Confession time: It feels vaguely wrong — okay, a little more than vaguely — to enjoy an album like Wrld On Drugs in 2018, especially at this particular juncture of 2018. Not one, but two of the most promising young stars of hip-hop have died of overdose in the past twelve months, a pop star known in recent years for her advocacy of sober lifestyle and prior struggles with substance abuse suffered a highly-publicized relapse, and it seems as though every prominent member of the soundcloud rap generation either has a pending case for domestic violence or was caught on tape abusing women.
Yet, removed from the context of all that is horrible in our pop culture landscape this cursed year, Future and Juice Wrld‘s collaborative tape could be a breezy, if flawed, love letter to fans, an encouraging example of one member of the old guard finally recognizing and extending his co-sign and mentorship to one of his spiritual successors. It could be heartening, despite all its wistful tales of depression, drug abuse, and casual misogyny, to see two rappers derive so much clear joy from working together and delivering an album that straight up bumps, free of the industry politics and label meddling that have often made such endeavors feel pretty much impossible.
However, if it were that easy, you wouldn’t feel the creeping sense of unease slither across the back of your neck as the druggy rap duo recount imbibing quantities of codeine and antidepressants that could topple an army of elephants. You can’t stop your shoulders from tightening as you hear Juice cavalierly joke about “killing” a romantic interest on “Fine China” — on the hook, no less. It’s quietly discomfiting to contemplate even their fantastical overindulgence in the era of #MeToo, as an opioid epidemic ravishes the US heartland, and a grumpy, old, would-be tyrant sits in the Oval Office, plotting to criminalize just being Black in America. Wrld On Drugs feels like a summation of pop culture in modern-day America and an indictment of it.
On the bright side, Juice Wrld shines alongside his newfound contemporary on tracks like “Astronauts,” which features one of the best Boondocks references in rap music of recent years (“I grew up a bad kid, coulda been on The Boondocks“), while Future sounds energized by the confederacy with his Chicago-bred junior (“I be with my Chi-town brothers, Al Capone / Me and Juice killin’ these n—-s like they got they hands down”). Their chemistry is almost too perfect, actually; whereas their trap rap colleagues Lil Baby and Gunna nailed their complementary tag-team act flawlessly, Juice often sounds like a mere palette swap of Future. Future and Juice are so similar, it’s often as they’re the same rapper using the same series of flows in two separate vocal registers — it’s almost unnerving.
Meanwhile, the beats provided by the usual suspects of trap and cloud rap — CuBeatz, Murda Beatz, Wheezy, and a plethora of up-and-comers like ATL Jacob, Richie Souf, TrellGotWings, and more — all bang as much as any representative sample of the genre. When Juice and Future spill their colorful metaphors on tracks like the woozy “Different,” they light up the crackling snares and hypnotic samples with animated, limber flows. Juice especially demonstrates a knack for dreaming up scintillating pop culture references which bounce off Future’s luxury shout-outs with a spark; on “Different,” Juice rattles off a contemporary cartoon reference while casually flexing: “I be doin’ it, not talkin’ it, that’s mandatory / Countin’ up blue faces watchin’ a lil’ Rick And Morty.” They also play well with others; Gunna, Young Thug, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj all make appearances that slot in perfectly content-wise while livening things up with their distinctive approaches to it.
But there’s a sense that it’s all a bit superficial and superfluous, especially after the album naturally ends on its twelfth, self-titled track, then proceeds to tack on four more songs, like bonus cuts no one asked for. If Wrld On Drugs is meant to recommend either Future or Juice Wrld, it does so within its first eleve songs. If it’s a gift to their hardcore fans, it still outstays its welcome, with the final four songs feeling a little disposable and not very essential. It’s an issue which is exacerbated by the somewhat, one-note subject matter, which retreads familiar, stereotypical subject matter that starts to give that uncomfortable sensation described above. Listening to cartoonish flexes and clattering, spine-shifting beats is all the more enjoyable when you aren’t questioning whether you should be enjoying them at all. Wrld On Drugs would be a fun, inconsequential collector’s item on its own, but some wounds are still too raw and unfortunately, Future and Juice Wrld are way too good at rubbing them exactly the wrong way.
Wrld On Drugs is out now Epic Records. Get it here.