To call Future a sentimentalist might yield scoffs from the uninformed. His antagonistic image has been long forged by a practiced blacksmith’s hand, lacking sufficient moral scruples to fully commit to antihero status. A surface level analysis reads him as distant to the point of callous, incapable of committing to the romance he claims to covet; he’s far more likely to flaunt the existence of his harem than he is to pen them sweet nothings. Yet to expect a sudden change of heart, akin to literary beast The Grinch, is basically setting oneself up for failure. Part of the beauty of it all is Future’s unwavering adherence to his own destructive lifestyle. Without it, what little moments of humanity we’re given would lose their poignancy.

At this stage in the game, Future has already given us seven studio albums. Few purists will willingly stand him alongside the oft-cited trifecta of current greats, though his output remains both impressive and consistent. In fact, preconceived notions have long plagued the self-professed WIZRD. Of course, some criticisms are not unfounded. Materialism and hedonistic behavior permeate his music, and it can be difficult to connect with such an enigmatic presence. Yet there’s something about The WIZARD that feels uniquely personal, despite the haze through which it’s delivered.

The opening track “Never Stop” finds Future painting an out-of-character sonic aesthetic, that of bouncy clouds and genuine whimsy. Yet lyrically, he’s striking a different chord altogether; the song plays out like a confession and the subsequent moment of salvation, however temporary it may be. “I just got rich and it cursed me,” sings Future, in one of the opening lines. A rare moment of self-awareness, and tinged with irony. Is he really cursed if he spends the next thirty-plus minutes flaunting the unparalleled nature of his wealth? Mo Money Mo Problems is hardly an unfamiliar adage, but it feels different when the artist internalizes said problems. Luckily, Future gives us enough material to infer our own conclusions, adding a sense of self-destructive weight to ostensibly shallow moments.

Despite the heavy subject matter, there are still moments of surreal levity. Only Future can successfully pull off bringing “an AK to a dinner date.” He continues to engage in mysterious business dealings with a group of Middle Eastern businessmen, amusing in the speculative fiction it conjures. In a game laden with his bastard children, father still knows best. Drug rap as a genre must be sustained by occasional bouts of cleverness, otherwise, it’s merely empty calories. Yet Future makes sure to keep his vision grounded with genuine substance. “Krazy But True” finds him reflecting on his proverbial offspring, with the same tone of a disappointed pops. “You need to pay me my respects, your socks, rings, and your lean,” raps Future. “The way you drop your mixtapes, your ad-libs and everything, that’s crazy but it’s true.”

For the most part, Future performs like a man revitalized, though it’s difficult to attribute his “hunger” to any particular catalyst. On album highlight “F&N,” Future navigates two connective instrumentals with a practiced ear for momentum, taking to the latter half with a flow befitting of the beat’s sheer magnitude. It helps that throughout, Future deftly toes the line between innovation and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It might be a disservice to dissect The WIZRD on a track-by-track basis. Songs like “Jumpin On A Jet” tend to falter in a vacuum, but succeed within their placement in the journey as a whole. Guest appearances from Young Thug, Gunna, and Travis Scott are used sparingly, a refreshing change of pace from the occasionally feature-driven lineup of today’s records; the absence of assisting players is yet another testament to Future’s sustainability, his understated presence as a leading man. As a rapper, his flow feels sharper than on previous efforts, though his lackadaisical charisma remains by and large altered.

In that sense, The WIZRD is not the album designed to convert skeptics, not unlike puritans of yore dealing with an honest to goodness wizard. Only Future’s magic is of a darker nature, his concoctions a subtle blend of lean, tears of a scorned model, and eye of newt. Side effects may include a peculiar blend of melancholy and unrequited something, maybe love, but probably not.