the week in rap

This Week in Rap: YNW Melly’s Star Turn, Future’s Breakneck The WIZRD, and More

Photo: Prince Williams @ATLPICS/WireImage

Every week, Vulture runs through the best, most interesting, and sometimes most confusing rap releases. In this installment: Future’s dense, often brilliant The WIZRD, a star turn from YNW Melly, Aesop Rock’s collaboration with Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Tobacco, and Blockhead’s latest beautifully produced compilation.

Future, Future Hndrxx Presents: The WIZRD

It’s strange to hear an album that sounds like an 80 percent–effort rehearsal and be emotionally drained by every listen. The press run Future’s gone on to promote The WIZRD — a campaign more expansive and more nominally revealing than any of his others — attempts to frame this album as the closing of several chapters, be they his codeine addiction, his contract with Epic Records, or the 2010s themselves, which he dominated like no other rapper. If you accept this premise, it’s an interesting album, one that weaves specific musical flourishes (and even scraps of old verses) into very new and very expensive fabric. More broadly, it blends the tones of R&B- and pop-adjacent albums like Pluto and HNDRXX with the bludgeoning sounds of 56 Nights and DS2.

So The WIZRD does, in a sense, live up to its billing as a career-spanning work. But it’s not a survey or a climax; it plays, rewardingly and refreshingly, like something that has synthesized the past and decided to continue it indefinitely. Future’s always had a tendency to slip into autopilot, and this has hurt him: His self-titled album from 2017 sputters and makes poor use of a few standout cuts; records like EVOL and his recent collaborative mixtapes sound as if they were assembled from scraps. If you squint, The WIZRD has a similar shape, stringing together 10- or 15-minute stretches at similar tempos. But instead of digging into ruts, Future glides across styles and cadences, pivoting between styles mid-song and peppering two or three different hooks throughout. It unfolds at breakneck pace and never lets up. In this sense, The WIZRD is overwhelming.

Its first song is the remarkable, moving “Never Stop”:

Poppin’ up on Forbes is fucking up my relations

Ten-milli-plus on a crib, and it’s vacant

I can see it vividly: At the crib, Rico’s basement

Watch him get the mula, I was sitting back being patient.

Its last is the lush, naked “Tricks on Me.” Future spends the 53 minutes in between contorting himself into different postures — heartsick or stoic, bloodthirsty or exhausted, miffed at the younger rappers who bite — as if he needs to unload all this psychological baggage before an hourglass somewhere runs empty. He barks and wails and croons, and then he has the nerve to tell us that this is the end of the line.

YNW Melly, We All Shine

YNW Melly is better than he needs to be. The 19-year-old from Florida exists in the long wake of Young Thug and Future’s mid-decade material, bending sometimes-manipulated melodies into weathered tales of heartbreak and incarceration. What sets him apart from his peers and keeps his music from feeling imitative is his otherworldly gift for pop. We All Shine could have been the sort of project artists in Melly’s position often make, a bloated data dump with a few potential singles that a label hopes will stick and launch an album campaign in earnest. Instead, it’s a fully realized document of nauseating loneliness and unhinged celebration.

At his rare worst, Melly sounds as if he’s stopped writing halfway through the song, content to let the atmosphere carry it through the finish line. Fortunately, the last two-thirds of We All Shine see him buckle down. There are gut-wrenching songs about missing holiday celebrations while locked up, and razor-toothed ones about PNC Bank (I’m thinking specifically of the song called “Fuck PNC Bank”). But Melly is at his best on Technicolor party fare like “Why You Gotta Walk Like That???” and, especially, the Fredo Bang–assisted “Ingredients.” We All Shine skips arguing for Melly as an enticing prospect and goes straight to cementing him as a major force.

Blockhead, Free Sweatpants

There’s a serious conversation to be had about whether Blockhead has the greatest instrumental-album catalogue among this century’s hip-hop producers. Like the rest of his work, Free Sweatpants feels forceful and alive. It’s issued by Backwoodz Studioz and features appearances from the likes of Billy Woods and Elucid, the Chicago rappers Tree and Vic Spencer, the underground stalwart Homeboy Sandman, and Open Mike Eagle. The most arresting song, though, is headlined by Blockhead’s longtime collaborator Aesop Rock: “Kiss the Cook” is frantic, harried, and furious at cops.

Aesop Rock & Tobacco, Malibu Ken

Speaking of Aesop Rock: His full-length collaboration with Black Moth Super Rainbow’s Tobacco, Malibu Ken, is narrow in macro and micro scopes, a half-hour barrage made mostly of quick peeks at his brutal hangovers, his empty fridge, the rotting flora in his almost-abandoned parked car. Like nearly all Aesop Rock records, Malibu Ken is anchored by set pieces that are absurd, gruesome, or both. This time there’s a period piece about a murder on Long Island in the 1980s, when a young man believed that a crow — who was actually Satan — ordered him to kill his friend; there’s also a close rendering of an internet video where a bird of prey eats a cat like a churro.

Best Rap This Week: YNW Melly, Future, Aesop Rock, and More