. Plus, he drops a couple absolutely depraved bars. From there, things get a little more uneven. “I’M DAT N****” keeps up the horror movie-style instrumentals with a ghostly piano melody and some more involved flows than usual from Future, but it doesn’t quite earn its awkwardly lengthy runtime and loses its energy in transitional moments. Future’s “ha…ha…” ad-libs are fully concert-ready, however. “KEEP IT BURNIN” proves Kanye West is still capable of giving listeners goosebumps, but it would have been much better if it were a solo West track. Hearing Future sound like he’s dozing off in contrast to West’s triumphant return to unshaken confidence bars and giving the unhinged, screaming performance that the electrifying instrumental deserves is one of the year’s biggest missed opportunities. “FOR A NUT,” as well, combines some of the most unforgivable and bizarre lyrical moments and vocal performances with the album’s best beat. What sounds like a digitized clarinet going up and down the scales makes for a creative and invigorating sound while Future, Gunna and Young Thug ramble about monkey nuts and misogyny up front.
People have been clamoring for the track “PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ” ever since the beat was teased in a snippet a while ago – and for good reason. Although it feels like the trendsetter is trying his hand at newer trends, Future steps up to the challenge of tackling a chilled-out, melodic rap track and a shuffling, contemplative beat. Hearing him flowing so smoothly over some operatic vocal samples in the back is definitely something new and interesting – which is certainly welcome on an album like this one. Already on its way to becoming massive, “WAIT FOR U” is another track that prioritizes a vibe over a song and falls much shorter as a result. The sample from a Tems track is fantastic – she sounds great in the background, but Future and Drake create what the older generation thinks all mumble rap sounds like on top. Drake especially sounds like he’s cashing a cheque with some bars that verge on what a Drake parody account might come up with. Future doesn’t do much better in that regard on the track “GOLD STACKS,” where his bars don’t even rhyme half the time as he casually lists some of his accomplishments. Despite the engaging stuttering and cinematic beat, this is where the great instrumentals carrying Future regardless runs thin.
Quite a few of the tracks in the back half are optimized for streaming – that is, so short and underdeveloped that you’ll play them multiple times in a row. Still, many of them have positive attributes that would have been nice to hear in a full song. “LOVE YOU BETTER” sees Future getting genuinely soulful vocally, and it’s nice to hear a new side of him as he toasts to his grandma for teaching him a little respect towards the opposite sex for once. “MASSAGING ME” has the manic trap energy of a typical Future intro, but doesn’t even hit two minutes and leaves me wanting much more, while “WE JUS WANNA GET HIGH” threatens to waste another engaging beat full of flute samples, but Future’s performance actually saves this one with an overdose of personality. The two tracks surrounding them are “CHICKENS,” one of the most typical trap songs on the project that Future expectedly knocks out of the park with his level of experience while his amped-up performance provides a nice contrast for EST Gee’s more casual drawl, and “VOODOO,” which features a stellar singing performance from an unrecognizable Kodak Black although Future’s verses sound completely unfinished and leave a lot of empty space.
The inconsistency remains consistent all the way up to the project’s end, but the highs remain as high as ever. Future definitely doesn’t do enough to measure up to the godlike choral samples in the back of “HOLY GHOST,” not to mention bragging about his NFTs, but “THE WAY THINGS GOING” is a gem late in the tracklist. Sounding like a Zaytoven beat with the soulful pianos and guitars, Future over what could easily pass for live instrumentation is much more engaging than most of the tracks here – especially when he unexpectedly remains firmly in the syncopated pockets. “I’M ON ONE” is more standard material for Future, but Drake clearly wanted one of his typical mic-drop appearances and strides onto the track with some of his classic charisma, while “BACK TO THE BASICS” closes the project with a beat that was apparently meant for the 6 God’s album – you can tell, it’s the kind of woozy instrumental that he’d just ramble on for 5 or 6 minutes on top of, and it’s not very well suited for Future.
While I NEVER LIKED YOU doesn’t quite measure up to the level of quality on High Off Life, it’s clear that Future is in the hitmaking bag he knows so well and many of the tracks off of this project will last much longer in the cultural consciousness. While not everything connects, you can always trust him to provide a couple bangers. He’ll probably do it again next year, too.
Favourite Tracks: 712PM, THE WAY THINGS GOING, PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ, CHICKENS
Least Favourite Track: GOLD STACKS