In retrospect, we should thank the rappers of the world for their restraint. It’s been more than four months since the Donald Trump Access Hollywood tape leaked, and I can’t name a single rapper who bragged about grabbing pussy. (I’m sure some rapper, somewhere, said it, but I didn’t hear it.) Easy availability of sex is, at least on some level, what Trump was talking about in that tape. (This is a charitable read. He was really talking about sexual assault, but easy availability of sex is what he thinks he was talking about.) And easy availability of sex is one of the great subjects of rap music. So the rap world’s general disgust for Trump, for everything he represents, must be so strong that no rapper has seen fit to risk that level of widespread revulsion. But then there’s Future, in the middle of his new self-titled album, completely willing to align himself with our new human-disaster president: “Grab on that pussy like Donald.” Future doesn’t care. Future wants us to hate him. If we’re hating him, he’s winning.
Here are some other things Future says on Future: “Ya baby mama fuck me better when the rent’s due.” “You ain’t never ever get your bitch back.” “I make the blogs with your bitch cuz I’m ruthless.” That last one is almost certainly a shot at NBA great Scottie Pippen. In recent months, TMZ has breathlessly chronicled the whole tawdry affair: Pippen’s wife leaving him, after 20 years, to follow Future on tour, to be in his orbit. But the thing about Future, right now, is that the other two lines could be directed at just about anyone. It’s not hard to imagine Future as a homewrecking machine, a human tornado getting vengeance on the world by tearing apart as many happy relationships as possible.
Future is not new to the supervillain role, of course. He’s been playing it ever since his 2014 mixtape Monster, the first thing he released after he and Ciara broke up. But Monster and the two even-better mixtapes that followed were, at least on some level, howls of primal human pain. Future continued to work at a frightening clip after that, and he got deeper and deeper into that fuck-the-world persona. He rapped about sex and drugs and drugs and sex and, sometimes, violence and heartbreak. He rapped like he had a sucking, astral void right in the center of his ribcage. For a while, that radical emptiness, combined with an ability to create sublime bangers, made him maybe rap’s single most compelling figure. But he kept releasing music, sounding more and more dead inside, and the music finally started to reflect it.
Last year, I wrote that Future was done, that the glorious era was over. I was wrong. I’m so happy to be wrong. Future is still nowhere near the peak he was hitting two years ago, but Future is a bleak and compelling and powerful album. When I was worrying over Future’s perceived falloff last year, I figured that the only way he could figure things out would be to find some shred of happiness again, to once again begin to convey human emotions rather than soul-dead emptiness. Again, I was wrong. The Future of Future is still a dark and tortured figure. But now he sounds like he’s enjoying that role, that he’s found a new purpose in just figuring out how evil he can be.
Future is not a lyrics-based album. Future’s greatest skills are still his ear for music and his ability to make his hoarse moan of a voice dissolve into those incredible beats. But there are moments on Future where he gives glimpses of his origin story, of the levels of hardship that helped make him the creature he is today: “I was touching work in elementary / Started cooking work and skipping chemistry.” “I came up from out apartments where they trigger-happy / Bought my bitch a brand-new Rolie and she still ain’t happy.” He sounds like the Rolies aren’t making him happy, either, but there’s a new willingness to deploy wealth as power, to get as over-the-top ostentatious as he can: “Went to the Hawks game in a helicopter / Said I want me a white bitch, and I copped her.” My favorite line on the album is this: “I’m Godzilla in the Rolie store, vroom vroom.” I mostly just like that image, especially since the “vroom vroom” makes it sound like Godzilla is on a giant motorcycle. It’s the little things, you know? With this album, you take that relief where you can find it.
It’s hard to imagine any of these tracks becoming anthems the way “Fuck Up Some Commas” or “March Madness” did. But then, it was hard to imagine those songs becoming anthems until they did. I can never tell which Future tracks are going to click, since they’re all so dark and moody and atmospheric. But this time around, the tracks are even darker, moodier, and more atmospheric than they were before. The beats, by and large, constitute a gothic fog, all glimmering synth-pings and forlorn bass echoes. “I’m So Groovy” has a tinkly music-box refrain that reminds me of Suspiria. “Zoom” sounds like someone painstakingly remastered the sound of an old and worn-out Three 6 Mafia tape, one that had been warped from too many plays in a half-functioning car stereo. The instrumental from “Flip” is like Pornography-era Cure attempting trap music.
And then there’s “Mask Off,” maybe the most purely Future song that Future has ever recorded. Metro Boomin’s beat mirrors the work he did on 21 Savage’s Savage Mode, all those mournful faraway flutes and flat/empty drum sounds. On that track, Future’s voice is a dissolute mutter, and he repeats a koan that describes his worldview more simply and completely than ever: “Percocet, Molly, Percocet / Percocet, Molly, Percocet / Rep the set, gotta rep the set / Chase a check, never chase a bitch.” It’s just about the saddest thing I’ve ever heard, and somehow it also works as an absolute banger.
Future keeps bringing that darkness, and it never relents. Future’s voice is the only one we hear, which means we could very plausibly get to make the old J. Cole “platinum with no features” joke about Future. Future’s decision to load the album up with intrusive skits is absolutely confounding; I haven’t heard a big rap album with this many skits in more than a decade. Those skits are funny at first — I like how one of them furiously clowns professional Future imitator Desiigner — but they interrupt the album’s flow in some galling ways. On the other hand, maybe that was the intent. Maybe Future didn’t think the world was ready for an album this heavy, this villainous, without the occasional interruption.
Future just announced that he has another album called HNDRXX coming out this Friday, only a week after Future. On Instagram he’s called it “the album I always wanted to make.” Rumor has it that the album will be more melodic and radio-friendly than the music that Future has been making lately. Future hasn’t revealed any details, but in one of his Instagram posts, he tagged the Weeknd and Rihanna, igniting speculation that the two of them will appear on the album and that it will find Future drifting in a friendlier, more R&B direction. I hope that’s true. I’m ready for Future to move on, to give us something other than unrelenting bleakness and misanthropy. Maybe Future will function as one final throat-clearing for Future, one last airing of grievances. But even if that happens, Future will still stand as one long and absorbing stare into the abyss.
1. Jamie Isaac – “CNT U SEE (Remix)” (Feat. Wiki & Denzel Curry)
Haunted, singer-songwriterly jazz ambiance with neck-snap rapping over the top of it: The dream of the ’90s is alive and well, and it somehow sounds better now than it did in the ’90s. Acid jazz dudes basically never got a rapper as good as Denzel Curry to jump on their tracks.
2. Kodak Black – “Tunnel Vision”
I don’t know if this is a post-Savage Mode thing or what, but depressed guitar-loops and Ren-Faire flutes somehow sound like the hardest things in the world right now. 2017 is wild.
3. Starlito – “Too Much”
I tend to think that Nashville brainiac Lito is only at his best when he’s got Don Trip rapping alongside him — Step Brothers 3, coming soon! — but you have to hand it to the guy for getting a Metro Boomin beat and then just using it to mutter sober, grown-up relationship-talk.
4. Oddisee – “NNGE”
Who puts together drum tracks like that? Nobody puts together drum tracks like that. Oddisee productions are minor miracles.
5. Your Old Droog – “Help” (Feat. Wiki & Edan)
I didn’t even realize how much I liked those chaotic fuzzbombing Edan beats until he disappeared for years. And now that he’s back, I’m not going to take them for granted anymore.