ON THE SURFACE, it would appear that EVOL has all of the necessary ingredients for Future to cook up another compelling album. First there's the cryptic title: it's love spelled backwards, you have to pronounce it as you do the word evil, and it's there to enhance the drama even before you hear any music. Then there's its stark, monochromatic cover art—featuring a bed of roses covered in ash and embers—which is both moody and certainly complimentary to the album's palatable sonics. But that's about it, really, as EVOL's aesthetic is so thinly-veiled it reveals itself to be just an exercise for the rapper, where apparently pregame stretching isn't a requirement either. Where last year's triptych of album-quality free mixtapes—Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights—helped establish the rapper's simple yet deftly told narrative, and DS2 being its proverbial exclamation mark, EVOL feels wholly out of place and vacuous by comparison. The album, in turn, isn't exactly the same Super Future-ATLien-emotional-dirty-sprite-superstar you've come to know and love but rather Future-lite, a shell of his former self, and with the cruise control left activated; resulting in a decelerating journey on the path of least resistance.
Of course, that isn't to say the album is terrible. In fact, it's merely okay. But that's obviously a bummer for any #FutureHive cardholder as nobody could possibly want safe rap music, especially not from an artist known to produce far out, cerebral, and heady tunes. EVOL is the first time we begin to hear the ostensible rigidity in Future's formula revealing itself. Where previous releases, particularly those during his improbable twelve month run, found Future imbuing music with a kaleidoscope of human emotions—be it seedy, honest or an intoxicating combination of the two—EVOL merely projects them as afterthoughts; all stylistic and empty. The Future we're getting here is an artist that truly believes he's the “best rapper alive,” losing his delicate balance of skill and commerce, which for EVOL means editing down the entire script for profit. “Fly Shit Only” is essentially a rewrite of Nard & B's razor-sharp loosie “News or Somthn” but with a noticeably duller edge; it's a song that severely trims down on the tragedy and romance of his character. Even when Future's letting off his usual litany of illegalities and dangerous lifestyle choices, which have permeated his back catalog, they're repackaged with the context and crinkles ironed out.
EVOL is simply not a navigable map of Future's unwieldy artistic ambitions up until this point in his musical career. But if there's any sort of takeaway from the album it's that he and his usual coconspirators, producers Metro Boomin, Southside and DJ Spinz, find ways to hit the extremes of rap without sacrificing the immediacy of pop music. While most songs on the album are constructed in a straightforward fashion—hi-hat rolls, a booming low end, and rhythmic keyboard slabs—there are those occasional moments that are nonetheless absorbing. The best songs on EVOL are seemingly revelatory, granting the listener VIP access into the rapper's uneasy headspace. “Most of my niggas pop xans, unemployed,” he raps uneasily on “Seven Rings,” giving “hashtag rap” a swift dose of reality. For an album that wants to play on love, albeit superficially, the only song that actually hints at it is “Lie to Me,” which has a smooth R&B sheen courtesy of Spinz and is filtered through Future's trademark nocturnal, oppressive vibes—the kind of song that couldn’t have existed during his imperative rise to mainstream stardom four years earlier; it just wouldn’t have been believable, and this is not only believable but downright charming, sincere, and evocative.
One longstanding tenet of Future's recent outpour of music has been the limitation of guest appearances on both his albums and mixtapes, and EVOL is certainly no different. The album's sole guest is The Weeknd, who wastes no time jumping headlong into the fray of perpetual pill-popping and debauchery, contributing infectious vocal touches on “Low Life” in the process, which thankfully breaks up the monotony of Future's relatively one-dimensional flows throughout EVOL's 40-minute expanse. It's telling when a pop star trumps you at your biggest selling point as an artist: flow. There's certainly nothing wrong with Future finding comfort in his art, within the familiarity of these sonic contours, but it does appear as though he may already be resting on his laurels less than eight months removed from DS2. Where he concluded Purple Reign, his sublime mixtape from last month, with the nuanced title track—gracefully accepting his emotional disfranchisement—“Ain't No Time” begins EVOL by taunting all with his wealth. His hard-won peace of mind hasn’t slipped away so much as it has burst entirely asunder. But the dirty Sprite that's propelled some of his best music is no longer fizzy or bursting with flavor. Future sounds flat. C