More than two years after his acclaimed debut, Pluto, launched Atlanta emcee Future into the mainstream, carving the hook-singing rapper his very own unlikely lane in hip-hop, the scratchy voiced prince of auto-tune returns. Except this time, with less overt vocal processing - partially because Future's voice has improved, and partially because it's almost started to imitate that computerized sound.
Future's vocals are so much of his appeal: his pipes sound simultaneously like a wounded animal and sneakers squeaking on a waxed floor, and yet are imbued with unquestionable humanity - you won't find someone as convincing serenading his sweetheart as he is pushing dope. It's a relief, then, that the skittery, electro-warped beats - not quite as outer-space-tastic as Pluto's - never steal the shine from his perfectly imperfect crooning.
Like his debut, Honest is long. And yet at 18 tracks, it doesn't feel bloated. Unlike other emcees who afford themselves one or two indulgent R&B tracks per album, Future's about his slow, sensitive jams. He's triumphant and refreshingly humble on Blood, Sweat, Tears; infatuated on I Be U; and sincere on I Won, where he salvages the otherwise backward Kanye collab from full-on sexism with convincing prose about his fiancée, Ciara (the track totally grows on you).
But for every tender ballad, there's a classic Future banger, in which he yelps the hook over and over, lest you forget it, on top of harsh beats: Covered N Money, My Momma ("ain't raised no ho"), and most emphatically, Sh!t, which finds Future - at full vocal and energetic tilt - taking on posers and lesser-thans of every variety.
A couple songs sound altogether new: Amadou & Mariam-sampled opener Look Ahead jitters with a fresh, worldbeat flavour; and the André 3000-assisted Benz Friendz stands out among many high-profile guest spots (even if it sounds more like it belongs on an Outkast album).
Overall, Future's cadence has reached new levels of infectious (see: I Be U and How Can I Not), ensuring that even though you'll never be able to quite imitate his unique howl, you'll sure as hell try.
Top track: Blood, Sweat, Tears
Future plays the Sound Academy July 11.