WRLD ON DRUGS, the latest innocuous rap collaboration album, follows its predecessors: interesting in theory, fun on first listen but expectedly reductive.
Not since Watch the Throne has an album collaboration between two major rappers resulted in something other than the sum of its parts (but that album at least takes on a quality unique to that collaboration). What makes many of the recent collaboration albums bland is their inability to attain this quality. Often there’s the sense they’re not even trying, that these crossovers exist as industry moves rather than as organic efforts to coalesce skill sets and aim for a gestalt.
Last year’s collaboration albums between Future and Young Thug (SUPER SLIMEY), 21 Savage and Offset (Without Warning), and Quavo and Travis Scott (HUNCHO JACK, Jack Huncho) all evidenced this. The artists in that list are each dynamic and boundary-pushing in their own right, so it’s strange that these albums can be played back to back and sound like a relatively consistent piece of music. What they’re going for on these projects is the continuation of a sound, owed to Atlanta and centered approximately around the Quality Control label.
Like those projects, WRLD ON DRUGS aims for a commercial middle. Juice WRLD, of up-and-coming fame, should add some vitality to storied rap giant Future; Future’s reverence in the Atlanta rap scene should act as a sign of confidence to the upstart. To give them credit, this goal is ostensibly achieved. The very existence of this album achieves it.
With that box checked, the songs feel tacked onto this accomplishment. Right from opening track “Jet Lag,” Juice WRLD takes on a shiny new persona as a confident drug rapper that renders the sad-boy aesthetic he rode to fame unrecognizable. Future sounds great as always, perfectly content to ride yet another victory lap around in his Bentley to help out the newbie. But Future’s best work is when he’s least satisfied, swallowing pain down with a cup of codeine and dredging up the past with a heavy snarl, and just as WRLD’s emo tendencies are gone here, so are Future’s.
The moments that work best are when Future and WRLD give each other some distance, allowing WRLD to feel more comfortable as himself. “Fine China” and “Realer N Realer” both are standouts. On the latter, WRLD gives some tongue-in-cheek thoughts about money in sing-song: “People love to talk about the money that they make / Nobody wanna talk about the money that they save / Who am I to talk about it? I blow money every day.” In the former, Future’s higher pitched flow plays off WRLD’s autotune well, and it makes for a track that manages to make Atlanta rap a little bit funny, à la Lil Yachty, while avoiding being, well, Lil Yachty.
“Astronauts,” “Red Bentley” and “Transformer” all find Future taking on the same kind of approachable, consistent flow he donned for much of SUPER SLIMEY, which makes it easier for those along for the ride to keep up (though Nicki Minaj mostly holds her own on “Transformer”). They’re all bouncy, bass-heavy tracks that fit easily within Future’s more recent discography. But it’s not clear why WRLD needs to be on any of them, and such is the problem with many of these 16 tracks.
It’s strange that the two have decided to land at this happy commercial brag for so much of the album given Juice WRLD’s debut last year, Goodbye & Good Riddance. It’s an album all about pain, filled with cringe-inducing admissions and riding along the dark “emo-rap” style recently popularized by Lil Uzi Vert. WRLD channels the energy just right of the occult that Uzi dances with, and it’s a big part of what made him so palatable to an audience increasingly interested in this genre crossover. It doesn’t make him look dynamic to wipe this persona away on this collaboration — nearly any rapper in 2018 can sound like he does here with the right producer. Even Usher gave it his best shot this week with his surprise Zaytoven collaboration A. It does the opposite, and we come off this album wondering if Juice WRLD might not be wondering, like we’re wondering, exactly who Juice WRLD is.