You can tell a lot about a Future mixtape by its closing song. Looking back to his unparalleled run starting with 2014’s Monster to his latest offering, a collaborative mixtape with his DJ Esco, Project E.T., the last tracks reveal much about what precedes them. Starting from Monster, we saw the classic “Codeine Crazy”, a song that did as much to elevate Future to mythologizing status as any of his releases; Beast Mode finished off with “Forever Eva”, one of his finest showings of the power of repetition; 56 Nights closed with the title track on the original download, but has switched to “March Madness” on his Soundcloud, and each capture his eye for detail and looking back on the months that led to his ascent; Purple Reign also ended on the title track, and, while it’s a powerful statement in its own right, it and the mixtape that it came from suffered from the knowledge that “Codeine Crazy” and Monster existed. So we’re now at Project E.T. What does its finishing track, “Benjamins Burn”, say about its larger project? Unfortunately, that Future’s still in the coasting mode that began with Purple Reign.
The clearest way this is evident is by examining similar lyrics from E.T. and the three mixtape run he’s so known for. On “Benjamins”, he plainly states “I went bonkers in Europe”, a far cry from the “I did 56 broads on the European tour and they was all crazy / I took 56 bars all in one month” of “56 Nights”. Elsewhere, “Audemars, Hublots now” on “Too Much Sauce” is less descriptive than the dizzying turn-of-phrase from “Codeine Crazy”: “I say everything triple-time / AP, Rollie, Hublot, triple time”. But the latter song is still evidence of one of Future’s greatest strengths, that of infectious hook-maker. A huge look for Lil Uzi Vert, who provides all of the song’s verses, Future melodically keeps inventing new ways to say the phrase “too much sauce”. It’s a fun song with a characteristic Zaytoven piano beat, anchored with Vert’s joyous boasts: “Diamonds, they look like Dasani / More like Voss”. But it’s not representative of the product as a whole.
Instead, the project could be subtitled “Future’s Shopping List”, as the lyrics read more like that than anything else. Granted, this could lead to enjoyable turn-up music, but it lacks the gleeful intensity that songs of that nature need. Rather, he sounds bored on much of the tape, and not the Cam’ron-ian bored arrogance of the introduction to “Low Life” where he adds a rare bout of self-awareness to the mix. No, it’s fashionable designers (what else?), expensive cars (what else?), and myriad drugs (what else?). But as I wrote about Purple Reign, Future’s now in a simultaneously enviable and unenviable position: he’s at the top of the game, yes, but this now means that the two options are coast off of the success or enter into a period of experimentation to further his sound. So far, he’s taken the first option.
As he’s an A-list rapper, however, it’s obvious that any release would come with hits inside. The most likely candidate, on star power alone, is the Drake and 2 Chainz collaboration “100it Racks”. The twinkling bass-heavy beat sounds ripped straight from the What a Time to Be Alive sessions, a collaboration that was quite well-produced. The lyrics aren’t much to write home about (Drake’s still on his unimpressive Views lyricism with “You think she your baby girl / She text us (Texas) like Dallas”), but 2 Chainz continues his 2016 features run with the absurd imagery of “Put codeine in a Snapple / Put codeine on a salad / Guess I’m on a codeine diet!” All in all, this won’t matter much, as Future’s droning hook, “Hunnit racks bustin’ out the wrapper”, is sure to be repeated ad nauseam.
What has long made Future’s music compelling is the emotional transparency he’s shown from his earliest releases. Where many artists of all genres are content to portray good times and stop there, Future’s someone who was willing to expound upon what happens after they run out. It’s what’s made him one of rap’s most beloved figures by his fans and why his pre-Purple Reign output is treated like gospel. Project E.T. lacks this facet of his music and has suffered as a result. He’s still at the top of the game and each release will be vital to listen to, but a new challenge arises: where to go from here?