Future – ‘High Off Life’ review: trap outlier exerts flashes of greatness on star-stuffed 32nd release

The Atlanta don boasts a groaning guestlist and certified bangers – including the rap anthem of the year so far – but doesn't quite fulfil his sales pitch

The cover of ‘High Off Life’, Future’s eighth studio album and 32nd project overall (yes, really), depicts the Atlanta trap vanguard with his arms aloft, triumphant, his head and torso poking from either a limo sunroof or a club rooftop. It’s an image that sums up what was intended to be the original title for the record, as well as that of its Drake-featuring lead single: ‘Life Is Good’.

Of course, that’s quite a jarring album title for these current times, and it’s a good thing that Future opted to switch it some four days before the record’s release. But it’s an ethos that the star says still sums up his album as a whole. In a recent interview with XXL, he uttered the phrase “life is good” no less than seven times in total, and explained: “It’s about life and being good and just enjoying life. So many tragedies and catastrophes and everything is going on in the world. And you want to enjoy life, as long as you have it… soak it all up and be appreciative for every moment.”

Future has good reason to celebrate, having scored a whopping six U.S Number One records in just three-and-a-half years – a feat not achieved since Elton John managed it in the 1970s. With his new album, then, the 36-year-old wants to “send a positive message through hard times” and its vibrant and exhilarating lead single very much encompasses this. Future and Drizzy go back-to-back with flexes about living life to the fullest, buying rings that cost as much as luxury cars and, of course, being too busy to get your finances in order (“Haven’t done my taxes, I’m too turnt up,” Drake raps). Quite simply, it’s one of the best rap anthems of the year to date.

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You’d expect this kind of carefree stunting to continue across ‘High Off Life’, but the celebratory feeling only shows up in bursts. ‘Solitaires’, which features Travis Scott – himself indebted to and inspired by Future’s earlier experiments with psych – is a particular highlight, otherworldly and dizzying. The song lives up to the album’s billing as a cathartic distraction from the real world’s ills, as both artists manage to fit quarantine bars (“Coronavirus diamonds, you can catch the flu”, Future offers, while Travis raps, “When they let us off of lock’, man, we gon’ make that shit pop”) into a club-ready banger.

Future’s always been the kind of artist to excel in collabs, seeming to work best when he has outside energy to feed from. While his recent albums have been markedly low on features, he opens things up a little here. As well as Drake and Travis, it also includes guest spots from Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Durk, Young Thug, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Doe Boy, DaBaby and Lil Baby (a ‘Lil’, ‘Young’, ‘Boy’ and ‘Baby’ rap full-house, you could say). Meek Mill also appears, and the link-ups provide mostly glittering results: Future and YoungBoy serve up vocal gymnastics on the infectious ‘Trillionaire’, while he and Uzi share great chemistry on ‘All Bad’.

Elsewhere, however, the record deviates from its overarching theme, and repeatedly reverts back to what we’ve long come to anticipate from Future. Lyrically, we’re on familiar ground – tales of narcotic abuse (‘HiTek Tek’), troubles with the opposite sex (‘Too Comfortable’), and the working through of past traumas (‘Posted With Demons’). On ‘Accepting My Flaws’, Future cuts a particularly remorseful figure: “I’ve been tryna fight my demons, I’ve been tryna fight my cup… / I’ve been sufferin’ withdrawals, missin’ out on real love”.

There is, of course, some filler, as has long been the case with Future. His last three albums have all been over 17 tracks long, and here he pours 21 songs across 70 minutes. The downside is that for all the gems, we get songs like ‘Hard To Choose One’, ‘Touch The Sky’ and  ‘One of My’. The latter is Future-by-numbers, a track that lulls ATL Jacob’s hypnotic, bassy and booming production.

Future described his last album, 2019’s ‘The Wizrd’, as the closing of a chapter, meaning that ‘High Off Life’ seemed primed to signal a fresh start. Despite its glimpses of greatness, though, this album revisits too many of the rapper’s trademark themes to truly make good on his jubilant pre-release promises.

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Release date: May 15

Record label: Epic Records

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