Beast Mode may be Future’s best project. Too well-sequenced to fall victim to the same pitfalls as most of his full-length work, it’s a lean, high-octane whirlwind of reckless abandon and myth-making bravado, tempered by haunting tales of survivor’s guilt. Being the seasoned songwriter that he is, Future gracefully balances his id with his superego; the partying gives way to reminiscing, the triumph to wistfulness. In the time between his criminally underrated sophomore effort, Honest, and last year’s R&B extravaganza, HNDRXX, it was Beast Mode that made the best case for this rapper’s oft understated pop-acumen. Naturally, the sequel strives to achieve the same great heights, and it damn near succeeds.

For a mixtape that runs only a bit longer than the series of Kanye West-produced albums from June, the range on BEASTMODE 2 is astounding. Like the original, the womanzing and woe-is-me self-aggrandizing is skillfully juxtaposed against his endearing search for spirituality. Future sounds more defeated than accomplished on “RACKS BLUE”, and deeply insecure on the centerpiece, “Red Light”. The latter, a tragic meditation on making it out the trenches, harkens back to last year’s Super Slimey highlight, “4 Da Gang”, or What a Time to Be Alive’s “Live from the Gutter.”. He sounds estranged, purposefully guarded from a world that has historically turned a cold shoulder to the rapper. “I was such a worried child, just wanted you to be a part of me,” he raps to an absentee father, “Fishscale projects made a man out me/Sleepin’ on the carpet made a man out me.”

Despite over half a decade of success,  Future is still actively struggling to reconcile his demons with his blessings. The uncomfortable and all-too-honest closer, “HATE THE REAL ME”, joins the ranks of “Codeine Crazy” and “Perkys Calling” as one of Future’s most profoundly sad reflections on his elusive drug addiction. Just when he thinks he’s got a grip on reality, voices in his head scream, “you the enemy”. Often, Future blames his upbringing and subsequent fame for his drug use, but on tracks like this, he shifts the blame inward and it’s utterly unsettling: “My mama stressing out, she say these drugs got me”; “A sober mind wasn’t good for me”; “Pouring up in public, damn I hate the real me”; “Loading up the cartridge right now, I hate the real me”.

It’s hard to demand lasting artistic growth from Future. His music has always revolved around succeeding in spite of crippling pain & heartbreak, and the 34-year-old rapper has effectively touched on every relevant topic under the sun. However, when the general public continues to dismiss his pen game in order to boast his hit-making ability, it’s hard to blame Future for plateauing creatively. Songs that Future can quite literally freestyle in his sleep, such as “Wicked” or “Mask Off”, end up being the talk of the town, while entire projects like Honest and HNDRXX go underrated. And at this point, even Zaytoven, a pioneer of modern rap music, often recycles sounds, a clear believer of the idiom, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Or, rather, “if Future ain’t rap to it, it don’t count.”

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that together seems to be the only way either artist can push forward. Both monk-like masters of their craft, their chemistry is undeniable. Zay’s ear for elegantly boisterous compositions provide a brilliant, symphonic backdrop for Future’s naturally bluesy intonation. Some of Future’s best songs since his MonsterDS2 run are with Zay: DJ Esco’s “Too Much Sauce” (ft. Lil Uzi Vert); FUTURE’s emotional anchors, “When I Was Broke” & “Feds Did A Sweep”; Trapholizay’s “Boot Up” & “Mo Reala”;  SUPERFLY’s “Walk On Minks”. With BEASTMODE 2, the duo successfully curates a bunch of essential additions to their already impressive catalogue.

Dedicated to Future’s longtime engineer and confidant, the late Seth Firkins (who is credited here as an executive producer), BEASTMODE 2 is decidedly darker than its predecessor. Where the original presented an icy cool demeanor in the face of tragedy, the sequel feels fatigued by having to maintain this charade and, eventually, drops all pretenses to spectacular effect.