Future has always been a strange rapper. Rarely these days, if ever, does he “rap” by the truest definition of the word, instead crooning his vocals. He bends, stretches and warps his voice to its limit, both through his delivery and his use of vocal processors like autotune. He wasn’t the first to experiment with his vocals like this, but he was certainly the first to make a career out of this so-called mumble rap.

Most of Future’s music brims with his voice, which works well because when his lyrics become vapid and repetitive, as they often do, his vocals make up for it, showcasing a broad range of emotion. However, on his latest release SAVE ME, Future tries something new.

From the get-go, it’s obvious that the Future on SAVE ME is different from any previous incarnation of Future. The tape’s opener “XanaX Damage” begins with a distorted and depressed guitar sample and endlessly layered vocals chanting, “Blood, blood, blood / Xanax dreams, xanax / Covered in blood, oh,” which is a different sound for Future. As the song continues, Future does stranger and stranger things. At seemingly random points within the song, all instrumentals and vocals halt. It’s jarring, but it brings a sense of emptiness that matches the song’s tone.

On “XanaX Damage,” Future is confessing that he only calls a certain woman when he’s at his lowest and his most intoxicated. He knows that she isn’t good enough for him, but he feels like she is the only thing keeping him alive. As Future belts out lines like, “But I’m not my best with you, I’m so depressed with you / But it’s so hard I don’t think I can exist without you,” it’s difficult not to get sucked into what Future is saying, so each sudden stop allows listeners to catch back up with the action. “XanaX Damage” is a song marked by deep and intense pain, and it sets the tone for Future’s most puzzling release yet.

The very next song, “St. Lucia,” is just as jarring. It begins with a ghastly voice croaking, “Save me.” If “XanaX Damage” is one side of a coin, “St. Lucia” is the other. Where “XanaX Damage” is confessional, “St. Lucia” is boastful and standoffish. Future is all over the place on this track, rapping about everything from his sexual prowess to street sensibility, and never once does he offer an inward glimpse at his life, which is typical Future. However, on “St. Lucia,” Future often places an ad-lib mid-bar, which is just as jolting, if not more so, than the sudden rests on “XanaX Damage.” These quirks in the track composition make for very compelling songs that demand active listening. The only problem is that these songs are often very shallow and can make active listening feel like a chore.

If “XanaX Damage” and “St. Lucia” are SAVE ME’s two extremes, “Please Tell Me” and “Shotgun” act as the middle ground. “Please Tell Me” presents Future practically begging his girl to tell him whether she wants more than one Rolex. All Future wants to do is show off his wealth. In doing so, he reveals his own insecurities. He raps, “Shawty want big dog status (Please) / Shawty want big boy carats (Please, please) / Shawty rock big boy Pateks (Please) / She ain’t never had my status (Please, please) / She ain’t never seen it in person, yeah (Please),” demonstrating clearly that though Future has wealth, he does not feel secure in himself and tries to substitute wealth for personality. On the other side of things, “Shotgun” presents Future as a man looking for someone with whom he can not only share his wealth but also his true self — someone that can ride shotgun in his car. These two songs let Future voice his emotions without letting his guard down, and they do so quite well.

The remaining three songs on SAVE ME fall a bit short. They simply don’t live up to the standard set by the previous four. “Government Official,” a total slapper, feels out of place on an album like this. It’s typical Future fare over a tumultuous and exciting beat that just doesn’t make sense when presented next to songs like “XanaX Damage.” Further, the EP’s penultimate track “Extra” is just subpar. Plain and simple. Thematically, it makes sense, but in execution, it just isn’t exciting and fresh like the other songs are. The same can be said for the robotic yet somehow Gregorian “Love Thy Enemy.” They sound like they could’ve come from Future’s 2017 release HNDRXX. They’re good songs, but they just don’t demonstrate any significant growth. And that’s a shame, because the first half of SAVE ME shows some real promise.

SAVE ME marks a new chapter in the book of Future, and it certainly shows evolution. He expands his sonic palate and tries a few new tricks, most of which pay off. When Future is on, he is on, but unfortunately, he is only on for half the EP. He just can’t keep it going, and that’s unfortunate because he shows a lot of potential for mid-career growth. If he can manage to address the loose screws, his next release is poised to be his most interesting — or at the very least, his strangest.

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