During Sunday’s NFL playoff game between the Carolina Panthers and the Seattle Seahawks, Panthers safety Tre Boston sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and immediately did this weird preening rooster-strut dance. My Twitter timeline immediately lost its mind. This, you see, was a sack dance with layers. Russell Wilson’s girlfriend is the R&B singer Ciara. Last year, Ciara had a kid with Future, and you can draw direct lines between their breakup and the weird, intense, depressive hot streak that Future has been on for the past year and a half. The dance that Boston was doing was the same Mick Jagger-esque dance that Esco, Future’s DJ, did in Future’s “Where Ya At” video. So: Boston didn’t just sack Wilson; he sacked him and then did a dance that was explicitly designed to remind him, and the world, of his girlfriend’s ex. This was some elite-level shit-starting from Boston, and it was also one more indicator of how much Future matters right now.
For reasons that go way beyond that sack, Sunday was a big day for Future. It’s probably a coincidence that Future released his new Purple Reign mixtape on the same day that Wilson’s team ended its NFL season. He probably did not pick that day specifically to fuck with Wilson, even if he has a history of that sort of theatrical pettiness. (Future’s “Rich $ex” video was basically a softcore porn scene of him with the model Blac Chyna, Tyga’s ex, and he released it on Tyga’s birthday.) Future, for whatever reason, loves releasing mixtapes on the second weekend in January; that’s when he released Dirty Sprite, Astronaut Status, FBG: The Movie, and Beast Mode. And the timing just makes sense. After all, the middle of January is the bleakest part of the entire year. Christmas and New Years are over, so there’s nothing to look forward to. All that’s ahead of us is winter desolation. And winter desolation is where Future’s soul lives.
Heard in isolation, Purple Reign is a great rap mixtape. Its beats, mostly from frequent Future collaborators like Metro Boomin and Southside, are simple but cannily melodic, full of these nagging little synth hooks and these subwoofer-annihilating bass tones. And Future doesn’t just rap over the top of these beats; he disappears into them. He makes himself a part of them. As ever, he’s not quite a rapper and not quite a singer, and his hooks and verses take all these instinctive melodic dips and swerves. There are no guest-rappers on the tape, and Future occupies that sole spotlight with ease. He continues to explore a single frame of mind — that chemical-induced negative zone where hedonism and despair fuse, that numb space where you can’t even tell if you’re having fun or you’re just disappearing further into depression. But all of his tracks have these subtly different moods, and so the music never becomes monotonous. It uses monotony, but it itself is not monotonous. It’s an impressive achievement.
And it goes from “impressive” to “astounding” when you look at the run that Future is on right now. Consider: Future released his Monster mixtape on Halloween 2014. Since then, he’s made Beast Mode, 56 Nights, and DS2, my favorite album of 2015. He’s making a ton of music, which doesn’t exactly make him unique right now. Plenty of artists, especially within rap, are cranking out new music at feverish paces. But Future isn’t diluting himself. If anything, he sounds more like himself with each successive release. He’s gaining confidence in the things he’s trying to express.
All those full-lengths have explored a single state of mind. He’s spent all of them staring into oblivion, flirting with death. He’s celebrating his success at the same time as he’s lamenting his breakup and his drug dependencies, and that overlap makes for some terribly compelling music. And while he’s doing all this, his music is resonating on a much wider level than it was during the early-2014 period when he was trying to make himself over as a pop star. When Future and Drake made the full-length collaboration What A Time To Be Alive together last year, it seemed more like Future was doing Drake a favor than the other way around. Taken as a whole, Future’s exploration of that soul-death realm stands as a staggering achievement, as one of the greatest sustained runs we’ve seen in recent memory.
On Purple Reign, Future is still down further in the ocean trench than most of us would ever want to go. Consider this: “I’m drinking on my lean, I swear to god I would quit / My auntie was a fiend, I used to serve her a hit.” Or this, from the same song: “I custom made a cross from the money I made / I threw nickel bags of crack, I should’ve been in 12th grade / I ain’t make my auntie’s funeral, I ain’t never forget it / I know she know i love her and i hope she forgive me.” Exhilaration and regret, all bound up in one another, two sides of the same coin. Consider “Perkys Calling,” a party song and an addiction song at the same damn time. Consider the wounded scrape in his voice when he hollers the chorus of “Drippin (How U Luv That),” a song that would be unremarkable in anyone else’s hands. It’s yet another case of Future taking internal conflict, turning it into art, and then turning that art into something that sounds amazing when you blast it while driving.
In a lot of ways, that familiarity with despair, that willingness to acknowledge it as a part of life, makes Purple Reign, an ideal January album. And while its music and its aims are obviously vastly different, that comfort with the void unites Purple Reign with the other great album we’ve gotten this month: Blackstar, which also comes from a mercurial and drug-dipped pop genius who came up using space travel as a metaphor for drugs and alienation. We don’t have David Bowie anymore, but we still have Future. Appreciate what you have while you still can.
1. Meek Mill – “Pray For Em”
Meek Mill will not be quiet, and he will not go away. Even dedicated fans and supporters of the man (like, um, me) had to spend the second half of 2015 wincing hard everytime we encountered his name. And yet here he is, rapping like he’s trying to smash his way into the earth’s crust through sheer force of popped plosives. The Creed sequel needs to hurry up and come out so it can use this to soundtrack a training montage.
2. Migos – “WOA”
Speaking of mojo recaptured! Offset is out of jail again, and the Migos are once again whole. They sound like it, too. On the new YRN2 mixtape, the three Migos are back to bouncing off each other with the sort of energy and rhythmic inventiveness that nobody else is even attempting. This song, with its meditative Dun Deal beat and its hop-skip call-and-response hook, is my favorite.
3. Isaiah Rashad – “Simply”
Isaiah Rashad is the only Southerner on the TDE label, and as long as we’ve known him, that’s been the most interesting thing about him. He’s a great rapper making good music, getting over on the novelty of that Kendrick Lamar-style rapid-fire introspection delivered in a Tennessee drawl. But this song sounds like the beginning of something, the moment that Rashad discovers his own confidence, even while he’s rapping about custody disputes and contemplating suicide.
4. Ka – “30 Keys”
Wizened, meditative New York rap the way only one man can do it. And Roc Marciano, the only guy who can come close to rivaling Ka’s chiseled-in-stone gravity, provides the beat. It’s time for all of us to stop underrating these guys.
5. Lil Bibby – “Can’t Trust A Soul”
Bibby will probably keep trying to become a mainstream rap star, and misunderstanding the idea that mainstream rap stardom isn’t a thing that exists anymore, at least not in the way he imagines. But when he wants to, he can crank out a diamond-hard piece of gruff paranoia like this at will. We’re a whole lot better-off when he does.
IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO
— Pigeons & Planes (@PigsAndPlans) January 14, 2016