The title of the new Future project, Esco Terrestrial, is great, and in its own way, so is the hideous cover. The concept is a throwback to the now-ye-olde Future of 2011 and 2012, when he first solidified his link to alien races with Astronaut Status and Pluto. Except now, as is increasingly frequent, the head interstellar visitor is DJ Esco, these days a figure and meme in his own right; sound clips feature Esco talking about his stint in jail in Dubai (made famous by the skits of Future’s 56 Nights project last year) and how he felt like an “alien” there.
E.T. is the longest Future mixtape in some time (DS2 was an album). This year, Future’s projects have been terse, limited in style, and lonely in tone. Esco Terrestrial is comparatively sprawling: 16 songs, packed with special guests from Drake to Young Thug to Juicy J to young Bay rapper Nef the Pharaoh. As often befits something one could describe as “sprawling,” it is also very inconsistent, full of some of Future’s lowest lows in recent memory — in the first half, droning, rote Future creepers. But elsewhere, when he takes some chances and picks the right production, it contains some of his best work since DS2.
Future is playing a role that he hasn’t for some time, in his post-Ciara breakup, studio-rat work cycle: He’s mentoring, and even playing off other artists. Often this brings out the best in him; at the worst moments (say, trying to keep up with the Mountain-Dew-Kickstart-fueled yelps of Rae Sremmurd on “Party Pack”), they outshine him to an almost- embarrassing extent. Sometimes everything just collaborates to be super boring, as if the involved parties were too cocky to think that something they put their names on could fail. The soporific “100it Racks” is deeply, inexorably wack, and somehow it’s not entirely the fault of Drake’s Future impression. Even the ever-exuberant 2 Chainz cannot shock this corpse back to life.
We’ve sifted through the tape to find the playlist-worthy moments so you don’t have to. Here’s the power ranking.
5. “Who” [feat. Young Thug]
We haven’t seen Young Thug and Future work together in a while; in fact, they hardly ever have. Fighting words were tossed around by the two not long ago, so it’s nice to see them reuniting to make something great. Future seems to playing off of Thug’s elliptical skittishness, rather than sticking to his comfort zone, and he plays the game relatively well. If there’s one thing Future wouldn’t risk, after all, it’s letting Thugger — his main competition for dominance in the Atlanta street rap sphere — upstage him.
4. “Married to the Game”
This is potentially the strongest Future solo track on the tape. A faint noodly soul guitar licks pitted against a trap purr makes it a perfect opportunity to explore space and stretch out a little bit more. The melodic hook taps into the gifts that made Future a star in the first place, and brings him out of his recent, misanthropic comfort zone.
3. “Stupidly Crazy” [feat. Casey Veggies and Nef the Pharaoh]
This is a stylistic experiment for Esco, and the track does not have Future on it. Unfortunately, that may be why it’s one of the strongest tracks on the tape. It’s definitely one of the best DJ Mustard-related beats in recent memory, dominated by a chipmunked sample which might be more at home on an early-’00s Cam’ron track. Casey Veggies and (especially) the Bay Area’s greatest hope of the moment, Nef the Pharaoh, both rap over this beat like they were born with the ability to. It doesn’t sound too out-of-place in the tape’s sequence somehow, pointing to the way in which West Coast ratchet production and Atlanta trap beats have grown closer in feel over the past couple of years.
2. “Super Dumb” [feat. Rambo So Weird]
2016 Future sometimes seems to be sleepwalking through his murmured, triple-time verses. This track, highlighting Atlanta newcomer Rambo So Weird, brings out the best in Future: that is, some semblance of unhinged, “Sh!t”-level energy. It’s a welcome change; of all the tracks on this tape, this might be the best potential single, if Future is willing to cede some of the spotlight.
1. “Champagne Shower” [feat. Rich Homie Quan]
“Don’t compare me to Future, nigga,” Rich Homie Quan once rapped on a diss track, following the tremendous success of his breakthrough single “Some Type of Way.” That song was regarded — like Desiigner’s “Panda” is now — as the best Future song Future didn’t make. Incidentally, both songs were as big as any single that Future had ever released. Rich Homie would go onto collaborate with Young Thug on Rich Gang’s Tha Tour, Part 1 in late 2014 , and garner comparisons to him. In truth, Quan is just an excellent but modest songwriter, a perfect foil for anyone he hops on a track with, and expert in playing off the beat. As with the Thug-feature Who,” these two former foes bring out the best in each other on this gauzy Moon-produced track.
Check out the full tape here: