What does Future have left to do? He’s killed the mixtape circuit (Beast Mode, 56 Nights, Monster, to name a few), dropped classic rap albums (DS2 and HNDRXX), crossed over to pop (collaborations with Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, and Ariana Grande), and he’s won over the masses and the critics alike. Over the past decade or so, we’ve seen myriad shades of Future’s artistry. At this point, Future is more of an enigma now than when he first emerged in the public consciousness. He’s meticulously built this bulletproof character of a traumatized womanizer and former drug dealer-turned-multimillionaire; every album and song adds different colors to this character and his new record, High Off Life, is no different. On his eighth official studio album, Future favors multilayered cinematic production to celebrate and reflect on his traumatic rise to the top while simultaneously coming to terms with his personal demons. The album is consistent and only hindered by Future’s compulsive need to overstuff his albums with every track released in the interim since his last album.
“Trapped in the Sun” sets the scene with a beat courtesy of Will-A-Fool; Future raps his well-known dealer-turned-rapper story and piles on the brags like there’s no tomorrow. The track is cinematic in the sense that it feels like the song that would score a scene in a film where the former top dog mobber returns to his old stomping grounds with all the riches and demons in the world. The first line of the chorus, “That yellow Lambo’ outside for when I trapped in the sun,” evokes the devastating cyclical nature of trapping in the way that it uses the color yellow as a constant in Future’s two different stages of life. Underneath the AutoTune and bangers, let it not be forgotten that Future is a skilled lyricist. “Trapped” sets off a streak of tracks that are strong additions to Future’s ever-expanding discography. “HiTek Tek,” features Future employing a Playboi Carti-esque slurred flow and the twinkling synths are a nice foil to the deep bass and urgent drums. There’s a lot going on in the “HiTek Tek” beat, but it never feels overwhelming because Future is able to steady the course with his gravelly tone. Produced by, ATL Jacob, this might be one of the best beats of the year so far. On “Touch the Sky,” the ominous production signals the entrance of Future’s toxic side. The delivery is lethal, but also deadpan; only Future can make a line like “I can tell she got a man from how she text me, nigga” work. One of the album’s standout tracks, “Ridin Strikers,” is also the record’s most sonically ambitious song. Complete with a news broadcast interlude, a piano-laden outro, and a dark trap beat courtesy of Southside, VOU, and ATL Jacob, Future recalls his DS2 days in the way that he chronicles robbing a bank and sending shooters to handle his opposition. This gritty narrative, however, is no match for this line that introduces the album’s most important and intriguing theme — “Hold on, nigga get life/Hold on, been scarred as a child.”
High Off Life works best when Future digs into his emotional trauma. On “One of My,” Future details how his inner circle is as dangerous and toxic as he is. He raps “One of my niggas got rich off hoes/One of my niggas got rich off coke/One of my niggas be kickin’ in doors/One of my niggas ain’t got no soul.” This is the beauty of Future, he’s very much aware of the darkness that he continues to surround himself with, and he’s okay with it until that darkness starts to cast shadows over his own mental health and relationships. Yes, he’s toxic, but he’s also damaged and caught in a cycle of trauma. On the cold-hearted “Posted with Demons” Future spits bars about how “If the streets don’t kill you first, nigga/It’s gon’ make you strong.” The haunting beat complements the chilling “you ain’t did the shit I did” refrain. This isn’t the Demon Time™ that Beyoncé was rapping about Megan Thee Stallion‘s “Savage” remix, this is something much more sinister. “Up the River” sees Future going in depth about how he uses alcohol and drugs to run from his trauma. The piano-led trap ballad underscores lines like “Over and over, gotta pour up, gotta roll up/Gotta cover up my war wounds, no time to be sober” and “They schemin’ on my blessings, yeah/Could’ve been the devil, but maybe it was karma.” Again, we see that Future is aware of his wrongdoings and their impact on his current mood of unfulfillment. Things come to a head at the album’s climax: “Accepting My Flaws.” The emotional ballad doesn’t see Future acknowledging his own flaws as much as he thanks his ex-girlfriend Lori Harvey for loving him despite his flaws while they were together. He opens up with lyrics like “I’ve been tryna fight my demons, I’ve been tryna fight my cup/I always tell her she my therapy, I told her it was rough.” Future goes to emotional depths that we haven’t seen since HNDRXX. This has “classic” written all over it. The album’s title is deceptive. Future is “high off life” in the sense that he’s reached the highest heights of success, but at the same time he is tormented by the process he went through to get there.
For all of its highs (no pun intended), High Off Life only falters because of Future tacking on unnecessary and forgettable songs. “Harlem Shake,” a Young Thug collab, isn’t terrible, but the neither artist brings enough energy to warrant a second listen. Every song after “Life Is Good” makes the album overstay its welcome. “Accepting My Flaws” is a somber and reflective conclusion to the record while “Life Is Good” functions as a victory lap. The remaining Meek Mill (“100 Shooters”) and Lil Durk (“Last Name”) collaborations push the album to an hour-long running time and offer nothing to the overarching narrative. “Pray for Key” and the Lil Baby/DaBaby-assisted “Life Is Good (Remix)” are also ultimately not memorable at all. Speaking of collaborations, Lil Uzi Vert offers an effervescent synergy on “All Bad” and YoungBoy Never Broke Again gives a surprisingly great vocal on the trap ballad, “Trillionaire.” The Travis Scott-featuring “Solitaires” is also solid.
On the whole, High Off Life is a solid addition to the many chapters of Future’s story that we already have. Most of these songs are great, but they aren’t necessarily anything new or innovative.
Key Tracks: “Accepting My Flaws”; “HiTek Tek”; “One of My”; “All Bad”; “Ridin Strikers”