Future Is Determined to Stay on Top on 'I NEVER LIKED YOU'

BY Michael Di GennaroPublished May 3, 2022

Ahead of the release of I NEVER LIKED YOU, Future appeared on the cover of GQ, with a headline crowning him the Best Rapper Alive. It's a distinction designed to get listeners (read: purists, and those whose rap tastes lean more towards the alternative) to disagree and discuss, but it's also part truth. While there are more convincing arguments for other artists to sit on hip-hop's proverbial throne nowadays, Future did hold that title for extended periods of the 2010s, and is certainly considered one of the greatest rappers of all time.

His five-year run of projects — from 2014's Monster to 2019's The WIZRD — can compete with any other half-decade of work by an artist in the genre's history. Along with Young Thug, he developed, innovated, and popularized a syrupy, obtuse style of melodic Southern rap that would not only spawn an entire subgenre, but become the hip-hop metagame. Simply put, Future wasn't just part of the mainstream rap zeitgeist in the 2010s — he was the zeitgeist.
The absurd amount of beloved music Future delivered across the mid-2010s has made his past few years feel hollow by comparison. His only solo full-length since The WIZRD is 2020's High Off Life, a comparatively lacklustre, stagnant effort to what he'd given in previous years. He followed it up with Pluto X Baby Pluto, a collaboration with Lil Uzi Vert that brought similar feelings. For the first time, it felt like Future was playing catch-up with his peers in a game that he'd made the rules for. His public image didn't help either, as he allowed himself to move closer and closer to the gimmicky "toxic misogynist" persona that fans had made a meme of.

The hyper-masculine, Hefner-esque image that Future put forth during his most celebrated era was always part of the appeal, but it was his ability to subvert that personality in order to be vulnerable that elevated him above others. The well-rounded emotion in his music is what makes it special, and at its best, allows you to live vicariously through it; you can absorb his absurd confidence, his insatiable hunger to be disgustingly wealthy, famous, desired, and musically brilliant. Thankfully, I NEVER LIKED YOU is a step up from Future's recent output, a proper successor to The WIZRD that grabs listeners' attention from the get-go and, for the most part, refuses to let up.

Where I NEVER LIKED YOU hits hardest is in the songs where Future seems most determined to take back the Best Rapper Alive title he once held. Opener "712PM" sets the tone with a haunting Hatsune Miku sample and a thunderous drop as Future dips in and out of different flows, each more gripping than the last. The album features a number of rapping clinics, reminders that he wrote the blueprint outlining how to rap on the trap production of the modern era; "GOLD STACKS," "KEEP IT BURNING," "CHICKENS," "HOLY GHOST" and "I'M ON ONE" all find Future dialled in, rapping with the urgency of someone on the come-up as opposed to a superstar more than two decades into their career.

I NEVER LIKED YOU isn't a non-stop barrage of barnburners, though. "WAIT FOR U'" and "LOVE U BETTER" are the most Drake-sounding Future songs from a production standpoint (with Drake himself appearing on the former), and they function as tender moments that harken back to the popstar aspirations Future once had when writing songs for Rihanna and Ciara. "PUFFIN ON ZOOTIES," perhaps the most addicting song on the entire LP, is also the smoothest, a gorgeous piece of luxury rap that sounds like it was recorded from the leather seats of the limousine Future sits in on the album's cover. What keeps I NEVER LIKED YOU from joining the pantheon of Future's discography is the material that came before it. The record's lowest points aren't downright bad, per se: they simply feel like rehashes of material that has been done better already. "FOR A NUT" is another zany Young Thug collaboration, but the personality of both artists doesn't shine through like it did on team-ups like 2019's "Sup Mate" or Certified Lover Boy's "Way 2 Sexy." Songs like "MASSAGING ME" and "I'M DAT N****" sound like they were taken from the cutting room floor of Future's self-titled album.

I NEVER LIKED YOU feels like watching Roger Federer win major titles in 2017 and 2018 after battling injuries injury, or seeing Tiger Woods put on the green jacket at the 2019 Masters to win a major for the first time in a decade. It's not a complete return to form, but it's a reminder that even later in the journeys, all-time greats' talent and dedication to their craft can still yield impressive results. In an era where artists rise and fall quicker than ever, and audience attention spans are at an all-time low, Future albums still feel like a moment where the rap world stops to listen. If that doesn't cement his status as one of the greatest artists of his generation, what will?

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