Cover Story

ATLien Resurrection: Future’s Journey To The Center Of The Musical Universe

About an hour after his set, Future is trying to be honest about Honest without actually telling me anything. The mood is friendly but vaguely suspicious; Future is still stinging from what he sees as sensationalist coverage of the Drake feud. (“We was good. The media wasn’t good,” Future intones in his baritone drawl. “That was the media trying to create something that wasn’t there.”) We’re on his tour bus, across the aisle from each other on tan leather seat cushions. Future has ditched the trench coat in favor of a white hoodie and a Joyrich varsity jacket emblazoned with a teddy bear in a spiked collar, as if someone spliced the Georgia Bulldog with Kanye West’s old bear logo. He’s passing a blunt with the audio engineer who’s perched behind a humongous iMac and mixing board, ready to commence recording as soon as Future finishes this interview. “You never know in this game,” he explains. “That’s why you gotta have it on deck.”

He’s been having these sessions almost every night, trying out new beats, toying with new ideas, tweaking his delivery until it’s just right. It’s been a long process; the album was already well underway in late 2012, back when it was supposed to be called Future Hendrix (unfortunately, his camp thought better of that after considering Jimi’s lawsuit-happy estate) and the guest list was to include Kanye, Drake, Rihanna, Kelly Rowland, and Jeremih. It’s unclear about how much the record has changed as Future’s sound has evolved these past 12 months. These days he’s pretty tight-lipped about what Honest will sound like, who’ll be on it, and when it will be unveiled. It was already supposed to be out by now, on 11/26/13, but after pushing the release back once already, he’s reluctant to commit to a new date until it’s absolutely certain. “I’m almost finished with it, but this time around I feel like just making sure I do everything possible on my end that I can do. I’m down to the final days of recording. I haven’t came up with a date, but I’m pretty sure. In my head I have a date, but I’m not going to put it out until I’m 100 percent sure because I don’t want to change it once I put it out.”

He describes the album’s sound in the vaguest terms possible. “It’s consistent, but it’s very versatile. It’s just about showcasing my personality through each song. Each showcases a little bit of my personality from in the club to just being a dad to, you know, certain issues and certain situations that I might have the chance to be able to speak on. And just finding a way to be creative through music, just take everything around me and make the best music possible.” When asked to compare it to Pluto, he offers two words: “More aggressive.” That seems odd considering his trajectory toward singles like “Honest” and “Real And True,” unless by “aggressive” he means aggressively commercial. Then again, when you factor in something as peculiar as “Karate Chop,” he could just as well mean aggressively weird. A title like Honest suggests he just means aggressively real, not putting any restrictions or labels on who he is and what he does. When I ask him if he feels like people will eat up anything he puts out right now just because it’s him, he responds, “At the end of the day, just stay true to yourself.” Is that how he explains his evolution from rapping to singing? “I just feel like I make melodic music. Like I’m not a singer. You know what I’m saying? I’m an artist. I’m an entertainer that’s willing to step outside of rap.”

Stepping outside of rap and no longer being known as “just” a rapper is a topic Kanye West has expounded on a lot this past year. Perhaps even more so than his lineage of Atlanta iconoclasts, Kanye’s legacy looms large over Future. 808s And Heartbreak cleared the way for entertainers who blur the line between rap and R&B and pioneered the use of Auto-Tune as an instrument for existential despair. Drake, another entertainer who defies categorization, picked up the baton in the wake of 808s, leveraging his soap-opera charisma and pop instincts to reshape rap in his image. As Spin’s Jordan Sargent noted, that makeover included a redefinition of realness: “For [Drake], at least, the concept of realness didn’t refer to childhood realities or street bona fides (though he still sometimes panders to both), but to total emotional openness.” Those guys cleared the way for a figure like Future, one who so effortlessly blends such wildly disparate personas, who manages to be more believably terrifying than Yeezy or Drake yet also more preternaturally odd and more cuddly. Without those forebears, it’s hard to imagine an environment where Future could frame working with Miley Cyrus an exercise in trillness.

“I was open to the idea,” Future says of the partnership with Cyrus. “I felt like I had something to say creatively. I knew I had something to give. And I was going to do my best, so I was going to go ahead and create a hit. We was going to make some great music together because that’s what I do. I know what I’m born to do right now. It’s my destiny, you know?” Forged by their mutual collaborator Mike WiLL Made It, the Future/Miley connection proved fruitful, yielding “Real And True” plus several songs for Cyrus’ Bangerz. The best of them is the awkwardly alluring, genre-flouting duet “My Darlin,” which matches Mike WiLL’s signature shimmering bass caverns and skittering hi-hats with chintzy guitar strums, Southern gospel organ swells, and twangy lead vocals. Future splits the difference between Akon and Bill Withers; Miley fluctuates freely between rapping and Celine Dion glory notes. WiLL, who Future cites as an important force in his artistic development, has stated his own desire to blur musical boundary lines, and both Future and Cyrus are his willing conspirators. He’s executive producing both of their albums, and considering how wacky Bangerz turned out, the possibilities for Honest are endless.

That’s how Future wants it. He wants it all, and for the moment, he has it. The lyrics of “Honest” frankly depict his rock-star lifestyle, jet-setting around the globe to rock shows and party hard. But even that doesn’t tell the whole story. Future wants to be a family man too, though his definition of that role also spurns conventional wisdom, for better or worse. Last December, just after a DNA test confirmed that he fathered a child in 2001, a second child was born by a different woman. Around that same time, he entered the studio with Ciara to work on her self-titled album at the urging of Epic CEO L.A. Reid. Creatively and romantically, the sparks flew, though anyone who heard Ciara’s steamy comeback single “Body Party,” a Future co-write, already knows that. As Future tells it, “She came by the studio, and we just hit it off from the beginning. We couldn’t meet nowhere else but the studio. I believe, man, me and her, we love the studio. We so passionate about music. Like, for me and her, she’s a Scorpio, I’m a Scorpio. I’m just very competitive, you know what I mean? Very ambitious. So it’s like you’re dealing with the same person. She know I love music, and I know she love music, so it’s no better place for us to meet than in the studio. We had to meet in the studio doing what we love to do.”

Now they’re engaged and regularly working together in the studio, though Future won’t say if she’s on Honest. He wants it to be surprising when it arrives — and, possibly, to arrive by surprise. Less than 24 hours before our interview, Beyoncé’s secret video album BEYONCÉ dropped, and it’s been at the forefront of musical discourse all day. When I ask Future if he’s got a similar stealth release strategy in mind, he freezes up, cracks a huge smile, and stares at the floor. He pauses for a beat or two, then politely requests to end the interview and get on with his recording session. “You were trying to get it out of me,” he says, wagging his finger in disapproval. I rise to exit, but I can’t get the sliding door to work. There’s an array of buttons on the panel that wouldn’t be out of place on the set of an old sci-fi show. That’s fitting. In a sense, this bus is Future’s very own spaceship — his vessel for exploring unknown realms, his shelter from the frigid unknown, the place where he brings otherworldly sounds to life. Future acknowledges that parallel as I step through the sliding door. “It’s Jetsons,” he notes with barely contained delight.

Astronaut status: achieved.

Tags: Future