So Long Dirty Sprite: Future HNDRXX and Trap Music Without Codeine
Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD is not an especially good Future album, not when you compare it to works like 56 Nights, Monster, or DS2. It’s bloated at 20 songs, with half-finished or half-baked concepts that have moments of intrigue but never take the full plunge into the codeine-swirling world in which Future’s genius has typically thrived. That might be because he’s quit Lean now (congratulations Nayvadius!), but it also might be because this release satisfies the last of the seven albums he’s been contracted for with his label. It might be because he’s made so much money that he’s finally graduated to the kinds of capitalistic problems that artists like Jay Z endure in their creative lulls. All of the makings of a classic Future album are there – poignant bars about tragedy and loss, creative brags about his wealth, inventive flows and beats, a palpable ambivalence about the violence he has caused and endured – but there’s also evidence that maybe the half-decade run of putting out four of five genre-expanding releases every year has left him without the desire to reinvent himself, and hip hop, along the way.
As a Future stan, I refuse to believe that he can’t do that; he has more creative ingenuity than pretty much any other contemporary mainstream artist (save, maybe, Young Thug). What The WIZRD makes clear however (and really the last two or three projects as well) is that Future might be tired of creating new modes of survival through his artistry. Either that or his overcoming lean addiction and a decade-plus of musical output have helped him reach a point where his drug-fueled artistry is no longer the sole means of his survival. Instead, The WIZRD is Future’s opportunity to reflect from a distance afforded him by his obscene wealth, creative success, and relative sobriety.
Tracks like “Baptiize” epitomize this reflective positionality, as the song samples one of his most haunting tracks from his 2015 release DS2, “Slave Master.” Instead of feeling better from “pouring a two zip” (pouring codeine into soda), “Baptiize” finds Future getting reborn in VVS diamonds on his wrist. In both songs, there’s a need for rejuvenation, but the mechanism through which that revitalization is had is rather telling. Throughout The WIZRD we’re presented with similar juxtapositions, reminders of where Future has been and what he’s gone through, while we’re also asked to move past that and recognize the icon that has emerged on the other side. “Call the Coroner” explicitly refuses to broach the subject of Future’s drug-dealing past, despite exclaiming that he wants to “live like a drug lord, but I wanna be glorious.” Instead, the song slips in a subtle reference to his codeine addiction, in between lines about his Lamborghini and throwing cash up: “Withdrawals, pass my cup, I think I’m dyin.” These are the moments where it seems as though DS2-era Future might emerge, only to be squashed by the triumphant version who’s too busy plotting threesomes and matching his polo to his diamonds to be weighed down by the burdens of his past.
It’s fitting that the best track on the album (“Unicorn Purp” featuring Young Thug and Gunna) sounds like 2014-2015 Future, his creative epoch where he pushed his drug-fueled, suicidal ambivalence to new, darker highs. Most of the time, though, Future eschews the details of the past in favor of acknowledging what he has accomplished along the way.
On “Overdose” and “Krazy but True”, songs that would have previously grappled with or at least nonchalantly avoided the violence and destruction of his upbringing in Atlanta’s Zone 6, Future flaunts creative boasts about his fashion sense and living room with a garage inside. We get the occasional nod to the trappings of his newfound fame and fortune, but a good portion of the album presses hard at making sure you mainstream fans acknowledge what he has accomplished since he first released Dirty Sprite in 2011.
And honestly, he deserves it. No artist has better embodied the tensions inherent within mainstream hip hop and its relationship with its fans. Future has lived the contradictions that come from having profited off of death and destruction without real remorse because he knows that if he hadn’t done those things, he wouldn’t have survived. And his music reflects his knowing that if he didn’t self-medicate and distance himself from those tragedies, he would likely not have survived either. His music has frequently grappled with drug-fueled suicide and the knowledge that others haven’t been as fortunate.
All of this is to say that our analysis of The WIZRD needs to be read in the context of Future’s entire discography, as a recognition of the exhausting work he has put in to stay alive, sonically and in Zone 6. The WIZRD isn’t an ingenious work of art like his earlier work because at this stage, Future needs a different kind of recognition and validation, a legitimation of his success. We should be celebrating that he’s no longer Codeine Crazy while also acknowledging what he went through to get there.