Last weekend, DJ Esco put out a Future duets album. The mixtape, Project E.T.: Esco Terrestrial, holds Esco’s name, and he gets a production credit on nearly all of its 16 songs, but his longtime collaborator Future is the tape’s heart and soul. In the same vein as last year’s 56 Nights — another project technically credited to Esco, but widely accepted as one of Future's best mixtapes — this tape is fully immersed in the world of Atlanta's hardest-working star. Project E.T. hits Future's familiar tropes of endless nights of partying and relishing in the excess of a platinum rap life (“100it Racks”), followed by clear-eyed reflection on what it's all worth after so many wild nights (“Benjamins Burn”).
One big difference from Future's other recent projects is the sheer number of collaborators on the tape: 2 Chainz, Drake, Juicy J, Rae Sremmurd, Rich Homie Quan, and even occasional rival Young Thug all offer different sides of contemporary rap. Rich Homie Quan gets melodic and wistful on “Champagne Shower,” Rae Sremmurd provide a burst of trap energy with “Party Pack,” and Young Thug’s “Who” plays his vocal dexterity off of Future’s world-weary mood. But the best guest spot goes to Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert — it's easy to skim past his name on a tracklist full of so many A-listers, but he steals the show with the relaxed subtlety of “Too Much Sauce.”
Lil Uzi Vert is currently riding high off his latest mixtape, April's Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World, where he took his rock star persona to new heights — he sounded more like Kanye West fronting a chiptune band than a hard-nosed street rapper like fellow Philly native Meek Mill. That willingness to stretch his sound makes Lil Uzi Vert a good match for Future. Both rappers are eager to embrace vocal manipulation and otherworldly production on the way to new frontiers, and their excitement is contagious.
On “Too Much Sauce,” producer Zaytoven's lounge-music-esque keys provide a tranquil reprieve from a tape full of booming trap bass. Future stays in the pocket for his hook, while Lil Uzi Vert bops along through his verses, basking in the warmth of his jewelry and talking down to onlookers (“Shaquille O'Neal with the haters / ’Cause I’m blocking y’all”). The song conveys an opulence that Future’s own solo music has lacked recently — he's spent much of this year wallowing in the darker end of life. Lil Uzi Vert pulls the monster into the light. Here's hoping these two rock stars get a chance to jam some more before 2016 is through.