“Mark my words, I’ma ball without you,” Future promised on the song that completely shifted the direction of his career, Monster’s “Throw Away”. Though this line, like much of his post-Honest output was directed at ex Ciara, there’s an argument to be made for its meta qualities. As is now canonical knowledge, Future has released seven projects in a 16-month period, EVOLincluded, and on them are a total of five distinct guests, all of whom can be linked to one another via only a few degrees of separation (for those interested by the current research examining just how many degrees of separation is the maximum between any two people, the highest number for this group of features, excluding Future, is an astounding two). His ability to create an insular world where those few guests played by his rules allowed for five undeniably great, cohesive pieces of music. Unfortunately for his fervent fanbase, EVOL, like Purple Reign before it, doesn’t live up to the standard of excellence he set during this run.
The album opens with an ominous piano reminiscent of the introductory moments of DS2’s triumphant “Thought It Was a Drought”, and this forms the backbone of “Ain’t No Time”. Unlike the former beginning track, the latter comes with few euphoric quotables, instead opting for an understated vocal performance that reveals itself as the characteristic marker of the whole album. EVOL is allegedly a concept album about the various forms love takes, but like many a middling romantic comedy, the subject is rarely breached. Instead, the aforementioned song relies on a repetition of concepts spread amongst a single flow, a trait where Future reigned supreme on his previous six releases. Even with producers of the moment Metro Boomin and Southside handling much of the production, the normally emotive rapper comes across as flat throughout EVOL.
Much of this can be attributed to the Auto-Tune that characterized his aesthetic taking a back seat. Transcendental artists, like Future is, enter into symbiotic relationships with their instruments of choice, and his pained raps passed through a guttural sheen of Auto-Tune led to some of the most magnetizing music this decade. Another apparent critique comes from the album’s subject matter. On a track like “Xanny Family”, the Future of Monster-DS2 would’ve painted a vivid journey of his being on the drug(s) of choice, complete with the hidden morals of a cautionary tale. This song, however, doesn’t get much more complicate than “Promethazine, codeine, this shit champagne for us.”
But just as the album lulls, the track sequencing (an underrated part of any album preparation) smartly introduces the bombastic beat of “Lil Haiti Baby”, where his voice traverses the full spectrum that Auto-Tune allows. “Photo Copied” is eminently skippable, serving instead as a contrast to the album’s highlights that bookend it — “Lil Haiti Baby” and “Seven Rings”. The latter track employs multiple impressive flows in the first verse, and the self-referential nod to his seven projects that have characterized his career’s peak is always welcome. As the album closes with the Weeknd collaboration “Low Life”, a surefire radio staple on the strength of the duo’s star power alone, and “Fly Shit Only”, the pop sensibilities of one of music’s great hook artists shine through. When you’re as talented and consistent as Future is, even with the relative disappointments of Purple Reign and now EVOL, it’s impossible to go too long without discovering good tracks.
Has Future finally hit the point of releasing too much music too quickly? With his devoted fanbase and the legendary mixtape trilogy never too far from being played, does it matter? EVOL doesn’t stand up to his critical peaks, but this could easily be seen as but a release to tide fans over before the next blockbuster. Beast Mode 2 is the next known release, and it would be no surprise whatsoever if another mixtape/album or three appear in the interim. It would be welcome, however, if he reclaimed the intensity of that mixtape’s predecessor.